Can you copyright a universe?

Okay, so I've been tooling around with story ideas for the last couple

of days, and I find they all revolve around time travel. The one that

has me most excited right now—mostly because it is both timely and

snarky—is the notion of a corporation copyrighting the entire universe.

Somewhere, Steve Ballmer is smiling.

Basically, the high concept goes like this: There's an interesting

theory about time travel that says the only way to avoid a paradox by

traveling backwards in time is to travel to a parallel universe.

Basically, any changes you make to history spawn a new, parallel

timeline separate from our own, so that you aren't actually affecting

your own past, avoiding all the "what if I killed my own grandfather at

birth—how could I be born to go back and kill him?" conundrums. Well,

if this technology becomes feasible, and it becomes possible to observe

and travel between the timelines, then an altered timeline could become

a "product"—intellectual property—meaning that a legal entity could

attempt to copyright an entire spacetime continuum. That's pretty

straightforward. Now here's the kicker...

Someone tries to copyright the "original" timeline. Basically, a

company wants intellectual property rights to the entire universe. And

all the subsidiary rights.

The argument would be that any spacetime experiments require a

"control" universe against which to measure variance. If this company

did an exhaustive analysis of our baseline universe, and licensed that

model as an experimental control, then that company has a "prior art"

claim on the entirety of our plane of existence.

It would make for a fun little SF courtroom drama, especially when you

consider the iterative consequences of the claim. I'll start

skeletoning out the story this weekend, I hope.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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