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In the April 1964 edition of The Objectivist Newsletter, Ayn Rand published an article called "The Property Status of Airwaves." In it she argues against the idea that radio waves should be public property, and I tend to agree with that basic conclusion. As far as I can tell, the radio waves themselves rightfully belong to the owner of the station broadcasting those waves. Rand, however, makes an important mistake in her argument for that conclusion. She doesn't acknowledge how radio broadcasters infringe on the rights of other property owners. Rand writes: Rand does appear to recognize an important objection to her position: that radio broadcasts use the spaces owned by others. But she doesn't admit that it's a possible violation of rights. Consider that the broadcast station sends out radio waves in all directions. Those waves then travel through the private spaces of every landowner within the range of the broadcast. (A property owner owns the space above his land, sometimes hundreds of feet above it, in the case of skyscrapers.) So Rand is perhaps pre-empting this "unpermitted use" rebuttal by claiming that the medium, or ether, being used on other people's property is "of no practical use or value" to them without the radio station. She therefore denies the property owner's full right to this unidentified medium in his space--on the grounds that he isn't using it. But of course he is using it. He's living in it. The owner should therefore have the right to live in his unidentified medium without being subjected to a constant invasion of radio waves. The broadcast is a potential infringement not only of his land-space rights, but also of his rights as an individual person being constantly penetrated by another's radio waves. Even if such radiation exposure is ultimately proven to be harmless, doesn't the owner of the space have the right to control its use? Rand's error can be seen even more clearly in the example she gives comparing a radio broadcast to a piano concert. She says: First of all, Rand already told us the essential difference between a broadcast and a concert: the type of waves are different. Radio waves don't use the air, sound waves do. But notice the other obvious problem with her analogy: a radio station's broadcast is not contained within the walls of a rented hall or building. To be more accurate, Rand should have considered an open-air venue surrounded by residences, in which case she might have seen the comparable problem of a performer's sound waves intruding on the neighbors' private spaces. In such instances, like with the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, this problem is addressed by local government setting noise curfews and sometimes even regulating objectionable content. (The neighbors of the Greek, for example, once made quite a stink over Snoop Dogg's vulgar rap vocals reaching their children's eardrums.) Failing to appreciate this potential rights violation of sending waves into someone else's private space, Rand instead focuses on attacking the government's position that radio frequencies should be public property; and, in doing so, she unfortunately resorts to denying the existence of public property altogether. She doesn't see how socialists have stolen the concept and repurposed it for violating private property rights. So instead of reclaiming the idea and stripping it of the rights-violating conflation, she entirely forfeits the concept to her enemies. She misidentifies it as a "collectivist fiction," when in reality it's a collectivist conceptual theft. The idea of "public property" depends on the concept of "private property," since the "public" simply refers to private individuals in a social-political group context. Therefore, property claimed by a public group, such as the residents of a city, should not include a violation of private property rights, such as the use of government force to acquire land or property through eminent domain or nationalization. If such rights-violating force is used, then the acquisition is in fact stolen property. Often times a battle will then ensue between the rightful owner and the thief, i.e., the government. And to disguise the theft, the government will slap the "public property" label on whatever they stole. I believe Rand sensed a problem with her argument in this particular article on radio waves. Before republishing it three years later in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, she deleted the section about the "ether/medium" and how it's of no use to anyone but broadcasters. Also, in a couple different lines, she replaced the words "medium" and "ether" with the words "space" and "air" respectively. I think this is strange, given her recognition that radio waves don't use the air, but some "unidentified element in space." Contrary to her "public property is fiction" view, it seems like she actually relies upon the concept to justify a broadcaster's right to use other people's spaces. Unless the medium/space used by radio waves is considered public property, why shouldn't the broadcast be a violation of other people's right to their own spaces? Yet, having explicitly abandoned the concept "public property," Rand has little choice but to utilize fallacious rhetoric to defend her position, in this case colorful ad hominems. I suppose an illiterate share-cropper and a whiskey-brewing hillbilly were the best examples of the public that Rand could imagine. In any case, do their rights depend on their particular abilities to understand radio waves? Would Rand have reversed her position if every member of the public perfectly understood broadcasting? The fact is that when people form a community or society (in our case a city like Los Angeles), these people must agree to share some things which come along with the nature of a properly functioning city. And we have learned, through trial and error, that these things can include publicly claimed lands and spaces. We agree, for example, to use certain lands for public roads. And we accept that certain spaces should be used for public airways. We don't claim that the cars on the roadways are also public property, and we don't claim that the broadcasts on the airways are public property. But we do claim that, since these things use shared lands and spaces, then we the public, the individual residents of the city, have the jointly held right to regulate that usage in a reasonable and democratic fashion. There really is no better way to do it, if we want to have efficient access to physical places across the land, and easy access to information sent through the spaces.