Paine forfeited his copyright in “Common Sense” so that any printer could publish it (this was prompted by a dispute with his printer, if memory serves), but he later defended copyright. For what it’s worth, he also defended the evil Pennsylvania Test Oaths, and expounded a variant of socialism in land in “Agrarian Justice.” A few more libertarians like Paine, and we’ll be laboring in slave camps.
I could never figure out why libertarians are so quick to embrace Paine (ditto for Andrew Jackson, who didn’t put an end to the 2BUS for any high-minded libertarian reasons, but so that its deposits would go into the pet banks owned by his political backers and cronies).
Stepp was right. Paine argued in a 1782 pamphlet that “the works of an author are his legal property,” and that it was critical for the country “to prevent depredation on literary property.” See The Life and Writings of Thomas Paine: Containing a Biography (Daniel Edwin Wheeler, ed., 1908) vol. 8, pp. 180, 182, quoted in Paul Clement, Viet Dinh & Jeffrey Harris, “The Constitutional and Historical Foundations of Copyright Protection,” Center for Individual Freedom [sic] (2012). Paine here refers to the unauthorized copying and publishing as piracy, fraud, embezzlement, purloinment, and so on.
I’m not a Paine scholar but it seems obvious that the application of his principles ebb and flowed a bit here and there. He wrote in favor of the inheritance tax after he exiled from England and before his arrest in France. I do know this: he is one of the greatest champions of liberty ever. No one of his generation wrote as powerfully on the relationship between the individual and the state; and I also know that it is extremely difficult to find any thinker in any country who pure by modern standards who wrote before the age of Rothbard. So give the guy a break and learn what you can from him.
Update: See Paine’s complete writings, here; and also the fascinating series of V76 lectures by Andrew Galambos, which focused on the significance of Paine’s thought and his crucial role in the American Revolution (and Galambos’s contention that Paine was the actual author of the Declaration of Independence, not merely its intellectual inspiration). See Galambos on Paine (July 4, 2022).