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Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society Paperback – Nov 29 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (Nov. 29 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674805232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674805231
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 15.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 422 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #572,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews

By A Customer on Oct. 28 2003
Format: Paperback
Boyle's ideas are fantastic and his analysis is poignant and timely. Be forewarned, however, that the average sentence length in this book is so long that you will get lost multiple times per page. Add in an average of 0.4 cryptic references to ancient literature per page and a healthy dose of words that will send even Duke law students running for the dictionary and you have a very tough task in front of you.
If you want to learn from Boyle, take his IP class, don't try to read the book. His IP class is fabulous. But beware that he will ask you read this book (I hear even his torts students had to read it) and it will be a terrible experience. You will need to be able to come up with at least one idea from it to toss into your exam answers, as he generally writes at least one question that starts with "Using one or more concepts from Shamans..." The dreadful 27 hour take home exam period is not the time to pick the book up for the first time.
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Format: Paperback
In a wonderful exposition of contemporary thinking on how markets and institutions produce and distribute information and knowledge, James Boyle gives readers some powerful analysis and some of the conceptual tools they'll need to make the Judge Posner's and Richard Epstein's of the world squirm a bit given their desire to wish away the complex issues Legal Realism raised regarding property and contract law.
Markets, property, privacy, information and knowledge are all social constructs which generate asymmetries of power and Professor Boyle shows the potential for mischief that may occur if workers, citizens, economists and attorneys refuse to rethink what kind of power relations, if any, are consistent with democratic norms.
By looking at such issues as "what is an author" [what is epistemic agency] and the issue of self-ownership of our bodies, Boyle creates a collage of juxtapositions that are of immense relevance to issues such as whether what happened at Enron and other corporations is a manifestation of insider trading, what shall be the scale and scope of patents and copyrights given the need to balance "efficiency" and equity and access, how shall we handle the commodification of our bodies and thoughts?
All of these are tough issues that are never going to go away and Boyle's choice of using Legal Realism as mode of inquiry into how we will shape the future of entitlements to knowledge and it's pecuniary benefits is probably the best choice that can be made for those who see glaring limitations in libertarianism.
The one topic, that in my view is critical for carrying the discussion forward, yet is missing from Boyle's analysis, is employment contracts.
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By A Customer on April 9 2001
Format: Paperback
Boyle raises several interesting points regarding information law and he does bring a different way of deciphering the intricacies of copyright and information law. However, many times his arguments are lost in his use of analogies, references, and words which even an attorney can not understand. In other parts of his book, he provides little explanation of the economic theories which have been used by previous scholars to defend the current status of information law. This leaves the reader confused unless the reader is an economist by training. Although I agree with Boyle's view of information law as being bigger than it has previously been defined, I think his archaic style of writing leaves the reader more frustrated than enlightened. I recommend having Black's Law Dictionary and Webster's handy if you are going to read this book.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Dec 13 1997
Format: Paperback
I have both just finished Boyle's book and his Torts class at Washington College of Law. Boyle's analysis is strikingly clear. Taking as one of his launching-off points the important California Supreme Court decision in Moore V. Regents of California, Boyle tackles issues ranging from the commodification and distribution of information to the creation of legally protected property interests in biology. He exposes that courts make decisions based not so much on ahistorical, immutable legal principles but on policy considerations often directly related to contemporary trends in economic thinking. Boyle, despite several references to Marx, is a defender of a uniquely American kind of privatized safety regime in the form of the tort system. This has confused careless readers as evidenced by Huber in the pages of the NYT.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
excellent, read it. May 9 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Simply the best book on the problems of the category 'information' as used in the popular terms 'information economy' or 'information society'.
Boyle details both the legal and economic
incoherencies of the term in detail. As the reviews above point out there is much fascinating detail about the proceedures of copyright and intellectual property law in action.

It is true that some people won't like this book, and will raise their hands in horror at the mentions of Marx, but this is their loss.
The fact that Marx has been used to justify totalitarian states dosn't mean he dosn't have interesting things to say on occasion, and the book is hardly doctrinaire 'marxist'.

There are ethical and analytic problems in our current usage of copyright, which will absolutely cripple any attempts to implement the "information wants to be free" slogan, and there's no reason to think that leaving these problems to the market or the law courts alone will solve them. I know of no other author who has really tried to grip with these problems- so even if you are going to disagree with him, read him. If it doesn't make you think, I don't know what will.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Information Economics meets Legal Realism July 9 2002
By Ian Murray - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In a wonderful exposition of contemporary thinking on how markets and institutions produce and distribute information and knowledge, James Boyle gives readers some powerful analysis and some of the conceptual tools they'll need to make the Judge Posner's and Richard Epstein's of the world squirm a bit given their desire to wish away the complex issues Legal Realism raised regarding property and contract law.
Markets, property, privacy, information and knowledge are all social constructs which generate asymmetries of power and Professor Boyle shows the potential for mischief that may occur if workers, citizens, economists and attorneys refuse to rethink what kind of power relations, if any, are consistent with democratic norms.
By looking at such issues as "what is an author" [what is epistemic agency] and the issue of self-ownership of our bodies, Boyle creates a collage of juxtapositions that are of immense relevance to issues such as whether what happened at Enron and other corporations is a manifestation of insider trading, what shall be the scale and scope of patents and copyrights given the need to balance "efficiency" and equity and access, how shall we handle the commodification of our bodies and thoughts?
All of these are tough issues that are never going to go away and Boyle's choice of using Legal Realism as mode of inquiry into how we will shape the future of entitlements to knowledge and it's pecuniary benefits is probably the best choice that can be made for those who see glaring limitations in libertarianism.
The one topic, that in my view is critical for carrying the discussion forward, yet is missing from Boyle's analysis, is employment contracts. The self-ownership thesis as applied to the knowledge in workers heads, as Kenneth Arrow, Michael Perelman, David Ellerman and others have pointed out, raises difficult issues for corporate governance and the rights of workers. Information economics has many unexplored vistas related to labor law; who owns the knowledge of the firm, under what conditions are workers entitled to privacy from their fellow workers - an immense topic given how corporate hierarchies generate huge asymmetries of power at work and the resulting distribution of income. Hopefully Professor Boyle and his colleagues will take up these critical issues in the future.
As for the other reviewers anxieties concerning Karl Marx, their fears are completely unfounded.
8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant but virtually unreadable Oct. 28 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Boyle's ideas are fantastic and his analysis is poignant and timely. Be forewarned, however, that the average sentence length in this book is so long that you will get lost multiple times per page. Add in an average of 0.4 cryptic references to ancient literature per page and a healthy dose of words that will send even Duke law students running for the dictionary and you have a very tough task in front of you.
If you want to learn from Boyle, take his IP class, don't try to read the book. His IP class is fabulous. But beware that he will ask you read this book (I hear even his torts students had to read it) and it will be a terrible experience. You will need to be able to come up with at least one idea from it to toss into your exam answers, as he generally writes at least one question that starts with "Using one or more concepts from Shamans..." The dreadful 27 hour take home exam period is not the time to pick the book up for the first time.
5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Good points lost in poor writing April 9 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Boyle raises several interesting points regarding information law and he does bring a different way of deciphering the intricacies of copyright and information law. However, many times his arguments are lost in his use of analogies, references, and words which even an attorney can not understand. In other parts of his book, he provides little explanation of the economic theories which have been used by previous scholars to defend the current status of information law. This leaves the reader confused unless the reader is an economist by training. Although I agree with Boyle's view of information law as being bigger than it has previously been defined, I think his archaic style of writing leaves the reader more frustrated than enlightened. I recommend having Black's Law Dictionary and Webster's handy if you are going to read this book.
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant analysis of law, information and the market. Dec 14 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I have both just finished Boyle's book and his Torts class at Washington College of Law. Boyle's analysis is strikingly clear. Taking as one of his launching-off points the important California Supreme Court decision in Moore V. Regents of California, Boyle tackles issues ranging from the commodification and distribution of information to the creation of legally protected property interests in biology. He exposes that courts make decisions based not so much on ahistorical, immutable legal principles but on policy considerations often directly related to contemporary trends in economic thinking. Boyle, despite several references to Marx, is a defender of a uniquely American kind of privatized safety regime in the form of the tort system. This has confused careless readers as evidenced by Huber in the pages of the NYT.

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