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The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind [Hardcover]

James Boyle

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Book Description

Dec 9 2008

In this enlightening book James Boyle describes what he calls the range wars of the information age—today’s heated battles over intellectual property. Boyle argues that just as every informed citizen needs to know at least something about the environment or civil rights, every citizen should also understand intellectual property law. Why? Because intellectual property rights mark out the ground rules of the information society, and today’s policies are unbalanced, unsupported by evidence, and often detrimental to cultural access, free speech, digital creativity, and scientific innovation.

 

Boyle identifies as a major problem the widespread failure to understand the importance of the public domain—the realm of material that everyone is free to use and share without permission or fee. The public domain is as vital to innovation and culture as the realm of material protected by intellectual property rights, he asserts, and he calls for a movement akin to the environmental movement to preserve it. With a clear analysis of issues ranging from Jefferson’s philosophy of innovation to musical sampling, synthetic biology and Internet file sharing, this timely book brings a positive new perspective to important cultural and legal debates. If we continue to enclose the “commons of the mind,” Boyle argues, we will all be the poorer. 


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (Dec 9 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300137400
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300137408
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 590 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #427,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“Boyle has been the godfather of the Free Culture Movement since his extraordinary book, Shamans, Software, and Spleens set the framework for the field a decade ago. In this beautifully written and subtly argued book, Boyle has succeeded in resetting that framework, and beginning the work in the next stage of this field. The Public Domain is absolutely crucial to understanding where the debate has been, and where it will go. And Boyle's work continues to be at the center of that debate.”—Lawrence Lessig, C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, Stanford Law School and author of Free Culture and The Future of Ideas
(Lawrence Lessig)

“In this delightful volume, Professor Boyle gives the reader a masterful tour of the intellectual property wars, the fight over who will control the information age, pointing the way toward the promise—and peril—of the future. A must read for both beginner and expert alike!”—Jimmy Wales, founder, Wikipedia
(Jimmy Wales)

“Boyle is one of the world's major thinkers on the centrality of the public domain to the production of knowledge and culture. He offers a comprehensive and biting critique of where our copyright and patent policy has gone, and prescriptions for how we can begin to rebalance our law and practice. It is the first book I would give to anyone who wants to understand the causes, consequences, and solutions in the debates over copyrights, patents, and the public domain of the past decade and a half.”—Yochai Benkler, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard Law School
(Yochai Benkler)

"[T]his book is remarkable in many ways. . . I welcome this clarity and the sheer enthusiasm and humor of this simply delightful book."—Edward J. Valauskas, First Monday
(Edward J. Valauskas First Monday 2009-01-05)

"The author is a fine writer, gifted teacher and great explainer so readers can actually enjoy this thoughtful and important discussion without seeking assisted stimulation." — Richard Pachter, Miami Herald
(Richard Pachter Miami Herald 2009-02-02)

About the Author

James Boyle is William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law. He lives in Chapel Hill, NC.


Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The one thing you should read in this subject, and at least five times Dec 4 2008
By Lawrence - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jamie Boyle's work -- both academic and activist -- has define the field of copyright, or copy-left, or copy-fight. His earlier book, Shamans, Software and Spleens : Law and the Construction of the Information Society, was the book that got me to recognize how enormously important these issues were. This book, his latest, delivers a beautiful and mature understanding of the state of this "war."

The book maps perfectly the history of these debates. But best in my view is the way it capture the current salience as it relates to the current version of digital technologies. His understanding of the "mash-up" problem, and the potential for a new digital literacy is better than anything else out there just now. And as the current Chairman of Creative Commons, his understanding of free, voluntary alternatives to the current mess is better than (just about) anyone.

There are of course a million critical problems that America faces. But the issues that Boyle is writing about are high among the list of those critical problems. Special interests have radically distorted the best in America's tradition. And if you track Boyle's views from the beginning of these battles to today, you will see that he has from the beginning understood what the world now is just beginning to recognize. He is, in my view, America's foremost scholar and teacher in this field. This book is an enormous contribution (but just a small token of what he's done).

Buy it for yourself and 10 of your best friends. Send a couple to the RIAA and MPAA.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading The Public Domain on the Kindle Dec 24 2008
By Court Merrigan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Imagine it is 1991. Your task is to produce the greatest reference work in history. It must cover everything from the best Thai food in Durham to the history of the Blue Dog coalition. Will you hire an army of experts and editors to produce an encyclopedia? Or will you wait for an unorganized multitude of volunteers aided by search engines to create a world wide web of information?

I would have bet on the experts. James Boyle, Duke University law professor and author of The Public Domain, would have, too. The last time he consulted a print encyclopedia was 1998. You? The internet, of course, changed everything. But: "In the middle of the most successful and exciting experiment in nonproprietary, distributed creativity in the history of our species, our policy makers can see only the threat from `piracy.'"

Take an MP3. Boyle argues that it is fundamentally different than physical property, like a car. My use of an MP3 does not interfere with yours. We can both listen to it. No property is lost if it is copied or shared. It is not like stealing your car. You have an MP3, and I have an MP3. No one has "lost" anything. Except the content provider's (an insidious term if ever there was one) opportunity for profit. BMG and Sony, naturally, equate file-sharing with theft. They argue that file-sharing means no creators are compensated, meaning there is no incentive to create. No one creates for free, they say. A one-word retort: Wikipedia.

The recording companies use copyright law to protect their ability to profit in a specific, proprietary way. But as Boyle points out, the very purpose of copyright law is not to protect creators, and still less distributors, but to insure that the public receives the benefit of new creativity through the incentives of a free market. Hence, the public domain: work enters the public domain after a reasonable period so anyone can build on it. But not to hear BMG or Hollywood tell it. They're busy putting up digital barbed wire across the free range of the internet to "protect" their content. This despite their own history of flawed predictions. VCRs were once declared the death knell for Hollywood. Attempts were made to smother home video technology in its cradle.

And yet today Hollywood thrives off movie rentals

Boyle argues the same holds true with the internet. Fortunately for us, the technology simply evolved too fast. Had policy makers and content providers been given the opportunity, they would surely have killed the internet as we know it. Remember AOL, circa 1995? That's where the content providers were comfortable. They are doing their best not to drop the ball again. Boyle marshals a series of powerful arguments ranging from Thomas Jefferson to Ray Charles to Google to show why they must be stopped. We began to lock up our culture "at the very moment in history when the Internet made it a particularly stupid idea to do so", and the tide must be reversed.

Boyle ends The Public Domain with a call for "cultural environmentalism" to protect and expand the public domain. I like all that the idea conjures up, but I was left a little unclear as to how it could happen. Boyle treads over highly analytical and technical issues with a light touch, but not light enough. Carefully endnoted evidence abounds, emotive talk is eschewed in favor of provisional conclusions based upon empirical evidence. Fair enough, but that approach isn't likely to start any grassroots fires. The broad-based popular movement Boyle envisions requires a Silent Spring moment. Most readers will find this fine book a touch wonkish to tug their heartstrings.

Appropriately, the "internet range wars" extend to this very book. I downloaded it free <a href="[...]">here</a> as a PDF file. As my Kindle does not support PDF, Amazon will convert it to their proprietary .azw file. (Every Kindle owner has free access to this very useful - if totally unnecessary - service.) The formatting is somewhat ragged although still eminently readable. The Kindle's notetaking and highlighting functions are a touch cumbersome and involve waiting for a lot of screens and windows and some awkward keying on tiny buttons. True enough, your notes, highlights and bookmarks are saved - but only as long as you keep it on the one Kindle. At this point, I'm not sure whether this represents much of an advancement over margin notes, a highlighter, and scribbles in a notebook.

But it could. If there were a standard ebook format, then I could download The Public Domain and read it on my Kindle or any other ebook reader. My notes and highlights and bookmarks would follow, rather than being locked up, and I wouldn't have to worry I'd lose either the book or my notes when I upgraded. I'd possess multiple copies which I could easily forward on to others, asking for their input. In other words, an advancement over a print book.

As it stands I can't share a Kindle book, or a Kindle-ized book like The Public Domain. (Ironic, isn't it, that this free book about free culture is now locked up on a proprietary device?) Turns out I don't actually own my Kindle books. Evidently Amazon does. I just own the ability to view it. Basically I've given Amazon $400 for a book cover with a lock on it.

It doesn't have to be this way, of course. Amazon could make the Kindle DRM-free and take a bold leap into the future, rather than these timid baby steps. The Kindle could be the open future of reading. If not, maybe some other device will. Maybe we'll get lucky and Jeff Bezos will read The Public Domain and see the light.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is definitely the place to begin Jan. 13 2010
By Methaya Sirichit - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Boyle's latest book, Public Domain, is a fascinating read. For a copyright lawyer like myself, PD is a god-send. Digital copyright and its implication on free-speech, innovation, access to information/useful writting etc. is a rapidly expanding area of scholarship; litteratures out there are vast and intimidating, enough to put newcomers off eventhough the subject's basic premise could be easily grasped by all. Boyle managed to provide a guide which gives a big picture of what was then, what is now and what will happen next. Just reading this one book will put you in touch with practically all the latest (and disturbing) issues regarding the digital copyright movement. I'm actually teaching my IT law class from it. The endnotes at the back are so informative and useful; they are the perfect guide for readers who want to delve more deeply into any particular topic.

This book also provides everything you will ever need to know about intellectual property, with out going into unnecessary details. It covers philosophy of IP, the historical development (both in common-law world and in the continent), visions and warnings of Jefferson and Macaulay. It also captures the world before and after Sony-Betamax and encapsulates the mind-set of entertainment industry and their dislike of new business practices. I particularly like Boyle's discussion about why a pro-consumer decision like the Sony case is so important as a rare "counter-example" of technological threat argument and why Grockster and Napster failed to reach the same result: it's all about politics of the cartel dinosaurs; no one is really fighting for the consumer. It's simply logical and thus hard not to believe in what he wants to say.

Information here is just abundant. It will probably not be an easy read for non-copyright lawyers, but it is perfect for everyone who wants to think intelligently about the state of affairs regarding copyrights' implications on todays' culture. Read it as many times as you must!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read Nov. 4 2009
By Luis E. Ibanez - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Boyle provides a cold minded analysis of the interactions between the needs for a healthy public commons of knowledge and the economic incentives for the production of knowledge. A very accessible book with an objective approach to a social issue of fundamental importance.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A warning about the dangers of overly aggressive intellectual property policy June 1 2009
By Rolf Dobelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If the current regulatory mindset regarding intellectual property had existed when scientist Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web in 1989, the Internet might never have grown into the remarkable communication, entertainment and archival medium that it is today. Jazz and many other forms of music might never have come into being if governments were as strict decades ago about copyright law as they are now. Today, warns author James Boyle, huge swaths of the world's artistic and cultural heritage - books, photographs, films, musical recordings - are locked up in governmental and private libraries and unavailable for distribution to the general public. Why? No one can identify the copyright holders or their heirs to obtain permission to copy them. The number of such "orphan works" is staggering: more than 95% of all books ever printed, and equally high percentages of film and music. Should the government wall off these potential treasures to protect the rights of nameless individuals, most of whom either don't care or are dead? Boyle, an expert on intellectual property law, thinks not, and he explains why in this heated discussion about trends in his field. getAbstract recommends his illuminating book to writers, inventors, and anyone else involved in the creation of content, as well as to managers and executives who wish both to protect proprietary information and to encourage innovation.

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