The Public Domain Enclosing the Commons of the Mind
Publisher description: "Our music, our culture, our science and our economic welfare all depend on a delicate balance between those ideas that are controlled and those that are free, between intellectual property and the public domain. In The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press) James Boyle introduces readers to the idea of the public domain and describes how it is being tragically eroded by our current copyright, patent, and trademark laws. In a series of fascinating case studies, Boyle explains why gene sequences, basic business ideas and pairs of musical notes are now owned, why jazz might be illegal if it were invented today, why most of 20th century culture is legally unavailable to us, and why today's policies would probably have smothered the World Wide Web at its inception. Appropriately given its theme, the book will be sold commercially but also made available online for free under a Creative Commons license."
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The best everyman's book on Intellectual Property. Yes, I have read several on this topic, as it is a topic that I am passionate about. This book is a down-to-earth look at what intellectual property is (it is an artificial right created by governments, not a natural right as many of us believe), what it is for (to encourage innovation, not to discourage competition), and where it is headed (toward longer and stronger rights for IP owners and their descendants).
It addresses the many misconceptions that most people have about "stealing" ideas, expanding rights, and fair use. It describes the problematic approach that many turn to of using analogies to the physical world when talking about ideas. It suggests a solution based on a concept of the "environment" that helped sustainability become mainstream. And it does this all with a balanced perspective. The author states repeatedly that he is not anti-intellectual property. It can be very useful and very important, when our founding fathers' cautions regarding its reach are heeded.
Although occasionally you may find spots that are a bit technical and difficult to fully understand, keep going. As someone with no professional background in law or intellectual property, most of this book is fairly simple and easy to understand.
This should be required reading at every public high school, or at the very least, every accredited university. Today's culture has such a biased view on intellectual property, and such a careless attitude towards our intellectual commons that we don't realize how badly things are headed. Individual situations catch our ire occasionally; bad software patents, or patents on DNA sequences, or patent trolls, but we fail to realize that these problems are systemic, and part of a much larger problem of mindshare and mindset.
I would implore everyone to read this book. Become educated on this portion of our constitution and its current state. The only way to combat our slide towards greater and greater government-granted monopoly rights is to educate the public, the lawmakers, lawyers, and yes, lobbyists, CEOs, and the men and women in our judicial system, especially judges and juries.
I only wish the author could update and re-release the book every couple of years, as things today are even worse than when the book was published.
Related media includes:
FREE: The Future of a Radical Price, by Chris Anderson talks about today's digital "free" market, how it is possible, and how it works. This overlaps greatly on the topic of the Public Domain.
Against Intellectual Property, by N. Stephan Kinsella gives a more negative view about the benefits of Intellectual Property and proposes that most or all IP rights should be either eliminated or severely culled.
Everything is a Remix, by Kirby Ferguson, is a video series outlining some of the very same issues and examples and arguments as this book.