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Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership
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Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  183 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Common as Air offers a stirring defense of our cultural commons, that vast store of art and ideas we have inherited from the past that continues to enrich our present. Suspicious of the current idea that all creative work is “intellectual property,” Lewis Hyde turns to America’s founding fathers--men like John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson--in search of other ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 17th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Craig Werner
An important book which provides a clear compelling argument for taking the notion of the "commons" seriously in relation to intellectual property. Hyde resists the romantic notions of the commons popularized by the influential (overly so) essay "The Tragedy of the Commons," emphasizing the centrality of "stints" (limitations of various sorts)to the actual use of commons. He does back to the founding fathers--the real thinking beings, not the tea party caricatures--and demonstrates that they saw ...more
Reading for my Remix class, because it provides a thoughtful, reasoned, historically based discussion of what it means to have a cultural commons rather than private property. The debates about intellectual property and remix are too often reduced to Evil Record Companies vs. free and good youth culture in which everyone shares. Even Laurence Lessig, who is a lawyer, contributes to simple minded thinking about freedom and culture; apparently he's more focused on raising awareness about the encro ...more
Cole Wardell
In its structure and organization, Common As Air is Hyde's weakest book, which I think follows the trend of his publications subsequent to The Gift (though, sure, I'm likely romanticizing it). And the reason why this is so unfortunate is because the ideas and arguments are as strong as that first text.

Hyde is known for drawing from diverse genres and disciplines in order to build an argument that is thorough and logical, but also emotive. But with Common as Air, as with 'Trickster', I found that
A helpful read to distinguish the forms of intellectual property, and the boundaries of the Commons.

Even as market triumphalists work to extend the range of private property, a movement has arisen to protect the many things best held in common.

Most people act as if they had a private understanding but in fact, the Logos is common to all. - Heraclitus

Lucubrate - root is ‘lux’ being light itself. Lucubrations are the mental harvest of midnight oil (study, meditations)

Scientia Donum Dei Est
Unde Ven
A good survey of how we have shaped (and can reshape, collectively) the cultural value of creativity. Read it if you want to think about things like:

If “I am a collective being“ or if “I is someone else,” then there is a limit to what “I” can own, even of “my” creations... No work is wholly “mine” to begin with. The duty of the citizen in the cultural commons is to find the right relationship between the private ego (the one that responds to need and earns a living) and the public ego (the one t
I would not have read this if it had not been on the list for our book club, but once I got started, I found it fascinating and very useful in thinking about the debates around intellectual property. Hyde follows the notion of a "commons" from England, into colonial times, and through the writings of the Founding Fathers. He argues persuasively that current copyright law and notions of "intellectual property" do much to stifle creativity and impede cultural production. Highly recommended!
Gina Scioscia
An excellent book for understanding the history and legislation surrounding copyright that has lead to the current quandry of the 21st century. With SOPA and PIPA bills pending in congress, I found Hyde's book a sobering look at the principles and intentions of copyright & patent law. Fans of Lessig will find another eloquent voice in the fight against the commodification of culture and a champion for rational legislation that protects artistic & intellectual property in fair and realist ...more
Phil Newman
Wow! This book was challenging to get through. At times the fascinating story is compelling, at other times this book reads like a legal textbook. Somewhere in the middle is a very interesting tale of the evolution of copyrights, copyduty, trademarks, patents, etc... I'm better for having read this book, and if you do any work with 'proprietary' information, I'd recommend you read it as well.

The book is full of interesting quotes and tales of ownership. Perhaps my favorite was Pete Seeger's quo
Lewis Hyde's "Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership" is a wonderful introduction to intellectual property law in its current forms as well as its history in America, as per the intentions of the founding fathers, and Britain. Hyde's prose weaves cultural, historical, and legal ideas into an engaging and challenging introduction to intellectual property and the cultural commons as they apply to us today in the fields of software development, movie and music entertainment, authors and poet ...more
Exposes the BS behind "intellectual property" and how the copyrighting of ideas has gotten out of hand while becoming impossible to control.
Martin Cerjan
Two things: the Constitution grants limited monopolies to creators and inventors and those monopolies should be limited; and nothing is truly original since all work builds on other work. The originalist arguments are interesting, but I'm not sure they would hold much sway with a conservative judiciary. So long as Congress continues to extend protections for select intellectual property, there's probably not much hope. Maybe I'm still not convinced that the "commons" argument is a winner. Everyt ...more
Margaret Heller
Well-reasoned and evidenced with a great sense of humor. The centerpiece is an examination of the philosophy of sharing and intellectual property in the eighteenth century to understand the framers' ideals. Important caveats that it is easy to be anonymous and share widely when you already are important and have a name. Essentially, it's better to share, but the commons requires care just as it always has. A strong argument against patenting the human genome, with plenty of examples of how proac ...more
A scholarly look at the concept of intellectual property and how it has been handled through the ages. Most people don't take an informed stance on this topic: they either adhere blindly to the legal restrictions surrounding intellectual property, or they ignore them entirely. Lewis Hyde rightly points out that this issue deserves more careful consideration -- from both sides of the divide. Hyde may not be prolific, but he is something of a literary genius... and one of the most impressive profe ...more
Catherine Woodman
The author thinks that we have been profoundly wrong in how we have changed the intellectual property laws and copyright in this country, and for back up he goes back to the founding fathers. he does a great job of going through what Ben Franklin patented and what he did not, and why he made those choices. He argues that what we are now doing is not only not what they would have done but that it is not good for the country. It is short and thought provoking and easy to read. Highly recommended.
Lewis Hyde, author of "The Gift" and "Tricksters Makes This World" (both "epiphany, in sculpted prose" as Jonathan Lethem so aptly put) presents here what I predict will become the definitive moral argument for the relaxation of copyright and patent laws. Hyde proves, with clear and succinct examples, how our democracy and culture have always been strengthened by a vast and free Cultural Commons, and how the commodification of ideas threatens our very development.
Margaret Sankey
By wandering off into anecdotal stories, the author attempts to tie together an Anglo-American tradition of "commons" with early 18th century legal origins of copyright and the challenges of new media and idea like open source programming, censorship through denying access to material (the James Joyce Estate in particular), and crowd-sourced projects like Wikipedia. Also guilty of playing "what would Benjamin Franklin thing of Napster?"
Can't say enough about Lewis Hyde. His arguments are so smart and his take is always above the ordinary. This book makes you think differently about intellectual property and makes you long for the good old days of Ben Franklin and John Adams - when being "common" was actually kind of good. Who knew that you can't quote from MLK's "I Have a Dream" but because of the farsightedness of Pete Seeger you can sing "We Shall Overcome."
Not as wide-ranging or full of revelation and joyful a-ha moments as his earlier works, a bit too cautious for me, but still - such a pleasure to read his scholarly defense of the cultural commons. Hyde is always a gentle antidote to the rigidity of idées fixes - like the current insane and futile (to me, at least) drive to privatize and commodify every last thing, dead or alive.
Carol Weaver
Really enjoyed it and will be starting a discussion with colleagues - it provides a really good starting point for reflection on the open access debate.
Feb 17, 2012 Gabriel added it
Shelves: 2012
"Those who claim rights of ownership have...duties to stint their claims such that anyone coming later will (in Locke's words) find that 'enough, and as good' has been 'left in common.' Simply put, if the commons are to be made durable, the commoners need to act on, to codify even, the duties that arise from being who they are."
Marjorie Hakala
I was unexpectedly charmed by this. It's articulate and well structured (which sounds like faint praise, though what I really mean is that it was easy to read), and it's deeply historically literate. Hyde chose to write this as an argument instead of a manifesto, and I appreciate that a great deal.
I would have given it five stars but it got a little long-winded through the middle third of the book. Having said that anyone interested in the issues of scholarly open access or net neutrality should definitely read this to provide context for the issues.
Best thing I have read on this subject in terms of readability. This topic is difficult for folks who aren't already really interested in it (hi librarians), but this one makes it accessible and engaging whether you know nothing or a lot about it.
I always appreciate a book that engages in a learned and civil conversation. This book does so very well. My understanding was deepened and my mind opened by reading it. I'm grateful for Hyde's contribution to our cultural commons.
Aloud LA
Aug 23, 2010 Aloud LA is currently reading it
Lewis Hyde in conversation with Peter Sellars on September 23rd. Free reservations at

NY Times book review:
This was an unusually interesting book. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I learned a lot about copyrights and patents during the past few centuries that I found interesting.
An important book. Hyde is skilled in making (and supporting) an argument with thoughtfulness and passion (which is my favorite thing).
Lauren Kosrow
Lively discussion of modern copyright and patent laws and cogent argument in defense of our "cultural commons." Loved it.
Rory Foster
Really interesting book, I thought. Some neat legal stuff, but with a wider range. It has Bob Dylan in it, too....
not as good as THE GIFT which changed my life----giving without obligation is so nice
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The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking This Error Is the Sign of Love On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg

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“We are each born into a situation—a particular body (its race, sex, health...), a set of ancestors, a community, a nation—and born into the stories told of each of these.” 7 likes
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