Craig Werner's Reviews > Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership

Common as Air by Lewis Hyde
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Dec 01, 11

bookshelves: political-economy
Read from November 26 to December 01, 2011

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 copyright as a part of a bigger picture contribuing to the public good. In practice what that means is allowing for limited term copyright with the clear understanding that the material would be released into the public domain within a generation (about 19 years at most). While the meat of the book is Hyde's historical excavation, he does a nice job applying his argument to the cases of the human genome, Bob Dylan's music, and the absolutely tragic commodification of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. (by King's own heirs). Hyde relies on the founding fathers--especially Franklin, Madison and Jefferson, with a bit of Adams tossed in--not as authorities per se but because they developed arguments in a rigorous manner which is absolutely foreign to our current public sphere. I'll be using this book a lot. Highly recommended.
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Reading Progress

11/30/2011 page 135
42.0% "I don't typically comment on books in mid-stream, but I want to flag this one for anyone even vaguely interested in the debates around "intellectual property." Hyde does a brilliant and judiciously balanced job exploring the founding father's positions on "the commons." This will be a book I come back to frequently. Moving on to the part where he applies the history to the present."

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