Brian Ferguson's Reviews > The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind

The Public Domain by James Boyle
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In July of 2012, after taking a tour of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, I visited the Library of Congress across the street. The last time I was there was more than 20 years ago, and since I am now a school librarian, I was excited to see the largest library in the world. I was sorely disappointed. On my previous visit, one could walk through the ornate lobby directly into the main reading room. Now casual visitors may only climb a set of narrow stairs to a high balcony that overlooks the reading room, and is separated from it by thick, presumably bulletproof, glass.

In "The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind" author James Boyle recounts showing the Library of Congress website to his grandson who then asked him, "Where do you click to get the book?" Sadly, the answer is that free access to most of the creative works of the past century are locked up by copyright law. Works that are commercially unavailable, even works whose ownership cannot be traced, are still prohibited by law from being distributed. In this digital world, the Library of Congress could be the greatest source of freely available music, literature, and information the world has ever known. Instead it is a vault, locked down because corporate "content owners" have convinced the politicians that their "intellectual property" needs ever greater legal protection.

Early in the book, Boyle points out that, historically, copyright (and patents) is the exception, not the general rule. Nowadays, copyright seems to have become the rule and "fair use" is considered to be an exception. This is a dangerous reversal of priorities that continues to have serious repercussions in education, science, and technology, as well as music and literature. This book is an important "must read" for librarians, educators, and others involved in intellectual and creative pursuits. We must speak up and defend the Commons before it is completely locked up and sold to the highest bidder.
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Reading Progress

July 26, 2012 – Shelved
September 23, 2012 – Started Reading
September 23, 2012 – Finished Reading

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