Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, August 1, 2014

the end of intellectual property?

From the conclusion of Adrian Johns’s remarkable book Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates

The confrontation between piracy and the intellectual property defense industry is perhaps set to trigger a radical transformation in the relation between creativity and commercial life. That idea is not as inconceivable as it may seem. Such turning points have happened before — about once every century, in fact, since the end of the Middle Ages. The last major one occurred at the height of the industrial age, and catalyzed the invention of intellectual property. Before that, another took place in the Enlightenment, when it led to the emergence of the first modern copyright system and the first modern patents regime. And before that, there was the creation of piracy in the 1660s-1680s. By extrapolation, we are already overdue to experience another revolution of the same magnitude. If it does happen in the near future, it may well bring down the curtain on what will then, in retrospect, come to be seen as a coherent epoch of about 150 years: the era of intellectual property.

A remarkable book, indeed, but not without its longeurs — Johns likes to tell his stories in great detail, and while my scholarly-completist side admires this trait, my readerly side sometimes wished for less exhaustive treatments. 

But it’s a very rich book full of remarkable events, which Johns shrewdly analyzes. It deserves careful reading by people in a wide range of disciplines, from the history of science to the history of law to political philosophy to the history and theory of technology. I have sometimes thought about inaugurating a Text Patterns Book Club, and this seems like a great candidate. Another one might be Nick Carr’s forthcoming The Glass Cage: Automation and Us. Thoughts? 

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