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Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and…
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Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership (2010)

by Lewis Hyde

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Showing 4 of 4
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. ( )
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
I picked this book up after hearing the author interviewed as he was very thought-provoking. I was used to thinking of intellectual property in the "property is property" frame even if I had vague problems with it. This book really made me fundamentally rethink what intellectual property, patents, and copyrights can mean--that there are other ways of thinking than what is commercially popular. I wish everyone could read this book (or perhaps something shorter and less philosophical) so that we could have our eyes opened to how narrow the discussion has gotten from the available options. ( )
  pikarun | Aug 20, 2011 |
Interesting. ( )
  pilarflores | Dec 22, 2010 |
Originally posted @ http://tnt-tek.com/reviews/review-common-as-air-by-lewis-hyde/

The issue of copyright has always been a contentious one in the United States, a fact that Common As Air, the new book by writing professor Lewis Hyde, documents in excruciating detail. Dating back to the dawn of revolution with the Stamp Act and moving forward to modern day open source licensing, Hyde picks apart the current intellectual property conceit and makes a populist argument against cultural monopolies. Hyde moves deftly from feudal commons to Benjamin Franklin’s patent-less stove, dropping terminology like “enclosure” and “civic republicanism” to illustrate a clear path of cultural inheritance that has been sealed off lately only to the benefit of content providers, interpreters and large media conglomerates.

The book contains a wealth of material to back up its claims but never quite seals the deal with modern solutions. For instance, Hyde alludes to the conundrum of intellectual property, its stickiness as actual property, its ability to flourish without depriving the originator of his novelty, but he never draws a clear policy conclusion on what competing idiom should be offered to the copyright evangelist’s ”theft is theft.” He diverges into a rapturous retelling of philosophical arguments from the early Greeks, where there were two classes of men, free or enslaved. The distinction, that if any man could be held to account to another, he was not truly free. He then ties this together with an idea from the 17th century that separates spheres of political influence from one another, e.g., religious tyranny over education. The two points together lead to a conclusion that copyright control claims amount to tyranny over all forms of cultural communications. The part that’s missing is what action must be taken to release ourselves from this situation. What is the alternative and how could it be implemented to provide fairness to creators?

Common As Air presents plenty of worthy tidbits that make it interesting despite the lack of a call to action. The middle chapters give us a good look at the founding fathers’ views on cultural monopolies, including some of the background on arguments that led to the inclusion of copyrights and patents in the constitution. Early chapters allude to conflicts as to the rights of agricultural and drug companies to monopolize platforms in developing nations to a degree that general populations find it impossible to meet the financial burdens. These conflicts are never brought into the main narrative. In fact, very little of the ethics of copyrights are debated in the book.

At its best, the book allows for some moralizing on topics such as the strict copyright control of Martin Luther King, Jr’s I Have A Dream speech. Hyde digs at the double standard that enforces large fees on scholarly works mentioning the speech and the seemingly flippant use of for wireless telephone service advertising. He attacks the heirs of James Joyce for diminishing the status of the authors great works by not allowing reproductions in scholarly works, again save for an exorbitant fee. The final chapters unveils a laundry list of rights management gone awry and even details the use of copyright claim to enclose what was previously public domain.

If you are looking for a good background on early copyright law or are interested in philosophical arguments for a strong public domain policy, Common As Air will satiate that appetite. Those looking for the nuance of current copyright law and the ethical arguments behind the proponents for change will be disappointed. ( )
2 vote tnt-tek | Oct 6, 2010 |
Showing 4 of 4
... A multi-layered critique of intellectual property, a modern phenomenon he describes as 'historically strange.' ... Thoroughly stimulating ... [E]ven readers who disagree with Hyde's conclusions will be enriched by Common as Air. If we could make it required reading, it would surely improve our world.
 
Intellectual property has become such a hot topic that it needs to be doused with some history. Strange as it may sound, this is an argument developed convincingly in Lewis Hyde’s “Common as Air,” an eloquent and erudite plea for protecting our cultural patrimony from appropriation by commercial interests. ...
 
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"Every Free-Man ... shall have ... the Honey that is found within his Woods." --The Great Charter of the Forest (1217)
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For Patsy and for my father, W. Lewis Hyde (1919-2003), who taught me about Dolland's case
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374223130, Hardcover)

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 ways to value the fruits of human wit and imagination. What he discovers is a rich tradition in which knowledge was assumed to be a commonwealth, not a private preserve.

 

For the founding fathers, democratic self-governance itself demanded open and easy access to ideas. So did the growth of creative communities, such as that of eighteenth-century science. And so did the flourishing of public persons, the very actors whose “civic virtue” brought the nation into being.

 

In this lively, carefully argued, and well-documented book, Hyde brings the past to bear on present matters, shedding fresh light on everything from the Human Genome Project to Bob Dylan’s musical roots. Common as Air allows us to stand on the shoulders of America’s revolutionary giants and to see beyond today’s narrow debates over cultural ownership. What it reveals is nothing less than an inspiring vision of how to reclaim the commonwealth of art and ideas that we were meant to inherit.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:29 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In this lively, carefully argued, and well-documented book, Hyde brings the past to bear on present matters, shedding fresh light on everything from the Human Genome Project to Bob Dylan's musical root, revealing a vision of how to reclaim the commonwealth of art and ideas that we were meant to inherit.… (more)

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