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Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from…

Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates (2009)

by Adrian Johns

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I'll admit I'm only 30 pages into this book and on the verge of giving up on it. I have no doubt it has great information in it, but its academic voice slows it down too much, often using ten words where five would do (in my opinion).
  SESchend | Sep 6, 2017 |
This is long and dense... something I suspect I'll turn to once in a while when I'm in the mood.
  lhtouchton | Feb 11, 2012 |
All of this has happened before, and if we’re lucky, all of it will happen again. Johns argues that piracy as a concept precedes and structures our definitions of intellectual property, focusing on England and then the U.S. and on copyright and trademark. Intellectual property and piracy debates have always invoked narratives of privacy, autonomy, and accountability.

If it’s happening in IP now, it happened then: There are echoes of Viacom’s shenanigans in planting supposedly “unauthorized” content on YouTube in 18th-century authors who occasionally connived to have unaturhoized editions published so as to be able to disavow responsibility for the sentiments expressed but still achieve fame; part of the process was to accuse the publishers of piracy. Also, prepublication copies were leaked by faithless employees, then to Dublin as now to the internet. Then as now, laws required publishers to identify themselves (today, many US states require CD/DVD pressers to identify themselves on the physical copy); then as now, pirates evaded the law.

Continuing on, antipatent agitation in the 19th century was founded in the belief that patents suppressed and distorted innate inventiveness in the masses and ignored the role of the intellectual commons; anti-patent folks also complained about patent trolls who didn’t practice their inventions and asserted their rights opportunistically.

Johns then offers a history of British radio broadcasting in which IP owners wanted to allow only sealed sets with predetermined frequencies; they called unlicensed listeners and listeners using unapproved equipment “pirates.” As with the DMCA, major players argued that experimenters’ licenses and the definition of acceptable experimentation had to be sharply limited so that not just anyone could experiment. In the 1950s, pirate record labels acted like anime fansubbers now, publishing otherwise unavailable jazz recordings in the name of preservation and proselytization, and agreeing to discontinue their activities whenever a licensed copy became available.

Here’s a presentist summary from Johns himself: “the situation confronting early Net users was reminiscent of that facing authors and booksellers in the eighteenth century itself. Claims about the scaredness of authorship and a new age of reason had been loud and legion then too. Pirates had been attacked for offenses that ranged beyond literal theft and impugned credit, fidelity, and authenticity. Practices comparable to what are now termed identity theft or phishing (the imitation of institutions) were rampant. Printed communication was hailed as emancipatory, rational, and enlightened in principle, but in practice seemed riddled with problems…. The reality, extent, and epistemic implications of piratical practices were held up as not only challenges to intellectual property—those those challenges were widely declared to be fundamental—but as threats to the possibility of a rational online public.” ( )
  rivkat | Jul 1, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226401189, Hardcover)

Since the rise of Napster and other file-sharing services in its wake, most of us have assumed that intellectual piracy is a product of the digital age and that it threatens creative expression as never before. The Motion Picture Association of America, for instance, claimed that in 2005 the film industry lost $2.3 billion in revenue to piracy online. But here Adrian Johns shows that piracy has a much longer and more vital history than we have realized—one that has been largely forgotten and is little understood.

Piracy explores the intellectual property wars from the advent of print culture in the fifteenth century to the reign of the Internet in the twenty-first. Brimming with broader implications for today’s debates over open access, fair use, free culture, and the like, Johns’s book ultimately argues that piracy has always stood at the center of our attempts to reconcile creativity and commerce—and that piracy has been an engine of social, technological, and intellectual innovations as often as it has been their adversary. From Cervantes to Sonny Bono, from Maria Callas to Microsoft, from Grub Street to Google, no chapter in the story of piracy evades Johns’s graceful analysis in what will be the definitive history of the subject for years to come.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:28 -0400)

"Piracy explores the intellectual property wars from the advent of print culture in the fifteenth century to the reign of the Internet in the twenty-first. Written with a historian's flair for narrative and sparkling detail, the book swarms throughout with characters of genius, principle, cunning, and outright criminal intent. In the wars over piracy, it is the victims - from Charles Dickens to Bob Dylan - who have always been the best known, but the principal players - the pirates themselves - have long languished in obscurity, and it is their stories especially that Johns brings to vivid life in these pages."--BOOK JACKET.

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