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Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership [Kindle Edition]

Lewis Hyde
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $8.89
You Save: $7.11 (44%)
Sold by: Macmillan

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Book Description

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.




Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The question of how our cultural commons, our shared store of art and knowledge, might be made compatible with our modern age of stringent copyright laws, intellectual property rights, and restrictive patenting is taken up with considerable brio by Hyde (The Gift). Moving deftly between literary analysis, historiography, biography, and impassioned polemic, the book traces the idea of commonage from its English pastoral manifestations and pays particular attention to the American founding fathers' ideals of self-governance and civic republicanism grounded in the vision of a public realm animated by openly shared knowledge and property rights that functioned for the benefit of society rather than individuals alone. Hyde leaps nimbly, if sometimes too hurriedly, from the Ancient Mariner to the human genome project, ultimately offering a vision of human subjectivity that is fundamentally social, historical, and plural. If the book is perhaps not wholly successful in showing how we might concretely legislate for a cultural commons that would simultaneously allow for financial reward and protection from monopoly, it is nonetheless a fascinating and eminently readable attempt to coordinate commerce and creativity in what he sees as an increasingly restrictive economy of ideas.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In his seminal book The Gift (1983), Hyde invited us to bridge the chasm between the values of the artist and the pressures of the marketplace by considering traditional economies based on reciprocal gift giving. With his latest selection, the poet–translator–cultural anthropologist–public intellectual again examines the intersection between creativity and commerce, in particular, the question of whether the fruits of creative labor can or should be privately owned. As before, Hyde’s impetus in writing is in part fear of the constraints unrestrained capitalism seems to impose on artists and cultural innovators; a considerable portion of this account is devoted to chronicling the recent corporate land grab of knowledge and the thorny bramble of intellectual property law. But this is less a manifesto of the misleadingly named copy-Left movement than it is a search for cultural consensus on which meaningful rules can be based. Finding inspiration and precedent in the concept of the commons in English land-tenure law (as well as the examples of Benjamin Franklin and Bob Dylan, among others), Hyde argues that art and ideas constitute an inherently public cultural commons that is most fertile when authors have only limited permission to enclose their works from unauthorized use. Deeply researched and powerfully felt, this book presents a compelling case for an alternate paradigm, and showcases the originality that readers cherished in The Gift. --Brendan Driscoll

Product Details

  • File Size: 517 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (August 17, 2010)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003R0LBPS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #617,338 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
(6)
3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
The great virtue of Common as Air is the originality of Lewis Hyde's engaging historical exploration of the cultural commons. Contrary to the claims of one reviewer here, the commons has not been swept into the dustbin of history by capitalism. It lives a quite vibrant contemporary life in such commons as open source software, Wikipedia and Creative Commons-licensed music, images and books. The point is to understand the social dynamics of such commons (quite apart from the role of markets and government). Copyright law clearly does not appreciate these dimensions of creativity. Why exactly is so much creativity incubated in social communities, and how do property rights and markets sometimes stifle culture?

Don't be mistaken into thinking that this book is a dry policy analysis. It's a lush, provocative and highly readable meditation on human creativity, culture and property rights, especially in the context of American history. Who knew that Benjamin Franklin was not just an iconic entrepreneur, but also America's "founding pirate," an innovator deeply committed to collaborative invention and the open sharing of knowledge? Hyde tells a largely untold story about the Founders' commitment to open, shareable culture and innovation. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific December 9, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book explains the true meaning "commons" in the context of the public good. This is critical to an understanding of the development of copyright, both in terms of the law and also in terms of critical thinking about this complex subject. Further, the writing style is excellent. The writing is readable, clear, and direct. I recommend this book highly.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lewis Hyde's Tragic Commons December 15, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Did you know the poems of Emily Dickinson - she died one hundred and twenty four years ago - will continue to be owned by Harvard University Press until 2050? That during the 2008 presidential campaign Fox News forced John McCain to remove a commercial from YouTube featuring unauthorized footage from a Fox-moderated debate? That the RIAA filed over 20,000 lawsuits against illegal downloaders, often teenagers, for claims in excess of $9,000 a track? These are the problems with contemporary intellectual property law that Lewis Hyde seeks to solve with his new book, Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership. Relying heavily on the American founders, Hyde argues forcefully that we have moved away from the vision of the commons held by the founders and towards an increasing "market triumphalist" enclosure on the commons. This enclosure, it is argued, is stifling American arts and sciences.

The dominating theme of this book is what Hyde calls the commons. The commons is a type of property wherein multiple parties exercise rights. For Hyde, we should strive for a more robust commons and cultural output should be managed as a "collectively owned resource" where diverse individuals possess a right of action. To support this idea, Hyde relies almost exclusively upon the writings of the American founders to support this assertion. Indeed, the Constitution itself supports this view. According to that document, the project of copyright in this country is "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Hyde here quite correctly states that the primary goal of copyright in our constitutional system is to enlarge and invigorate the commons.
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