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Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership First Edition Edition

16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374223137
ISBN-10: 0374223130
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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.
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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (August 17, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374223130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374223137
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #782,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Brad Lichtenstein on September 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been working on a film about our commons, working with people who care about seeds, cultural commons, intellectual property and its limits on sharing, the water, our air....and it is hard to make a clear argument for why these commons are related and worth fighting for. Hyde is a magician with words, and he's pulled a winner out of his hat. The topic is vital, and the read is a pleasure.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David A. Bollier on July 25, 2012
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By aline soules on 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Linda Bamber on November 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This book should be required reading for anyone old enough to vote. It tells the story of the privatization of what should be, and once was, owned in common; in other words, of a progressive and accelerating theft. And yet the book is a pleasure to read, the product of an idiosyncratic and delighted intelligence, full of narrative and surprise. It has been described as a polemic, and in a sense it is; but there's none of that angry, stay-on-message kind of writing that makes most polemics boring. The emotion is elided in favor of fascinating and varied analyses and tales; but the reader knows what the author feels because she begins to feel it herself. In other words, the book is a work of art as well as non-fiction, making a space for the reader's engagement by getting out of the way. Behind the book, moreover, is a deep and powerful sense of what is violated in the current rush to monetize everything. Hyde is not just a critic of privatization but an impassioned advocate of our common purpose and common good. The book reminds us of our faith in each other and of our place in the human world. It has been read as a brief for political action, and it certainly is; but its value, in my opinion, goes way beyond that. Common As Air revives our sense that we belong to something larger than ourselves that we can and should foster and love.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Damagev2 on October 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
And extremely well written book that provides a lot of insight to how copyright laws in America are otherwise restricting our ability to learn. Lewis Hyde is able to blend an vast amount of facts that would seem unrelated into a coherent book that enlightens more than tells. He often sights the work of famous individuals such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Locke that have expressed there opinion on patents and copyright laws. Overall Hyde's approach to these matters is very moderate displaying a rather calm tone through out that doesn't overpower the reader with his emotions leaving only the reader to determine how they feel on the matter.

While I am still not a supporter of heavy patents, Common has Air has taught me that patents are important, but rather in the short term such as the 19 years limit on patents' that Thomas Jefferson purposed. Bravo, Hyde.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By steevithak on December 29, 2013
Format: Paperback
As a software developer who releases my work under the GNU GPL, a free software license, I’ve been on the receiving end of many a rant on the subject of property rights. My contributions to a freely accessible cultural commons of creatives works, I’m told, is communism and will lead to the eventual downfall of the one true system of property ownership as expressed by God in modern copyright and patent law. I don’t take such rants seriously anymore but when I found a book offering an in depth look at how our modern laws came to be and what the founding fathers actually said about these things; well, I could hardly pass it up!

Hyde starts out with a brief survey of ideas on property rights from cultures all over the world. He then looks at the origins of modern western thought. It turns out, of course, that the founding fathers believed quite strongly that free access to ideas was critical to democratic self-governance and free enterprise. This comes as no surprise to those in the free software and open source communities, who have rediscovered many of the same principles, including the importance of creating a “commonwealth of knowledge”.

Hyde’s story crosses paths with the free software community once or twice along the way. It also crosses paths with the supreme court, Donald Rumsfeld, John Adams, Sonny Bono, John Locke, Noah Webster, and a host of other familiar people. It’s the story of how we slowly traded the long term benefits of a commonwealth of knowledge for the enticing profits promised by “intellectual property”. The story makes great reading as history even if you’re not terribly interested in property rights. You’ll read dozens of interesting historical anecdotes you may not have heard before.
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