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Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership Hardcover – August 17, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0374223137 ISBN-10: 0374223130 Edition: First Edition

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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: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

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The topic is vital, and the read is a pleasure.
Brad Lichtenstein
Lewis Hyde is able to blend an vast amount of facts that would seem unrelated into a coherent book that enlightens more than tells.
Damagev2
The great virtue of Common as Air is the originality of Lewis Hyde's engaging historical exploration of the cultural commons.
David A. Bollier

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 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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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 Linda Bamber on November 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hyde provides an interesting perspective on the current controversies with intellectual property rights. Several elements of the historical perspective from England and the U.S. Founding Fathers are interesting additions to the discussion, illustrating the perspective of information as a "commons", and explaining the invention of patent and copyright as a limited monopoly, intended to allow the creator to profit ... but with limits.

As was pointed out by reviewer ShortBaldYogi, the author, while advocating free access to information through such means as Creative Commons copyright, chose NOT to do so for his own work! I would put greater weight on his argument if he'd followed it himself.

One area which the book doesn't address, but might be helpful, would be some further development of the legal history of IP law in the USA. Hyde discusses the Founding Fathers' philosophy, ending with the Constitution. However, like all important aspects of constitutional law, the document itself is a beginning, not an end.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By UCF Film on October 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A wonderful book that suggests how US copyright law may change to maintain the Founder's intent in a digital age.
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