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Digital Barbarism Hardcover – April 28, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Noted novelist and journalist Helprin (Winter's Tale) wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in 2007 arguing for an extension of the term of copyright. In response, he received 750,000 caustic, often vulgar e-mails from those he calls the anticopyright movement—a mostly vague cabal led, apparently, by law professor Lawrence Lessig, and whose house organ is the œChronicle of [Supposedly] Higher Education. Now Helprin gets his revenge with a splenetic riposte that veers from a passionate defense of authors' rights and the power of the individual voice to a misanthropic attack on a debased America populated by œSlurpee-sucking geeks, œbeer-drinking dufuses and œmouth-breathing morons in backwards baseball caps and pants that fall down. We're treated to his views on everything from tax policy and airport security to the self-regard of academic literary critics. Drowning in this ocean of bile is a defense of authors' right to control their work and defend its integrity against appropriation and distortion by others, and an examination of the historical and legal basis of copyright offered in elegant prose and with a rapier-sharp wit. But Helprin's pugnacity may repel even those who agree that
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From the Back Cover

World-renowned novelist Mark Helprin offers a ringing Jeffersonian defense of private property in the age of digital culture, with its degradation of thought and language, and collectivist bias against the rights of individual creators.

Mark Helprin anticipated that his 2007 New York Times op-ed piece about the extension of the term of copyright would be received quietly, if not altogether overlooked. Within a week, the article had accumulated 750,000 angry comments. He was shocked by the breathtaking sense of entitlement demonstrated by the commenters, and appalled by the breadth, speed, and illogic of their responses.

Helprin realized how drastically different this generation is from those before it. The Creative Commons movement and the copyright abolitionists, like the rest of their generation, were educated with a modern bias toward collaboration, which has led them to denigrate individual efforts and in turn fueled their sense of entitlement to the fruits of other people’s labors. More important, their selfish desire to “stick it” to the greedy corporate interests who control the production and distribution of intellectual property undermines not just the possibility of an independent literary culture but threatens the future of civilization itself.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (April 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061733113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061733116
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,311,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Educated at Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford, MARK HELPRIN served in the Israeli army, Israeli Air Force, and British Merchant Navy. He is the author of, among other titles, A Dove of the East and Other Stories, Refiner's Fire, Winter's Tale, and A Soldier of the Great War. He lives in Virginia.

Customer Reviews

Digital Barabrism's failure is that it adds nothing new to the ongoing debate over copyright.
The book as a whole is worth reading, if only because I don't think you'll encounter anything like it elsewhere.
Garth Snyder
You may not agree with Helprin, but if you are a Reader, you'll love the way he presents his case.
Kirk McElhearn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 62 people found the following review helpful By J. S. Lang on October 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As the author of thirty-seven books, I have (obviously) a keen interest in the subject of copyright. Hence I read, and savored, this book by Mark Helprin, whom I regret not having encountered before. His writing is dense--i.e., you don't breeze through it quickly, for he has chosen his words (and thoughts) carefully, and trying to skim and skip would be like trying to gulp down a gourmet meal. He digresses often, and well, but he keeps coming back to the main subject, that in our digital age we have lost sight of what constitutes good writing, and thus many people (Helprin's critics, of whom there appear to be thousands)seem to believe it is "selfish" for writers to be well-paid (and, frankly, we aren't). I think his wisest insight is that the "cut and paste" habit that is so much a part of Internet communication has led many people to think that articles and books don't require much effort, that we writers are lazy slackers who can throw a book together in no time at all. Not so--although, heaven knows, many of the books out there do appear to have been thrown together when the authors were half-stoned. It is inspiring to see creativity and eloquence defended by a writer who has both qualities in abundance.

In case you aren't familiar with Helprin's "controversy," it concerns his defense of U.S. copyright, which extends for 70 years after the author's death. That is, if you write and publish a book, you receive royalties during your lifetime and your designated estate receives them for seventy years afterward--which differs from "public domain" books, in which no royalty is paid to anyone, and the publisher reaps all the profits.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Garth Snyder on December 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm an admirer of Mark Helprin's superb fiction, and I largely agree with his position on the value of copyrights. I also derive some income from copyright royalties, so presumably I have a vested interest in championing these ideas. Nevertheless, I find this book to be interesting chiefly for its peculiarity.

Helprin wrote a New York Times editorial that encouraged Congress to extend the validity of US copyrights. He was then vilified and attacked, online, by a cadre of anti-copyrightist true believers. What's worse, many of these anti-copyrightists were...wait for it...uncivil, and their grammar was approximate at best.

Digital Barbarism is the sputtering cri de coeur through which Helprin processed the psychic trauma of this event. It's also his intellectual riposte from the unassailable high ground of print. Half the book is about the value of copyright as a social institution, and half is about the debasement and coarsening of public discourse wrought by the Internets.

My basic complaint is that neither of these points is an argument that needs making. As Helprin points out, the arguments for abolishing copyright are largely specious, and only a small minority of the public cleaves to this perspective (as least, once you factor out the rabble's bleating attempts to justify their own music piracy). The combined weights of history, international conventions, and corporate financial interests are firmly aligned against the abolition of copyright, and the chance of anti-copyrightist thinking making its way into public policy is virtually nil.

Helprin only perceives it as a clear and present danger because of his painful drubbing at the hands of the Internet trolls.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Kirk McElhearn VINE VOICE on November 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I've actually never read any of Mark Helprin's fiction, but after reading this book (well, listening to the audio version) I'm planning to do so. He has such a way with words that it was a joy to listen to his arguments. Other reviewers have summed up the content of the book, and, while I used to lean on the side of the freetards, I'm now more in line with Helprin's suggestion that copyright be extended as much as possible.

Helprin writes like Mencken, with that sort of creative contempt for stupidity and vapidity that is missing in our day and age. Too often, commenters and bloggers just repeat the same, tired arguments, with vituperative language and ad hominem attacks. These "boobs" - to use Mencken's term - went rabid when Heplrin published an op-ed about copyright in the New York Times. Helprin joyously (though I have the feeling that he wasn't that happy about them) pushes aside their arguments and presents one that, while in the minority, makes a lot more sense. Some of my work is intellectual property, and why should I allow the government to say that I can't pass that on to my descendants? Interestingly, the same people who criticize this idea are often libertarians (or lean in that direction) who don't want government getting in the way of anything.

All in all, this is a brilliant book, worth reading not only for the unique voice but for the arguments in favor of copyright. Just because it's easy to steal digital content doesn't mean it's morally correct, or should be allowed by law. You may not agree with Helprin, but if you are a Reader, you'll love the way he presents his case.
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