What if George W. Bush's much ballyhooed "ownership society" were taken to an illogical extreme, so that each of us owned a phrase or a sound or a gesture that would generate a little income every time it was used? Of course, we could trademark all the catchphrases we like (as, for example, Donald Trump has with The Apprentice
's tagline "You're fired"), but most of us are in no position to collect. Corporate entities, however, are capable and quite willing to claim ownership of what until recently would have seemed to be public property, to dangerous ends, argues Kembrew McLeod. The University of Iowa communications professor explores the clash between free speech and intellectual property law in this absorbing and unsettling expose. McLeod eschews the role of the detached observer in favor of a more indignant and even angry voice; indeed, he's trademarked the phrase "freedom of expression" to hammer home his point and makes no secret of his contempt for "overzealous copyright bozos" and their ilk. Trends in intellectual property rights and the free exchange of ideas are serious business, however. The author supports his concerns with an array of examples, from the ridiculous (Fox's attempt to punish comic Al Franken for his satirical use of their "fair and balanced" motto) to the alarming (corporate agribusiness's development of "terminator technology" that makes patented seeds sterile after one planting).
McLeod, who's written extensively elsewhere about music, uses pop culture as a jumping-off point, but deftly ties together the legal threads that hamstring authors, recording artists, and filmmakers with their working scientific and agricultural counterparts. Indeed, McLeod deserves special kudos for demonstrating that the same forces that can be used to crush the seeds of creativity can also be used to literally smother the seeds of life. --Steven Stolder
From Publishers Weekly
Can the words "freedom of expression" be trademarked? Well, they have been—by McLeod, who consistently follows the phrase with a ®, to point up the absurdity of Fox's trademarking of "fair and balanced." As he shows, the notion of intellectual property now extends well beyond digital music sampling to biology (gene patenting) and "scents and gestures"—and laws governing it, the author says, are being wielded like a bludgeon. McLeod, a University of Iowa communications professor, charts the effects of the intense commercialization of intellectual property from cultural, legal and technological perspectives, asserting that the current environment handcuffs creators who used to be encouraged to build on past creations. Now, the author posits, potential creators "engage in self-censorship" out of fear of copyright or trademark infringement lawsuits, pushing culture toward a weak, commercial center of creativity. While McLeod's arguments aren't original, his entertaining examples and punchy writing nicely amplify the concerns voiced by an increasing number of intellectual property scholars, such as Lawrence Lessig. Although he evokes dark, almost Orwellian images throughout, McLeod manages an upbeat spin, citing the "egalitarian" nature of the new technologies and a growing awareness of the need to return to a place where "freedom of expression" is once again "a meaningful concept that guides our political, social and creative lives."
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