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Freedom of Expression (R): Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity Hardcover – February 15, 2005

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Amazon.com Review

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."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (February 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385513259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385513258
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,870,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steven Teasdale on November 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The subtitle "overzealous copyright bozos and other enemies of creativity" aptly describes this missive against current trends in intellectual property law that media prankster Kembrew McLeod has launched with this thought-provoking and often humorous book.

A central premise of McLeod's book is that an erosion of the creative commons by continually expanding copyright and patent legislation, rather than encouraging artistic and scientific innovation, has actually had the opposite effect. Moreover, the encroachment of private interests on the public domain via this expanding legislation has made it prohibitively expensive to perform scientific research and cheapened our culture.

Copyright and patent laws were legislative tools originally conceived to foster creativity. The laws allowed the creators of cultural and technological artifacts to exclusive profits for a fixed period of time. Afterwards, the works would enter the public domain, where they could be built upon by the next generation.

McLeod describes how folk musician and political activist Woody Guthrie freely borrowed melodies and lyrics from existing folk and show tunes for his compositions. Many of these tunes were only a few years old at the time Guthrie incorporated them into his music, yet this was not seen as theft. Artists of his era implicitly recognized the concept of the information commons - that they could build upon existing melodies to create something novel. In fact, this methodology goes back to nineteenth century classical music, where composers like Mahler and Dvorak used folk melodies as a basis for many of their symphonic compositions.

Woody Guthrie has been dead for 40 years, and many of his songs are well over 60 years old.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. Baldwin on August 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be a terrific read that was informative, insightful and filled with humor that enlivened the subject matter. In fact, McLeod's quirky sense of humor and obvious delight in the bizarre/ironic is a big part of what makes "Freedom of Expression" such a page-turner. That, and his personal experience with the subject matter.

I'd argue that it's also why his book will probably matter more than 20 purely academic handlings of the subject because it speaks to a larger audience of everyday, uninformed readers (like me) while urging them to become involved.

The compelling subjects of intellectual property and copyright law are complicated and easily baffling, so it helps to read an informal book from an author who can illustrate the issues from an artist's perspective and that of an accomplished academic-without sounding pretentious or overly wordy. Also his economical, no-nonsense writing style helps make this a quick and enjoyable read.

McLeod is no simple lecturer or arm chair pundit-he's out there in the middle of the fray. And while he understandably spends more time on the issues surrounding art and entertainment (his forte) he still provides chilling glimpses at the darker implications in more serious realms of medicine and agriculture. But these are topics for another book entirely.

My only complaint is that I wish there could have been some photo pages included. Knowing that McLeod is a visual artist, I'm sure he would have come up with some memorable images (oh well, maybe next time).

In summary, I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in copyright/intellectual property law and especially for artists and those concerned about the (near) future of art. Wonderful job, Kembrew-keep `em coming.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. D. Kole on September 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Covers similar ground as Brand Name Bullies, by Bollier, as well as the general theses of copyright law jocks Litman, Vaidyanathan, Lessig and others, but with a fresh perspective and many excellent examples of over-reaching IP litigation. Anyone toying with the idea of becoming and intellectual property lawyer, especially a patent attorney, should read this book and consider carefully whether you want to become part of this growing problem.
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5 of 17 people found the following review helpful By L. Helw on March 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Not an academic argument by Mr. McCleod, rather more reads like a transcribed lecture to first year college students complete with wandering asides that detract from the main idea. It's just my opinion, but the book is small on persuasive thought for such a big price.

The issue of time frames re creating vibrant new work with as much freedom as possible while honoring the work products of others and their right to business advantage, is a serious one that deserves a reasoned argument, rather than a clownish one. Would have hoped for a book filled with persuasaive arguments and facts that can appeal to a broad audience rather than the choir already convinced. THe most major issues in this arena are not poetry, music and novels as is often touted, but rather a life and death issue of the with-holding of medicines from cheaper manufacture and distribution because of unreasonably long patent holding and import export limits, way beyond the recovery of r and d costs and even fabulous profits; as well as the criminal misappropriation by academics and others of foodstuffs, ethnographic materials and other resources belonging to non-literate aboriginal people who are in return given no share of the profits, or an egregiously unfair share. Polemics dont help much in the building of cultures that are sustainable by those who live in them. What builds a culture worth living in are wise and visionary people who can speak to the most number of people, not just a small group. There are other books that are far more reaching than this one, far more reasoned, and ultimately, far more persuasive. There will no doubt be other more thoughtful books published in the near future as the subject of proprietariness about life and death matters and resources is seen by many as a social justice issue as elucidated in the best of Catholic, Judaic, and Muslim and other religious social teachings.
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