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3.8 out of 5 stars
Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2010
Adrian Johns' PIRACY is a wide-ranging and expansive view of a subject that is of intense interest as books, music and movies shift to digital dissemination. Johns' great gift is his ability to present the historical context of the piracy of intellectual property and he offers a sweeping narrative that's full of really interesting tidbits. Ultimately, Johns positions today's piracy of digital media within the context of a never-ending struggle between commerce and creativity. A great book that will be read and argued for many years.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Dry as dust but extremely informative and leaves the reader with a solid historical foundation of Piracy. A little conservative but when dealing with Piracy I'm inclined to agree. Worth your time...but like all University of Chicago texts this one will test your commitment to the process.

Highly recommended for the committed reader and amateur historians.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In normal usage, a pirate is a blackguard who attacks ships and kills at will. But there is another way in which the word is used, someone who copies a book or product for personal gain. That is why we have laws protecting authors (copyright) and inventors (patents), so that they may be encouraged to write or develop a new product or process. In this magisterial book by Johns, the author traces the history of piracy of books and products through the ages, but especially from the revolutionary development of printing by Gutenberg in about 1450. Before him, books were handwritten by scribes and were very expensive, but after, they became cheaper, and printed books heralded a new age of knowledge. With popular books, the question of reprinting cropped up, and who owned the right to reprint a work. In Britain, the right came to be owned by the bookseller, and a system of registration evolved with The Stationers Hall, one of the guilds of the City of London. The monopoly was broken effectively by extensive piracy of books in the Ireland and Scotland, followed by the new United States. Indeed, the USA pirated not just books, but industrial products as it tried to build a flourishing manufacturing base. Such amazing but forgotten topics are dealt with in forensic detail by Johns, who is clearly a master of the subject. Copyright theft was widespread during the Victorian period, as a result of the second revolution in printing, the use of the steam-powered printing press, which produced books at a fraction of previous prices. Authors like Charles Dickens suffered at the hands of the pirates in the USA, who often edited the original text in unusual ways, not approved by the author.

After agreement on an international system of copyright in the late Victorian period, matters were stabilized. However, we are now in the throes of a third revolution, digitisation of books, or ebooks. Books can be copied by scanning their contents, and massive projects have been born to digitise all books. While the Gutenberg project only digitises out-of-copyright books, the internet giant Google has been busy digitising in-copyright books without authorisation. A large court case is currently underway in the USA between authors and the company, a dispute yet to be resolved. Meanwhile, internet piracy of ebooks is widespread, especially in countries like Russia and China where the law is weak and vague. Two of my own books have been pirated fopr exmaple, and there seems to be no way of preventing illicit copying. Battles are being fought in other copyright areas such as popular music where downloading is rife among consumers. It makes this book very timely, and no doubt will need to be revised sooner rather than later as the target moves. This book is thus highly recommended if you want to understand the background to the problems of enforcing copyright in the internet world.
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on February 28, 2015
Very informative, deeply researched, and very well written, paragraph by paragraph or story by story. For each historical episode, however, details of the lives of the main characters are discussed. Although interesting at first, these lengthy diversions become annoying after a while. The book could have been half the length and still made all the same points. The extra length is the reason i removed a star. I also found the references to be lacking. The author continually makes numerous claims in a series of paragraphs but then often provides one or two references with no explanation of which reference is supposed to support which set of facts. Nevertheless, the book does contain a great deal of material and seems fairly well balanced at a time when many books on this subject are narrow minded screeds.
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on April 11, 2013
I read this is a supplementary text for my intellectual property class. I am independently interested in intellectual property and Johns does a superb job of laying out the historical context for piracy in America today. I think that what it really missed was sensitivity to other cultures. Chinese and Japanese ideas about intellectual property were touched on briefly but not satisfactorily. He perfunctorily showed the ways that Chinese and Japanese companies treated IP, but I would have liked him to go into a little more depth.

He writes beautifully, although a friend of mine with a bachelor's in comparative literature pointed out that Johns has a quasi-formulaic writing style. It's true. The last few chapters were excellent, especially as he delved into relatively current events. I would recommend this book to a friend interested in the legal evolution of intellectual property laws.
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on August 14, 2012
As an archivist and historian, I found the author's research to be detailed and through (though not necessarily exhaustive). While it's true that this book is quite a beast of a volume to get through, the course the book takes as its narrative is complex and well thought-out.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2013
To students of intellectual property, connoisseurs of academic back-stabbings, and industrial history buffs, this book will be hard to put down. At least it has been for me. Yes Adrian Johns is an unrepentant scholar, but, he is not a pedant. For me instead of being dry, the new (old) words, the often profound sound bites, and new (old) data points in the narrative, are joy in the journey. Here are some of my favorites in the first 1/3 of the book:

3 Words:
"gallimaufry" Kindle Location (KL) 762
"proles" KL 61
"seed pirates" KL49

3 Sound bites:
"the cacophony that was the printed realm." KL628
"Charles II therefore viewed popular print with a queasy mixture of respect, unease, and fear." KL404
"doppelganger multinational" KL26

3 Data points:
"In 1447 Venice passed the first general statue providing for patents covering inventions. It allowed that inventors or introducers of devices new to the Venetian territory would be protected against imitations for ten years..." KL262
"In the eighteenth century, for example, copyright was invented, and in the nineteenth century intellectual property came into existence." KL204
"The entire second half of DON QUIXOTE amounts to a sharp satire on the nature of print a century and a half after Gutenberg." KL132

Hope you enjoy this as much as I have!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2012
The book is a good medium to follow up on IP, patents and piracy. Its an eye opener for someone like me who really doesn't have the background in this field. Interesting read. A little dry and dull, but gets the message across.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2012
This book has a lot of information in it that I did not know. For instance, Gutenberg freely publishes books that have lost their copyrights and tells people that they can do whatever they want with them (sell them, change them, put their name as the author, whatever). I found some good information in this book but it is hard to follow because it drones on and one.
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1 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2012
Talk about long winded. I really could not even finish this book. I am sure there is a lot of great information in it; however, I could not get passed the endless talking.
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