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Shamans, Software and Spleens : Law and the Construction of the Information Society [Paperback]

James Boyle
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 29, 1997 0674805232 978-0674805231

Who owns your genetic information? Might it be the doctors who, in the course of removing your spleen, decode a few cells and turn them into a patented product? In 1990 the Supreme Court of California said yes, marking another milestone on the information superhighway. This extraordinary case is one of the many that James Boyle takes up in Shamans, Software, and Spleens, a timely look at the infinitely tricky problems posed by the information society. Discussing topics ranging from blackmail and insider trading to artificial intelligence (with good-humored stops in microeconomics, intellectual property, and cultural studies along the way), Boyle has produced a work that can fairly be called the first social theory of the information age.

Now more than ever, information is power, and questions about who owns it, who controls it, and who gets to use it carry powerful implications. These are the questions Boyle explores in matters as diverse as autodialers and direct advertising, electronic bulletin boards and consumer databases, ethno-botany and indigenous pharmaceuticals, the right of publicity (why Johnny Carson owns the phrase "Here's Johnny!"), and the right to privacy (does J. D. Salinger "own" the letters he's sent?). Boyle finds that our ideas about intellectual property rights rest on the notion of the Romantic author--a notion that Boyle maintains is not only outmoded but actually counterproductive, restricting debate, slowing innovation, and widening the gap between rich and poor nations. What emerges from this lively discussion is a compelling argument for relaxing the initial protection of authors' works and expanding the concept of the fair use of information. For those with an interest in the legal, ethical, and economic ramifications of the dissemination of information--in short, for every member of the information society, willing or unwilling--this book makes a case that cannot be ignored.

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Shamans, Software and Spleens : Law and the Construction of the Information Society + Copyright's Highway: From Gutenberg to the Celestial Jukebox + Digital Copyright
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Editorial Reviews Review

In 1990 the Supreme Court of California ruled that DNA extracted from a spleen removed from your body could be patented--one of many court precedents to define the emerging laws of cyberspace. Boyle explores such seemingly weird decisions as well as legal issues surrounding autodialers, direct advertising, consumer databases, ethnobotany, the right of publicity, and the right to privacy. Boyle argues that contemporary ideas about intellectual property are based on a Romantic notion of selfhood that is outmoded and counterproductive in our information-based society, a society in which--as someone else probably said before the phrase was popularized by Stewart Brand--"information wants to be 'free.'" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

This is an exciting and suggestive study. The subject--intellectual property in the `information age'--is as timely as one can imagine, and Boyle has very interesting things to say on a variety of relevant topics...There has been nothing so far quite like Boyle's study, which goes beyond copyright issues in its concern and which provides many new insights into the practical significance of the romantic author paradigm. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 29, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674805232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674805231
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,634,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Boyle is William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law at Duke Law School and founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain. Professor Boyle was one of the original Board Members of Creative Commons, which works to facilitate the free availability of art, scholarship, and cultural materials by developing innovative, machine-readable licenses that individuals and institutions can attach to their work. He served as a board member from 2002 until 2009, the last year as Chairman of the Board. He was also a co-founder of Science Commons, which aims to expand the Creative Commons mission into the realm of scientific and technical data, and ccLearn which worked to promote the development and use of open educational resources. He has served on the board of the Public Library of Science. In 2003 Professor Boyle won the World Technology Network Award for Law for his work on the public domain and the "second enclosure movement" that threatens it. In 2010 he was awarded the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Pioneer" Award and named as one of five expert advisors to the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property. He is the author of Shamans, Software and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society, and the editor of Critical Legal Studies, Collected Papers on the Public Domain and Cultural Environmentalism @ 10 (with Larry Lessig.) He has also written a distressing number of articles on intellectual property, internet regulation and legal theory both for scholarly journals and the popular press. His more recent books include Bound By Law, a co-authored "graphic novel" about the effects of intellectual property on documentary film, The Shakespeare Chronicles, a novel, and The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. From 2005-2011 he wrote an online column for the Financial Times. He is now working on a comic book called Theft!: A History of Music on musical borrowing and the forces that have tried to shape it.

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent, read it. May 9, 1997
By A Customer
Simply the best book on the problems of the category 'information' as used in the popular terms 'information economy' or 'information society'.
Boyle details both the legal and economic
incoherencies of the term in detail. As the reviews above point out there is much fascinating detail about the proceedures of copyright and intellectual property law in action.

It is true that some people won't like this book, and will raise their hands in horror at the mentions of Marx, but this is their loss.
The fact that Marx has been used to justify totalitarian states dosn't mean he dosn't have interesting things to say on occasion, and the book is hardly doctrinaire 'marxist'.

There are ethical and analytic problems in our current usage of copyright, which will absolutely cripple any attempts to implement the "information wants to be free" slogan, and there's no reason to think that leaving these problems to the market or the law courts alone will solve them. I know of no other author who has really tried to grip with these problems- so even if you are going to disagree with him, read him. If it doesn't make you think, I don't know what will.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Information Economics meets Legal Realism July 9, 2002
In a wonderful exposition of contemporary thinking on how markets and institutions produce and distribute information and knowledge, James Boyle gives readers some powerful analysis and some of the conceptual tools they'll need to make the Judge Posner's and Richard Epstein's of the world squirm a bit given their desire to wish away the complex issues Legal Realism raised regarding property and contract law.
Markets, property, privacy, information and knowledge are all social constructs which generate asymmetries of power and Professor Boyle shows the potential for mischief that may occur if workers, citizens, economists and attorneys refuse to rethink what kind of power relations, if any, are consistent with democratic norms.
By looking at such issues as "what is an author" [what is epistemic agency] and the issue of self-ownership of our bodies, Boyle creates a collage of juxtapositions that are of immense relevance to issues such as whether what happened at Enron and other corporations is a manifestation of insider trading, what shall be the scale and scope of patents and copyrights given the need to balance "efficiency" and equity and access, how shall we handle the commodification of our bodies and thoughts?
All of these are tough issues that are never going to go away and Boyle's choice of using Legal Realism as mode of inquiry into how we will shape the future of entitlements to knowledge and it's pecuniary benefits is probably the best choice that can be made for those who see glaring limitations in libertarianism.
The one topic, that in my view is critical for carrying the discussion forward, yet is missing from Boyle's analysis, is employment contracts.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but virtually unreadable October 28, 2003
By A Customer
Boyle's ideas are fantastic and his analysis is poignant and timely. Be forewarned, however, that the average sentence length in this book is so long that you will get lost multiple times per page. Add in an average of 0.4 cryptic references to ancient literature per page and a healthy dose of words that will send even Duke law students running for the dictionary and you have a very tough task in front of you.
If you want to learn from Boyle, take his IP class, don't try to read the book. His IP class is fabulous. But beware that he will ask you read this book (I hear even his torts students had to read it) and it will be a terrible experience. You will need to be able to come up with at least one idea from it to toss into your exam answers, as he generally writes at least one question that starts with "Using one or more concepts from Shamans..." The dreadful 27 hour take home exam period is not the time to pick the book up for the first time.
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