Book Review: Common As Air by Lewis Hyde

An excellent historical and philosophical treatise on our copyright and patent laws.  Mr Hyde does not preach too much though there is no doubt where he stands on the issue.  The historical perspective is from our country’s Forefathers and British/European history from the Feudal System.

Foremost I learned that copyrights and patents are limited monopolies whose privilege is granted by our government.  Limited means copyrights and patents are time bound and must expire to become part of the ‘Public Domain’

Second I learned that granting these limited monopolies has two effects:

  1. Free Market economies are driven by money.  The copyright/patent system rewards creators of Knowledge monetarily, eliminating the need for support from patrons/aristocracy.
  2. The copyright/patent system restricts Free Enterprise and Knowledge Growth by ‘enclosing’ Knowledge.

Mr. Hyde uses the quote by Newton:

What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in taking the colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

To great effect – by enclosing knowledge in copyrights and patents we restrict our ability to make intellectual progress.

Mr. Hyde never says that copyrights and patents are bad or wrong.  After all everyone wants praise and money for their accomplishments.  We just cannot enclose our ‘Common’ Intellectual ‘property’ forever.  The “Mickey Mouse” Copyright Act of 1998 extended copyrights another 20 years (a generation!).  This means for me that I have to wait to get Faulkner, Hemingway and others on Project Gutenberg; and I have to ask myself why?  So, Disney and other’s heirs can make more money off of material that is over 50 years old?  Really?  Is that the purpose Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and others envisioned when they provided for copyrights and patents?

From reading Mr Hyde’s book I see copyright and patents as a tax.

Our legal system is overburdened by copyright and patent lawsuits.  In a Knowledge-Based economy can we afford to wait (waste?) generations to build on the knowledge we create today? For example, perhaps Bill Gates might better serve his Foundation’s goals by releasing all of Microsoft’s patents to the Public Domain versus throwing more money at the same problems others have for generations.

Just a thought.


2 Responses to “Book Review: Common As Air by Lewis Hyde”

  1. The Paper Players Color Challenge #51 « Thyme to Stamp and Share Says:

    […] down, and silently I play with paper.  Here is a link to his blog if you feel intellectual. Flower […]

  2. donnathames Says:

    Great blog

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