The Public Domain
Enclosing the Commons of the Mind
December 9, 2008
336 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 b/w illus.
In this enlightening book James Boyle describes what he calls the range wars of the information age—today’s heated battles over intellectual property. Boyle argues that just as every informed citizen needs to know at least something about the environment or civil rights, every citizen should also understand intellectual property law. Why? Because intellectual property rights mark out the ground rules of the information society, and today’s policies are unbalanced, unsupported by evidence, and often detrimental to cultural access, free speech, digital creativity, and scientific innovation.
Boyle identifies as a major problem the widespread failure to understand the importance of the public domain—the realm of material that everyone is free to use and share without permission or fee. The public domain is as vital to innovation and culture as the realm of material protected by intellectual property rights, he asserts, and he calls for a movement akin to the environmental movement to preserve it. With a clear analysis of issues ranging from Jefferson’s philosophy of innovation to musical sampling, synthetic biology and Internet file sharing, this timely book brings a positive new perspective to important cultural and legal debates. If we continue to enclose the “commons of the mind,” Boyle argues, we will all be the poorer.
James Boyle is William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law. He lives in Chapel Hill, NC.
“Boyle has been the godfather of the Free Culture Movement since his extraordinary book, Shamans, Software, and Spleens set the framework for the field a decade ago. In this beautifully written and subtly argued book, Boyle has succeeded in resetting that framework, and beginning the work in the next stage of this field. The Public Domain is absolutely crucial to understanding where the debate has been, and where it will go. And Boyle's work continues to be at the center of that debate.”—Lawrence Lessig, C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, Stanford Law School and author of Free Culture and The Future of Ideas
“Boyle is one of the world's major thinkers on the centrality of the public domain to the production of knowledge and culture. He offers a comprehensive and biting critique of where our copyright and patent policy has gone, and prescriptions for how we can begin to rebalance our law and practice. It is the first book I would give to anyone who wants to understand the causes, consequences, and solutions in the debates over copyrights, patents, and the public domain of the past decade and a half.”—Yochai Benkler, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard Law School
“Like Paine’s Common Sense, Boyle’s The Public Domain is a rallying cry to the Googletariat: “Nerds of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your urls.” - Robert McCrum, Observer
‘Boyle’s scrupulous and engaging book is a refreshment as well as a manifesto.’ — Steven Poole, The Guardian, 24th April 2010