Sold Out by James Boyle:

“The first effect of this transformation is that intellectual property rights become very important. Around the world, corporations are lobbying their governments, demanding more expansive copyright, patent, trademark and data-base rights. Governments are complying, granting monopolies over information and information products that make the monopolies of the 19th-century robber barons look like penny-ante operations.”

You realize right away that this was an old piece when James Boyle starts talking about Windows 95. But what he has to say in this piece is absolutely dead right nearly 10 years before we are living what he tried to warn us all about back in 1996.

I wish we had realized then what we know now. Maybe we could have stopped this mess before it had taken such a foot hold. I hope to God we are not too late in opening our eyes to stop this freight train from destroying us.

There are a more recent items written by James Boyle and links can be found on his Bio page at Duke University. This particular article was listed under his Essays page. But there is so much more there!

A bunch of thought provoking articles can also be found by James Boyle can be found at including:

James Boyle: Deconstructing stupidity

In two earlier columns on Europe’s database directive, and European public information, I pointed out that our policy-process is almost evidence-free. New rights are created on the basis of anecdote and scaremongering. There are other examples and they are not confined to Europe.

Thomas Macaulay told us copyright law is a tax on readers for the benefit of writers, a tax that shouldn’t last a day longer than necessary. What do we do? We extend the copyright term repeatedly on both sides of the Atlantic. The US goes from fourteen years to the author’s life plus seventy years. We extend protection retrospectively to dead authors, perhaps in the hope they will write from their tombs.

Since only about 4 per cent of copyrighted works more than 20 years old are commercially available, this locks up 96 per cent of 20th century culture to benefit 4 per cent. The harm to the public is huge, the benefit to authors, tiny. In any other field, the officials responsible would be fired. Not here.

James Boyle: Public Information wants to be free

The United States has much to learn from Europe about information policy. The scattered US approach to data privacy, for example, produces random islands of privacy protection in a sea of potential vulnerability. Until recently, your video rental records were better protected than your medical records. Europe, by contrast, has tried to establish a holistic framework: a much more effective approach. But there are places where the lessons should run the other way. Take publicly generated data, the huge and hugely important flow of information produced by government-funded activities – from ordnance survey maps and weather data, to state-produced texts, traffic studies and scientific information. How is this flow of information distributed? The norm turns out to be very different in the US and in Europe.

James Boyle: A Natural Experiment

Imagine a process of reviewing prescription drugs which goes like this: representatives from the drug company come to the regulators and argue that their drug works well and should be approved. They have no evidence of this beyond a few anecdotes about people who want to take it and perhaps some very simple models of how the drug might affect the human body. The drug is approved. No trials, no empirical evidence of any kind, no follow-up. Or imagine a process of making environmental regulations in which there were no data, and no attempts to gather data, about the effects of the particular pollutants being studied. Even the harshest critics of drug regulation or environmental regulation would admit we generally do better than this. But this is often the way we make intellectual property policy.

James Boyle: The Apple of forbidden knowledge

You could tell it was a bizarre feud by the statement Apple issued, one strangely at odds with the Palo Alto Zen-chic the company normally projects. “We are stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod, and we are investigating the implications of their actions under the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] and other laws.” What vile thing had RealNetworks done? They had developed a program called Harmony that would allow iPod owners to buy songs from Real’s Music Store and play them on their own iPods. That’s it. So why all the outrage? It turns out that this little controversy has a lot to teach us about the New Economy.

This is only a sampling of the great articles by James Boyle, who is William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law at Duke Law School, a board member of Creative Commons and the co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain and so much more.

I wish I had been aware of his writings many years ago. This IP fiasco has cost us so much in free speech, various areas of innovation, and public fair use. And for what? As James Boyle so aptly stated in Deconstructing stupidity (article listed above):

The harm to the public is huge, the benefit to authors, tiny. In any other field, the officials responsible would be fired. Not here.

So true, and so sad…

NOTE: Originally posted: April 2005 (recreated from mangled original


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