A Book Review of “Property Outlaws”

Michel Bauwens at the P2P Foundation links to and exercepts a review of the book, “Property Outlaws: How Squatters, Pirates and Protesters Improve the Law of Ownership” by Professors Eduardo M. Penalver and Sonia Katyal, post by David Bollier at On the Commons. Bollier is no stranger to the spaces outside of property law, having written “Viral Spiral“. Bollier’s book has been on my list to read since it came out and I am pretty sure I already added “Property Outlaws” based on a previous recommendation.

The actions of big content, often over reaching and clumsily inflicting collateral damage, make it easy on one level to lionize the pirates. The Pirate Party has made much out of this response in advancing a pretty sophisticate platform predicated on what they view as necessary reform. Reading through Bollier’s remarks the copyright pirate is plausibly part of a larger trajectory that charts the progression of how property law is drawn and redrawn based on changes in norms. There is an apt neologism here, “altlaw”, that dovetails with other discussions I’ve read emphasizing the importance of limits and exceptions on copyright, such as Boyle’s very engaging “The Public Domain“.

Protests against private property are a conspicuous form of social and political communication, note Peñalver and Katyal, because they enable people to “send a message” that is not effectively communicated otherwise. That was the point of the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins, and that was the point of anti-globalization protesters smashing the windows of Starbucks stores. “There is a difference between talking about something and being confronted with an actual example of it,” write Peñalver and Katyal.

Heady stuff. I may just have to pull this one to the top of my reading queue, past some less provocative but no doubt equally enjoyable titles in the broader space of the history of copyright and the current debate around the need for reform.

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