Benjamin Franklin: IP Pirate

I already have Lewis Hyde’s “Common as Air” on my wishlist. “Trickster Makes This World” is one of my very favorite books, originally recommended to me by a dear friend and kindred spirit. “Trickster” was one of my main inspirations for my Hacker Hero monologue. A book on a topic about which I rant and rave regularly by an author whose past work is so meaningful to me? No brainer.

I saw two reviews today of Hyde’s new book that reinforced my desire to read it. I may have to push it closer to the head of my reading queue. Both reviews also picked out in particular the chapter on Benjamin Franklin, tying in his views on intellectual property. Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica summarizes nicely.

In his writings and his actions, Hyde writes that Franklin was a “commonwealth man in the style of Jefferson.” He understood the United States Constitution’s copyright language “as a balance between a short-term monopoly and a long-term grant to the public. That the clause might become the ground for creating a perpetual property right for individuals and private corporations would have astounded him.”

Benjamin Franklin rebelled against knowledge as eternal property through his whole life. Hyde gives us a portrait of him that reveals this in his writings and works.

Franklin also has great personal meaning to me. Not only was he a strong proto-geek figure as an inventor and scientist, but he also is cherished among beer enthusiasts, among which I count myself, for his wonderful quote on the subject. “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

The other review I saw at the P2P Foundation blog and was put together by David Bollier. Bollier is the author of “Viral Spiral” and a respectable scholar on the subject of commons in his own right. He points out the chapter on Franklin, like Lasar, but covers much more ground if you want a more in-depth sense of what you’ll find in Hyde’s book.

Both Lasar and Bollier give Hyde a great deal of credit for making the subject of copyright and commons accessible and engaging. Balancing deep, considered scholarship into such a crunchy subject while crafting a work that the uninitiated might pick up at random and enjoy is no mean feat. I suspect after I’ve had a chance to read the book, I’ll have another title I can readily recommend to non-copyright geeks who are nonetheless interested in learning more.

Benjamin Franklin, the first IP pirate? Ars Technica

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