Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society (Paperback)
  • Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society (Paperback)

Shamans, Software, and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society (Paperback)

Paperback Published: 30/10/1997
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Who owns your genetic information? Might it be the doctors who, in the course of removing your spleen, decode a few cells and turn them into a patented product? In 1990 the Supreme Court of California said yes, marking another milestone on the information superhighway. This extraordinary case is one of the many that James Boyle takes up in Shamans, Software, and Spleens, a timely look at the infinitely tricky problems posed by the information society. Discussing topics ranging from blackmail and insider trading to artificial intelligence (with good-humored stops in microeconomics, intellectual property, and cultural studies along the way), Boyle has produced a work that can fairly be called the first social theory of the information age.

Now more than ever, information is power, and questions about who owns it, who controls it, and who gets to use it carry powerful implications. These are the questions Boyle explores in matters as diverse as autodialers and direct advertising, electronic bulletin boards and consumer databases, ethno-botany and indigenous pharmaceuticals, the right of publicity (why Johnny Carson owns the phrase "Here's Johnny!"), and the right to privacy (does J. D. Salinger "own" the letters he's sent?). Boyle finds that our ideas about intellectual property rights rest on the notion of the Romantic author--a notion that Boyle maintains is not only outmoded but actually counterproductive, restricting debate, slowing innovation, and widening the gap between rich and poor nations. What emerges from this lively discussion is a compelling argument for relaxing the initial protection of authors' works and expanding the concept of the fair use of information. For those with an interest in the legal, ethical, and economic ramifications of the dissemination of information--in short, for every member of the information society, willing or unwilling--this book makes a case that cannot be ignored.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674805231
Weight: 481 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm


James Boyle's unusually adventurous Shamans, Software and Spleens...examines the ideological and practical issues raised by the figure of the author in contemporary law and legal theory...Boyle's programme is two-fold. First, he offers a social theory of the information society as it depends on the figure of the author and the fiction of originality...Second, he offers a delicately phrased argument for leftward mitigation of intellectual property rights. On both fronts, Boyle succeeds admirably, demonstrating the logical contradictions of the author-centered regime and building a strong ethical and practical case for changes in the laws governing our information society...Boyle develops a terrifically engaging discussion of various problems in legal theory such as blackmail, insider trading, and the ownership of one's genetic code...It is the great merit of Boyle's work that he engages the debate on so many fronts, opening the conceptual breach of authorship neither to close it peremptorily nor to overcome it illusively, but to show how its very paradoxes provide the conceptual basis for the laws of property that govern our intellectual exchange. - Adam Bresnick, Times Literary Supplement

In this masterly book, James Boyle takes one of the mind-twisting subjects of our times--the treatment of information--and turns it into enjoyable and informative reading. The ownership and commoditization of knowledge, biogenetic resources, and human genetic materials are increasingly the focus of international debate. Boyle's discussion of these issues reflects a remarkable understanding of intellectual, cultural, and scientific property rights, and provides astute insights into the nature of innovation, creativity, and knowledge in the information age. - Darrell Addison Posey, Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society

Boyle's book is an important contemporary addition to a range of historical works on authorship, textual studies, and the theory of property. - Susan Stewart, Temple University

Highly original. Very few scholars have attempted a comprehensive evaluation of the wide variety of legal fields pertaining to property rights in information and intellectual creation...The writing is crisp, learned, irreverent, and funny. - William Fisher, Harvard Law School

This is an exciting and suggestive study. The subject--intellectual property in the `information age'--is as timely as one can imagine, and Boyle has very interesting things to say on a variety of relevant topics...There has been nothing so far quite like Boyle's study, which goes beyond copyright issues in its concern and which provides many new insights into the practical significance of the romantic author paradigm. - Mark Rose, University of California, Santa Barbara

Why does James Boyle include 'Spleens' in the title of this bold book? You'll have to read at least Chapter 9 to find out. If you read more, you'll discover any number of acute insights about any number of things--all linked by a capacious concern with rights in information. - Ralph S. Brown, Yale Law School

[James Boyle] has written an eloquent, provocative, and highly readable book on the fundamental question for the information age. Who owns the end result of intellectual creation? And, more importantly, should anyone really be allowed to own it?...[This is an] impressive work...Professor Boyle has articulated an incisive view of intellectual property that deserves our respect and attention. - Richard A. Spinello, Ethics and Information Technology

In Shamans, Software, and Spleens, James Boyle guides the reader through a number of thought-provoking instances [of] conflicts that arise between profit and originality; what is legally correct but ethically questionable; and the long debated controversies on fair and unfair use of information...[He] has devoted a large portion of the book to real life examples that assist the reader in understanding the various ways we know think about information. It deals with the tensions within our current patterns of thought and the unintended consequences that might occur as we rely--consciously or not--on those patterns to create the legal and institutional frameworks of an information society. - European Business Report

Boyle does not use his title merely to grab the reader's attention. He also uses it to signal that his work will not be yet another dreary academic dissertation. Boyle delivers on the promise of his title. His book proves an enjoyable read; and he also explores the connection among shamans, software, and spleens...Boyle aims to reconstruct the notion of authorship in order to facilitate more balance in copyright policy. No one who reads Boyle's book can fail to detect the pleasure he takes in a well-turned phrase. From this alone, it should be apparent that Boyle does not oppose authors' rights except to the extent that romantic notions about authorship lead to inefficient or unjust legal outcomes. - Michigan Law Review

[S]timulating and entertaining...Boyle's thesis is that liberal political theory conjures up a historically contingent and culturally specific vision of scientists, authors, and producers of technology as romantic authors (inventors and creators, founts of original genius, in the image of God) to resolve such tensions and solve such problems [of property rights in information]...[He offers] insightful and very sharp analyses. - Deryck Beyleveld, Journal of Law and Society

If Boyle does succeed in...reframing the debate about intellectual property rights, it won't be just because his prose is lucid...nor because his cause is just...Rather, it will be because the key new phenomena he disrupt traditional roles that many people will find themselves on an unaccustomed side of the intellectual property debate and, so, will want to rethink the conventional wisdom. Those who find themselves in that position will be able to turn to Shamans, Software, and Spleens for a crash course on where the conceptual bodies are buried. - David R. Johnson, Legal Times

Readers who make the effort to follow Mr. Boyle's careful reasoning will come away rewarded. This is a valuable contribution to a debate that can only grow more heated as time goes on...If toll booths begin to spring up all over the information highway and only people riding in limos can pony up the tariff to proceed ahead, this book will be able to tell you why it happened. - Leslie Alan Horvitz, Washington Times

Boyle's jazzily written book is an unusual hybrid for a law professor. It aims both to formulate a 'critical social theory of the information society' and to galvanize opposition to pending proposals which would expand intellectual-property protection in the U.S. and internationally. - Margaret Jane Radin, Washington Post Book World

Mr. Boyle, a professor of law at American University in Washington, argues that neither economics nor political theory tells us how much to privatize intellectual creation...Many high-sounding legal explanations, he demonstrates, are based on ad hoc, and often unarticulated, guesses about costs and benefits. Only solid facts can tell us, for example, whether the Internet on balance supresses intellectual creation by facilitating piracy or promotes creation by facilitating legitimate distribution. - Peter Huber, New York Times Book Review

Professor Boyle explores the transformation of law and society as we move from an industry-based to a data- based economy. He is a creative thinker who writes about intellectual property in the new economy…Boyle discusses the reasons that law and social theory is a useful lens through which to view the information society. - Bimonthly Review of Law Books

The information age is upon us, and James Boyle has written an entertaining book designed to expose us to its foibles…Shamans, Software & Spleens provides us with a lively and engaging tour of the many puzzles and paradoxes that fill the law of intellectual property, both old and new. - Richard A. Epstein, Economic Affairs

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