Copyright’s a pretty damn difficult subject. Especially when you don’t have all the facts. And it’s always better to hear it from the experts, right? So here’s our top 10 of books on copyright. From free culture to artists and how they can make money; from piracy to remixing; from privilege to monopoly, here’s the top books you should definitely get your hands on.
Some of these books are under a Creative Commons license, which means you can freely download the book right from the author’s website. Still, if you like their work and want to support them, we strongly advise to buy one of their books (if you can) for a friend or donate one to a library. Or, if you’re like us, you can buy a physical copy to read, or even re-read, and underline your favorite fragments. So here we go!
The Public Domain – James Boyle
This is pretty much the go-to book on copyright. James Boyle, “the godfather of the Free Culture Movement” masterfully argues that an informed citizen needs to know something about the Public Domain and copyright, as one does about the environment or civil rights. With incredibly rich examples, Boyle explains how, due to extended intellectual property rights, the realm of free speech, creativity and innovation has become dangerously unbalanced. „We’re locking ourselves out of our own culture”, as he puts it, and we all stand to lose something.
In Praise of Copying – Marcus Boon
Instead of endlessly distinguishing between a good copy and a bad one, Marcus Boon goes in a different direction: What’s a copy anyway? Despite stigmas or laws, copying is a pretty essential part of being human and it’s even intertwined with reality itself. Boon tries to challenge the very basic notions about copying, by analyzing it across time, culture and philosophy – making the reader rediscover itself and the world she lives in. He sees copying not as a limitation, but as an immense power waiting to be appreciated.
Remix – Lawrence Lessig
Despite being written by a lawyer, this book is highly accessible, due the humoristic form its arguments take, as well as professor’s Lessig incredible energy and enthusiasm. Lessig is a founding board member of Creative Commons, an organization which forever changed the world of copyright. He argues that never before in human history have there been so many forms of expression and works available. Yet there’s a war against those who create and consume art. A war produced by a system that’s locking down every expression and every user. And in that process, the war is doing endless harm to artists, creators and the cultural heritage we stand to lose forever.
Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars – William Patry
This popular and easy to read book focuses on the battles over copyright that have always been waged over new technology, business models, and consumers. William Patry goes on to explain how copyright is a utilitarian tool that’s not regulated, and has therefore gone haywire. We can never make the correct decisions if the copyright debate is always over business models and not over encouraging creation, innovation and learning. Bad policy leads to bad conduct and weird ways to think about creativity itself. His sequel, also featured here, tries to offer some solutions to this problem.
Free Software, Free Society – Richard Stallman
No respectable list on copyright would be complete without Richard Stallman, the father of the Free Software Movement. Stallman pioneered the concept of copyleft and the free software licenses we all use today. In this book, he examines copyright from the point of view of a computer software programmer: the issue of trusted computing. He views free software as a tool to create social justice and community, but regards copyright as a set of restrictions that harm the entire society and remove our existing freedoms.
Against Intellectual Monopoly – Boldrin & Levine
Focusing on simple examples, this book written for general audiences dives right into the main problem: intellectual property has become “intellectual monopoly”. Boldrin and Levine are economists who have seen people being sued for pirating songs; but also multi-million dollar AIDS patents, which were refused to poor African patients. Laws intended to promote the creation of more works now stand to hinder innovation, creativity and any competitive free market. The solution: the entire copyright and patent systems must be eliminated.
How to Fix Copyright – William Patry
William Party doesn’t hate copyright, as his former seat as copyright counsel for the US House of Representatives would attest. Yet he’s pretty angry about today’s state of copyright law. His knowledge of law and his terrific writing skills prove to be a hurricane of well argued facts, spanning from culture and copyright, to artists and money. Using impartial evidence from economists, scientists, and even creators, he takes a nice swing at carving out a balanced view on the future of copyright. One not influenced by industry rhetoric, but rather one based on good policy.
Piracy – Adrian Johns
To an untrained eye, piracy seems to be a product of our very young digital revolution. But Adrian Johns forces us to look further back into our own history to uncover this: piracy has always been a social, economic and innovation drive. From the first printed books, through phonographs and VHS tapes, all the way to Napster, piracy has always stood in the middle of a “never-ending struggle between commerce and creativity”. Technology, it seems, is never the culprit. As history tends to repeat itself, today’s intellectual property fights are not at all unprecedented.
Intellectual Privilege – Tom W. Bell
We’re all breaking the law each day: making a tattoo, writing an email or doodling a cartoon character are all copyright infringements. We’re all terrible pirates, who can be sued for hundreds of thousand of dollars each day. Don’t believe him? Look it up. Tom Bell proposes we let go of our notions of property and regard copyright as a privilege – a fresh perspective which could rebalance our skewed view on intellectual property. A set of laws, which comes with their own set of problems and solutions. A set of issues that could be easily resolved by using just the common law to tackle the creations of the mind.
The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
Finally, here’s a book written by an artist, for other artists. Amanda Palmer’s a rock star, who asked her fans to support her in making a new album after leaving her record label. Her experience is all about love, art and caring. An honest memoir of a human being full of emotion who dove into people’s hearts (figuratively and literally) just by asking and being fully open and vulnerable to her fans. In her own words, it was never about “how we can MAKE people pay for music”, but “how we can LET people pay for music”.
So there it is. That’s our top 10.
We’ve included some videos to go with the books, so don’t forget to check those out too. Anyway, did we miss something? Do you agree with our list? Tell us what you enjoyed the most.
And if you want more books, go check out our Book Resources Page. Literally tons of books.