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

Synopsis

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), he has produced a penetrating 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. 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.

Additional information

Contributors:
Includes content by:
  • Kinko
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Cambridge, MA
Publication year:
  • 1997