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REVIEW: Innovation For the 21st Century

July 31, 2010

This review was originally scheduled for publication in May 2009 on TorrentFreak.com As we decided to move away from reviews for the time being, it’s being published here.

In a new feature to TorrentFreak, we’re going to look at a new book, recently published by Oxford University Press. Innovation for the 21st Century, written by Rutgers law professor Michael A. Carrier, takes a look at copyright, and patent law, and mixes it with antitrust (monopoly) law. The questions is, how does it read?

This is a reprint of a post originally posted at ktetch.blogspot.com

First of all, if your idea of a meaningful comment here on TorrentFreak is something along the lines of “F**k the RIAA/MPAA/IFPI etc” then you might as well stop right now. This book, and thus this review is not for you. Leave your comment at the bottom, and move on. If that is not you though, then please read on.

This book, “Innovation in the 21st Century” is written by Rutgers law professor Michael Carrier. Taking a year to write, the book contains a mixture of case studies, ranging from the last few years, to decades past. The most recent case study though, that of the Pirate Bay trial, is obviously not in the book, but was addressed by Prof Carrier on the OUP blog.

The book is a good chunky, well-bound hardback, about 2.5cm thick (an inch, for our American readers) although for the price, it should be. As such it’s a little on the expensive side, but this book isn’t intended as a casual non-fiction book. Rather it’s aim is more akin to a college level textbook. Prof Carrier explained his target market as “Policymakers, businesspeople, lawyers, technology enthusiasts, students, and readers interested in issues of law, public policy, and innovation. In particular, anyone curious about how and why copyright law can stifle innovation might be interested in the book.

With the subtitle of “Harnessing the Power of Intellectual Property and Antitrust Law”, the inescapable conclusion is that it will not only discuss the current situation, but elaborate on possible changes to existing laws and procedures that will stop and prevent some of the practices we’ve talked about here many times before, as well as those beyond our coverage area, such as generic (out-of-patent) prescription pharmaceuticals.

Now, the book is not the easiest to read – it’s no Harry Potter certainly – and while there is technical (or more often legal) jargon scattered throughout the points come across fairly clearly. There is also much to learn, as cases like the Lexmark DMCA printer refill trial are dealt with as legal cases, rather than journalistic sound-bytes. Comparisons between cases are also handily provided, such as between the Sony Betamax, Aimster and Grokster cases and explaining why the courts came to the decisions they did.

The underlying theme of the book is a concept often applied to antitrust, called “error cost”; or ‘what is the cost of the wrong decision’. Such arguments are infrequently applied in other areas of litigation; the emphasis instead put on plaintiff’s claimed damages rather than the damages of the plaintiff’s claims. “I found that when we apply this concept, we find that the costs of stifling (and forever losing the benefits of) a new technology are far worse than modestly more copyright infringement (especially for music).” is how he described the concept to TorrentFreak.

Better still, it’s not just that gives you a general overview, and leaves you to accept it at face value. Each chapter has a large number of footnotes, usually references to other works to crosscheck – most chapters have at least 50, with some more than 100. All in all, it’s 400+ pages of education, and insightful thought. While the jargon is there, it’s not too overbearing, and most terms are explained so they are not totally impenetrable to those who have not studied law. If you’re seriously interested in the field, and want to expand on some of the topics in books like Free Culture, then you could do far FAR worse than this book.

Would I recommend the book? Yes. It gives strong positive ideas for change, and is an excellent book for those wanting to expand their knowledge. On the downside, it’s mainly US based, so international readers won’t get as much from it, and there are a lack of diagrams, which could help illustrate some concepts. The price is also a little off-putting to some.

It is published by Oxford University Press, and can be bought directly from them, or via Amazon (US/UK). At present there are no digital versions available, but the matter has been raised with the publishers.

For full disclosure, Prof. Carrier sent me a free copy of this book, which was used in the photographs above.
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