Techdirt Book Reading List 2009

from the food-for-thought dept

A couple years ago, after completing my series of posts on the economics of ideas and infinite goods, I wrote up a reading list of books that were useful in thinking about all of this. With our recent launch of a book version of that series, called Approaching Infinity, I updated that list with a bunch of more recent books (basically, the books sitting on my desk again...), and wanted to share them here. For this post, I'm only writing up short reviews, but plan to revisit some of these books with much more detailed reviews, in the future. Not surprisingly, we'll kick it off with four of the books that I feel are the most important for anyone to read if they're interested in these things. Together, they make up the four books that you can get together (all signed by their authors!) in the Techdirt Book Club package.

The Essentials:

  • Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars by William Patry

    Patry, long established as one of the foremost experts on copyright law, has written an outstanding text that discusses how copyright law has been twisted and abused by corporate interests who don’t use it for its intended purpose (to promote the progress of creative works) but as a tool to prop up an outdated business model. On top of this, he explores the misleading and inflammatory language used by those seeking to abuse copyright law in this manner. Highly engaging and a must read for anyone who’s worried about the state of copyright today. Oh, and as a bonus, Patry has started blogging again in support of the book, after he gave up on blogging a couple years ago.

  • The Public Domain by James Boyle

    Law professor James Boyle has been one of the foremost critics of the undue expansion of copyright law over the years, fighting against things like the DMCA and the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act. Over the years, he’s noticed a troubling trend among some to question why the public domain is even needed — so he wrote an entire book to explain why. It’s filled with story after story that highlights both the importance of the public domain and how overly aggressive copyright laws have held back the public domain and the creativity that it previously allowed. As a highlight, don’t miss the incredible chapter on the birth of soul music by Ray Charles. If today’s copyright regime had been in force at the time, we might not have had soul music at all. Think of all the great music we may be missing today thanks to current copyright laws.

  • Against Intellectual Monopoly by David Levine and Michele Boldrin

    This book was on the list two years ago, but that was an earlier digital-only draft, as opposed to the full hardcover version now available. Levine and Boldrin are two well-known economists who began investigating the impacts of intellectual property, and were eventually quite disturbed by what they found. That is, they could find no evidence that either copyrights or patents actually achieved their stated intention of "promoting the progress." Instead, they found a lot of evidence that the opposite occurred — and that copyright and patent law served to hinder the progress and slow down its pace. Chock full of examples and citations to important studies, this book is a must read for anyone trying to understand the state of today’s intellectual property law and how closely it lives up to its stated purpose.

  • The Gridlock Economy by Michael Heller

    An excellent addition to the literature on property law and the economics of property. Heller recognized what he refers to as "the tragedy of the anti-commons," when too many property rights get in the way of the efficient allocation of resources, and notes how this has come into play on things like patents and broadcast spectrum. If you’re trying to understand the economics of intellectual property, especially if you’re a strong believer in property rights (as we are) this is an excellent book to understand where property rights can go too far.

Intellectual Property
  • No Law by David L. Lange & H. Jefferson Powell.

    This is an incredibly worthwhile read. I plan to do a much more detailed review shortly. It methodically lays out the argument for how and why copyright law as it's written today clearly violates the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..."). The book is, at times, a bit dense to read through, but you kind of expect that from two lawyers. However, the detailed and thought provoking look at the history of intellectual property law, along with related legal concepts such as misappropriation and unfair competition -- as well as its detailed dissection of a few key court cases -- is, alone, worth the price of admission. I have some other problems with the book (including its eventual suggestions for how to "fix" copyright law), but there's so much value in the first half of the book that I'd highly recommend it.

  • Patent Failure by James Bessen & Michael J. Meurer

    A must read for anyone looking to understand the patent system today. Bessen & Meurer go through a ton of the research that has been done about patent systems, and include a bunch of their own, and make the case that the patent system simply does not work for the majority of industries out there. The book is incredibly strong in detailing study after study after study that details, in an incontrovertible way, that the patent system is fundamentally broken and clearly hinders innovation much more significantly than it helps it.

  • Copyright's Paradox by Neil Netanel

    Similar to No Law above, Copyright's Paradox goes into great detail showing how copyright law appears to quite obviously violate the First Amendment, and why that needs to be dealt with.

  • The Patent Crisis by Dan L. Burk and Mark A. Lemley

    Mark Lemley should be a familiar name around here for his views on intellectual property, and this book certainly is a worthwhile read. It does a great job laying out the many problems with the patent system and why it often does significantly more harm than good. Where I find it a bit less convincing, however, is in suggesting that the court system can fix these problems. I agree that the current Congressional patent reform bills aren't very good, but I'm not convinced the courts will go anywhere close to far enough in fixing the system.

  • Intellectual Property and Theories of Justice Edited by Axel Gosseries, Alain Marciano and Alain Strowel

    This is a collection of academic papers having to do with intellectual property, as related to not just legal and economic arguments, but philosophical ones as well. I don't agree with all of the different papers, obviously, but there's a lot to get your mind churning on different ideas and different approaches to intellectual property issues within this book.

Economics & Innovation
  • Free by Chris Anderson

    By now, you should probably already know about this book, but Chris puts into book form much of what we talk about on Techdirt. My review of the book notes that it's well-worth reading, though I think he could have gone farther and could have done a better job anticipating how to respond to the obvious critiques from people who were responding emotionally, rather than based on the actual points raised by the book.

  • The Venturesome Economy by Amar Bhide

    This is a fantastic read if you're looking to understand innovation in a global economy. It puts to rests various myths about globalization or off-shoring being bad for the US economy, and shows how innovation itself is global, but the key question is learning how to actually implement ideas, and how to take concepts and continually innovate, rather than just focusing on a small part of the puzzle.

  • The Pirate's Dilemma by Matt Mason

    While it suffers from sensationalism, at times (too much so at points), the book does a fantastic job of highlighting example after example after example of how what some people feared as "piracy" was simply a leading indicator of innovation. In every case, the same pattern emerges: some existing industry freaks out over so-called "pirates," but the "pirates" are merely the market telling the industry what it wants, and what's possible. Eventually (often over massive protests from that industry) someone comes along and figures out how to deliver what the market wants -- and to do so profitably. This is a must-read for anyone who calls things "piracy" without understanding the real implications of what's going on.

  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

    A quick and easy read that gets people to rethink certain easy assumptions about economic behavior. While I disagree with the idea that the actions are somehow "irrational," I do think it highlights how there are often more variables at play in an economic analysis than a simplified analysis takes into account. For folks around here, his investigations into how people respond to "free" within an economic model (i.e., they value it more than you would expect) are particularly noteworthy.

  • Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

    Pretty much anything by Clay Shirky should be required reading already, but this book is one of the best out there in getting you to understand how the old systems of production and consumption are changing due to enabling technologies, and how the old distinctions between production and consumption are melting away.

  • Remix by Larry Lessig

    Not necessarily Lessig's strongest book, but still absolutely worth reading. It goes well with Matt Mason's (and James Boyle's) book above, in getting you to understand the nature of creativity, and the way in which nearly all creativity involves mixing one's own unique ideas with those that have come before.

  • What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis

    While admittedly it can feel a bit preachy at times, once you get past that aspect of it, you realize that it's a manual for innovative decision making (not just in business). It's about recognizing that businesses by themselves don't get to call the shots any more, and if they don't realize that, they're probably not going to stay in business very long.

  • Rebel Code by Glyn Moody

    If you want to understand how the concepts we talk about here can be applied in practice, the open source community is a good place to start. Glyn Moody has written an excellent account of exactly how that came about.

  • The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain

    I actually disagree with the conclusions of this book, but there are still a number of good points raised within it, about how there's always a fight between "control" and "openness" in new technologies. Zittrain worries about the trend towards control, though I think in the end the market will settle things, and "control" will lose out to openness in the long run.

  • A Culture of Improvement by Robert Friedel

    This rather epic tome goes deep into how innovation occurs in Western Society through a basic mechanism of a "culture of improvement": the idea that when something doesn't work right, we seek out a better solution. If you want to understand how innovation occurs, this is a good starting point.

  • From Concept to Consumer by Phil Baker

    We've said it time and again: the real key to innovation is not the idea, but actually implementing it, and innovating to get the idea out there, and to see how you can deliver more of what a consumer needs. Written by someone who's done that many times over, this book is basically a guidebook for those looking to go from the idea stage to actually bringing a product to market. For those who think that the invention is the important stuff, and bringing it to market is just "business stuff," this is a worthwhile read.

Obviously, there have been a ton of other great books that have come out over the past couple of years, but these are the ones that I've kept close to my desk recently, and wanted to share with all of you.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: books, economics, innovation, intellectual property

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  • identicon
    Fake Billy Mays, 19 Aug 2009 @ 12:36pm

    ...and if you act now, the first three customers will get all the books for the special price of $124.99. Only the first three customers will get it for this special price, so act now because we can't do it all day!

    But wait, there's more! In The Bay Area? Come to the TechDirt Offices, Bring a box, feather duster, and vacuum, and get all a mystery book that's sitting on Mike's desk for free! That's right, FREE! Just help Mike clean his messy desk.

    Act now, operators are standing by!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Brendan (profile), 19 Aug 2009 @ 12:47pm

    so many pages, so little time

    Whelp, my list just grew by a ton.

    Thanks for the reco's

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Keven Sutton, 19 Aug 2009 @ 1:21pm

    you know...

    you may want to put this list and the reviews on a separate page of techdirt for quick updates and future reference. I know I'd like to be able to see if there were any new books worth my time.

    too bad someone would have to read through all the ones that are not worth the time, I feel for them.
    As with all things though, its better to learn from someone else's mistake than your own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2009 @ 2:12pm

      Re: you know...

      It would be cool to have a page that tracks this, and when Mike adds a new book, he just dates it so we can see what was added since we last looked.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    tjotoole, 19 Aug 2009 @ 2:23pm

    another good book

    I'd add Prof. Shapiro's and Varian's book Information Rules, a remarkable economics book from 1998 that still holds up today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BobinBaltimore (profile), 19 Aug 2009 @ 2:24pm

    Great List

    Thanks, Mike. Very helpful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2009 @ 7:05pm

    Are they all available free of cost on the Net or do I have to buy these books?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hephaestus (profile), 20 Aug 2009 @ 7:18am

    "I think in the end the market will settle things, and "control" will lose out to openness in the long run."

    The issue of control vs open on the internet is a moot point. Control is an illusion, total control doubly so. What the issue is convenience vs inconvenience, there is always a way around any technology.

    Mike .... if anyof these are available as pdfs for free could you post the URL's for them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2009 @ 11:50am

    I've actually read the "The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It" and I haven't been so disappointed by a text book for a log time.

    Not only written in an irritating style, with superficial understandings presented as profound insight/fact, but also the authors "insights" will have a very 2nd hand flavor to anyone with any familiarity with internet news and blogging sites. And there is a severe lack of academic rigor in the references which are often URLs to internet opinion/story rather than references which can be relied on.

    I would dig out some examples but my copy went to the 2nd hand store pretty quickly.

    I wouldn't bother reading this : if you agree with Zittrain you'll be disappointed the doesn't make the conclusions convincing/compelling, if you disagree you might be lead to believe the opposing position is more feeble than it really is, and if you just want to find out you'd be better off spending the time browsing the internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    1DandyTroll, 22 Aug 2009 @ 8:52am

    I've smoldering my grey cells on this one for a while.

    You should add Adams' Hitch Hiker to the book list, 'fore the copyright debate is as screwy and as hilarious as Adams' book.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MikeIP, 1 Sep 2009 @ 8:12am

    aka Mike's "I only read things that enforce my current ideas" List

    "Patents are bad," says the dust jacket. Great! Let's add it to the list! Never mind whether any of the "research" is worth anything. It was researched! It must be important!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    lrobbo (profile), 29 May 2012 @ 3:52pm

    Remember reading Remix, so good arguments in there . . .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)


Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Sponsored Promotion
Public Money, Public Code - Sign The Open Letter at
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.