Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Piracy by Adrian Johns

Lowdown: The history of intellectual property and its piracy.
Being as annoyed as I generally am with the contents companies of this world severely limiting my access to the material under their control has not only turned me into a generally frustrated person, it has also turned me into a somewhat of a pro piracy advocate. Yet the ethics of piracy is always troubling me, and while it is obvious to me that current intellectual property and copyright laws are a joke at best I am on the lookout for resources to help me form a constructive opinion on the matter.
Enter Adrian Johns’ Piracy, a very thick hardback aiming to lay down the history of intellectual property wars since their inception till today. By doing so it asks to demonstrate how historical factors that might have had some sense under long gone conditions are still in effect today. In effect, the book presents a detailed case for the obsolete nature of today’s copyright legislation, thus calling for a revolution through historically founded arguments.
On paper, and there’s a lot of it in the case of Piracy, the book should have been a thrilling read. I have to admit, though, that I only read a small portion of it, got the point, and put it back on my bookshelf feeling that this one occupies way too much space there. It comes down to a simple reason: as much as I identify with the cause and as much as I find the subject interesting, reading through Piracy felt like fighting a battle I did not want to take part in.
My reasons are to do with style. Piracy seems to try its best at outwitting its reader: if there is a way to express an idea in the most complicated of manners, trust Piracy to do it so. Couple that with a rather tedious style that stretches things too much and you could excuse me from what I consider to be the inevitable comparison with Richard Dawkins: both Dawkins and Johns set out to express complex ideas, yet while Dawkins has a way of explaining them that feels as if he’s having a chat with his readers, Johns feels like he’s trying to condescend his readership. That approach may be acceptable in a textbook, and perhaps this is what Johns has set out to write here in the first place; yet even in my university days I always preferred the professors who communicated to me eye to eye and tried to keep as much distance as possible from those who went out of their way to establish their authority through some sort of mysterious aloofness.
Overall: Promising premises, but rendered useful only as a reference through its anti readability style. 1 out of 5 stars.

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