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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 case is one of the many that James Boyle takes up in Shamans, Software and Spleens , a look at the problems posed by the information society. Boyle discusses topics ranging from blackmail and insider trading to artificial intelligence (with stops in microeconomics, intellectual property, and cultural studies along the way).
In the 1990s information is power, and questions about who owns it, who controls it, and who gets to use it carry powerful implications. These are the questions Boyle explores in matters as diverse as autodialers and direct advertising, electronic bulletin boards and consumer databases, ethno-botany and indigenous pharmaceuticals, the right of publicity (why Johhny Carson owns the phrase ""Here's Johnny!""), and the right to privacy (does J.D. Salinger ""own"" the letter's he's sent?). 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 discussion is an argument for relaxing the initial protection of authors' works and expanding the concept of fair use of information. For those with an interest in the legal, ethical and economic ramifications of the dissemination of information - in short, for every member of the information society, willing or unwilling - this book makes its case.