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Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson, August 13, 1813, p. 6.
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The Public Domain Enclosing the Commons of the Mind
Yale University Press
New Haven & London
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A Caravan book. For more information, visit www.caravanbooks.org.
Copyright © 2008 by James Boyle. All rights reserved.
The author has made an online version of this work available under a Creative
Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License. It can be accessed
through the author’s website at http://james-boyle.com.
Printed in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2008932282
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48–1992 (Permanence of
Paper). It contains 30 percent postconsumer waste (PCW) and is certified by the
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
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Preface: Comprised of at Least Jelly?, xi
1 Why Intellectual Property?, 1
2 Thomas Jefferson Writes a Letter, 17
3 The Second Enclosure Movement, 42
4 The Internet Threat, 54
5 The Farmers’ Tale: An Allegory, 83
6 I Got a Mashup, 122
7 The Enclosure of Science and Technology: Two Case Studies, 160
8 A Creative Commons, 179
9 An Evidence-Free Zone, 205
10 An Environmentalism for Information, 230
Notes and Further Readings, 249
Index, 297 v
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The ideas for this book come from the theoretical and practical work I
have been doing for the last ten years. None of that work has been done
alone. As a result, the list of people to whom I am indebted makes
Oscar night acknowledgments look haiku-terse by comparison. Here
I can mention only a few. I beg pardon for the inevitable omissions.
First and foremost, my family has tolerated my eccentricities and
fixations and moderated them with gentle and deserved mockery.
“Want that insignia torn off your car, Dad? Then it would be in the
public domain, right?”
My colleagues at Duke are one of the main influences on my work.
I am lucky enough to work in the only “Center for the Study of the
Public Domain” in the academic world. I owe the biggest debt of grat-
itude to my colleague Jennifer Jenkins, who directs the Center and
who has influenced every chapter in this book. David Lange brought
me to Duke. His work on the public domain has always been an inspi-
ration to mine. Arti Rai’s remarkable theoretical and empirical studies
have helped me to understand everything from software patents to
synthetic biology. Jerry Reichman has supplied energy, insight, and a
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spirited and cosmopolitan focus on the multiple ways in which property can be
protected. Jed Purdy and Neil Siegel commented on drafts and provided crucial
insights on the construction of my argument. Catherine Fisk, Jim Salzman,
Stuart Benjamin, Jonathan Wiener, Mitu Gulati, Jeff Powell, Chris Schroeder,
and many, many others helped out—sometimes without knowing it, but often
at the cost of the scarcest of all resources: time. Amidst a brilliant group of re-
search assistants, Jordi Weinstock and David Silverstein stood out. Jordi showed
a dogged ability to track down obscure 1950s songs that was almost scary. Addi-
tional thanks go to Jennifer Ma, Tolu Adewale, Paulina Orchard, and Emily
Sauter. Balfour Smith, the coordinator of our Center, shepherded the manu-
script through its many drafts with skill and erudition.
Duke is the most interdisciplinary university I have ever encountered and
so the obligations flow beyond the law school. Professor Anthony Kelley, a
brilliant composer, not only educated me in composition and the history of
musical borrowing but co-taught a class on musical borrowing that dramati-
cally influenced Chapter 6. Colleagues in the business school—particularly
Jim Anton, a great economic modeler and greater volleyball partner, and Wes
Cohen, a leading empiricist—all left their marks. Dr. Robert Cook-Deegan,
leader of Duke’s Center for Public Genomics, and my wife Lauren Dame, as-
sociate director of the Genome Ethics, Law and Policy Center, provided cru-
cial support to my work with the sciences in general and synthetic biology in
particular. I was also inspired and informed by colleagues and students in
computer science, English, history, and political science.
But the work I am describing here is—as the last chapter suggests—
something that goes far beyond the boundaries of one institution. A large
group of intellectual property scholars have influenced my ideas. Most impor-
tantly, Larry Lessig and Yochai Benkler have each given far more than they
received from me in the “sharing economy” of scholarship. If the ideas I de-
scribe here have a future, it is because of the astounding leadership Larry has
provided and the insights into “the wealth of networks” that Yochai brings.
Jessica Litman, Pam Samuelson, Michael Carroll, Julie Cohen, Peggy Radin,
Carol Rose, Rebecca Eisenberg, Mark Lemley, Terry Fisher, Justin Hughes,
Neil Netanel, Wendy Gordon, David Nimmer, Tyler Ochoa, Tim Wu, and
many others have all taught me things I needed to know. Jessica in particular
caught and corrected (some of ) my many errors, while Pam encouraged me to
think about the definition of the public domain in ways that have been vital
to this book. Michael suggested valuable edits—though I did not always lis-
ten. Historical work by Carla Hesse, Martha Woodmansee, and Mark Rose
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has been central to my analysis, which also could not have existed but for
work on the governance of the commons by Elinor Ostrom, Charlotte Hess,
and Carol Rose. Kembrew McLeod and Siva Vaidhyanathan inspired my
work on music and sampling. Peter Jaszi was named in my last book as the
person who most influenced it. That influence remains.
Beyond the academy, my main debt is to the board members and staff of
Creative Commons, Science Commons, and ccLearn. Creative Commons, on
whose board I am proud to have served, is the brainchild of Larry Lessig and
Hal Abelson; Science Commons and ccLearn are divisions of Creative Com-
mons that I helped to set up which concentrate on the sciences and on educa-
tion, respectively. The practical experience of building a “creative commons”
with private tools—of allowing creative collaboration with people you have
never met—has shaped this book far beyond the chapter devoted to it. Hal
Abelson, Michael Carroll, and Eric Saltzman were on the midwife team for
the birth of those organizations and became close friends in the process. Since
the entire Creative Commons staff has made it routine to do seven impossi-
ble things before breakfast, it is hard to single out any one individual—but
without Glenn Brown at Creative Commons and John Wilbanks at Science
Commons, neither organization would exist today. Jimmy Wales, founder of
Wikipedia and another Creative Commons board member, also provided key
insights. Finally, but for the leadership of Laurie Racine neither Creative
Commons nor our Center at Duke would be where they are today, and thus
many of the experiments I describe in this book would not have happened.
The intellectual property bar is a fascinating, brilliant, and engagingly ec-
centric group of lawyers. I owe debts to many of its members. Whitney Brous-
sard told me the dirty secrets of the music industry. Daphne Keller—a former
student and later a colleague—helped in more ways than I can count.
A number of scientists and computer scientists made me see things I other-
wise would not have—Drew Endy and Randy Rettberg in synthetic biol- ogy, Nobel laureates Sir John Sulston and Harold Varmus in genomics and
biology more generally, Paul Ginsparg in astrophysics, and Harlan Onsrud in
geospatial data. Paul Uhlir’s work at the National Academy of Sciences intro-
duced me to many of these issues. The work of Richard Stallman, the creator
of the free software movement, remains an inspiration even though he pro-
foundly disagrees with my nomenclature here—and with much else besides.
Activists, civil rights lawyers, bloggers, and librarians have actually done
much of the hard work of building the movement I describe at the end of this
book. Jamie Love has touched, sparked, or masterminded almost every benign
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development I write about here, and novelist Cory Doctorow has either
blogged it or influenced it. I have worked particularly closely with Manon
Ress, Fred von Lohmann, Cindy Cohn, Jason Schultz, and Gigi Sohn. John
Howkins and Gilberto Gil have provided considerable leadership internation-
ally. But there are many, many others. The entire community of librarians de-
serves our thanks for standing up for free public access to knowledge for over
two hundred years. Librarians are my heroes. They should be yours, too.
Some of the work contained here has been published in other forms else-
where. Portions of Chapters 2 and 3 appeared as “The Second Enclosure
Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain”;1 Chapter 7 shares
little textually but much in terms of inspiration with an article I co-wrote for
PLoS Biology with Arti Rai, “Synthetic Biology: Caught between Property Rights, the Public Domain, and the Commons.”2 For several years now I have
been a columnist for the Financial Times’s “New Economy Policy Forum.” Portions of Chapter 5 and Chapter 9 had their origins in columns written for
that forum. Chapter 10 has its roots both in my article “A Politics of Intellec-
tual Property: Environmentalism for the Net?”3 and in the symposium, Cul- tural Environmentalism @ 10,4 that Larry Lessig kindly organized for the tenth anniversary of that article.
Finally, I need to thank the institutions who have supported this study. The
Rockefeller Center in Bellagio provided an inspiring beginning. The Ford,
Rockefeller, MacArthur, and Hewlett Foundations have generously supported
my work, as have Duke Law School’s research grants and Bost Fellowships.
My work on synthetic biology and the human genome was supported in part
by a CEER grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute an