Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, History, Law, Literature

Q&A on intellectual property with the author of Piracy

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Adrian Johns, author of Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates was recently interviewed by Serena Golden of Inside Higher Ed. In a series of questions that highlight several of the current hot-button issues in the IP debate including biotechnology patents and the Google books settlement, Golden engages Johns in a fascinating conversation that expands upon the historical account of intellectual property disputes found in Johns’s book. A sample from the interview follows, or navigate to the Inside Higher Ed website for the complete article.

Q: Which of the current intellectual property debates do you see as most consequential, and why?
A: I see two conflicts as especially consequential: the patent struggles in the life sciences, and the copyright furor ignited by the Google Books initiative. In the life sciences, patenting has become a huge issue in several contexts. The pharmaceuticals industry has aroused fierce controversy in the developing world because of what are perceived as inequitable restrictions, agribusiness has generated similarly intense arguments, and biotechnology involves extending IP into the domain of life and its constituents. The stakes for the future of IP here are high because the human consequences are so evident, and the political interests very real. In the case of Google Books, the extraordinary promise of this vast enterprise may only be realizable via severe qualifications to the principles and practices by which publishing has operated for generations. The compromises that lie at the heart of copyright are in play once more. They may not seem so reasonable when the possibility exists of such a huge expansion of access to the world’s books. Yet on the other hand, such access would give Google itself substantial control.
In these realms, challenges are looming to the two basic elements of our intellectual property system. I do not think it inconceivable that they could provoke legal and (perhaps) policy shifts as major as the establishment of copyright itself in the eighteenth century, and the development of modern patent systems in the nineteenth.

Also read an excerpt from the book.