VIRAL SPIRAL by David Bollier


How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own
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Comprehensive report and analysis on the ways that activists, academics and artists are reshaping the Internet and pushing back against copyright monopolies.

There is a transformation taking place in the way people create, organize and think about culture, declares public-policy analyst Bollier (Brand Name Bullies, 2005, etc.). He pins this transformation on the Internet, and particularly on “Web 2.0,” which is more focused on conversation and community than its predecessor. Bollier believes that efforts to share software, upload videos and tend to Friendster pages are forging a new commons in the 19th-century sense of the term: a resource shared and managed by all its users. Big media and software companies fight these efforts, the author contends, because they want to lock up creative output for as long as they can monetize it, even though their actions come at the expense of creating a community and may actually cost them sales. This notion has been articulated by others—most notably and cogently Lawrence Lessig (Remix, 2008, etc.) and Siva Vaidhyanathan (The Anarchist in the Library, 2004, etc.)—but Bollier surveys the entire Creative Commons movement with a journalist’s eye. He is far from objective, however. A cofounder of the advocacy group Public Knowledge, the author clearly has a rooting interest on the side of sound-sampling DJs and open-source software programs; those who want the other side of the debate will need to look elsewhere. Bollier slows the narrative with tedious passages about the inner workings of various advocacy organizations, and readers without a degree in computer science are likely to get lost in the weeds when he delves into the particulars of various software licenses and varieties of copyright available under a Creative Commons license. Still, the author tells a good and important story, one that is likely to gain more relevance as time goes on and Web 2.0 has a greater impact on users’ ability to participate in culture.

A good book for specialists and advocates, but not quite so appealing for the general reader.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59558-396-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2008