Common As Air

I recently read Adrian Johns’ book Piracy and reviewed it a few posts ago. I was a bit leery about starting on this book so soon afterward for fear that I’d get bored of reading a book that was bound to contain a lot of the same information in it.

My fear was proved to be unfounded as Lewis Hyde handles his material deftly and with a bit of humor. It’s a very educational book. I found myself making note of certain pages to recite to friends who might be interested.

On one page, Mr. Hyde makes mention of a man who set foot into a soundproof chamber only to come out annoyed that it didn’t work. He could still hear two sounds, a high one and a low one. He was told that everyone heard those sounds. One was his blood pumping, the other was his nervous system.

I had no idea the nervous system made a noise. I’ve never heard it.

This was to illustrate the fact that there is no such thing as “silence” – there’s only noise we don’t mind and noise we don’t. Even a forest in the middle of nowhere has noise, even if no trees fall.

He goes on to speak at length about Ben Franklin (a chapter everyone should read) and how he invented a pile of things, yet patented nothing. Only one item he invented went to his grave as to how he made it. Several colonial governments had Franklin print their currencies. He devised a way to prevent counterfeiting.

The book goes on and explains how the commons, or rather, the public domain is one of those precious resources that has been being drained for years. Nothing since the 1970s has been able to be made to be public domain at birth. Sure someone could sign their rights away to an invention, but, with a piece of paperwork, they could have their rights back in an instant.

Long story short, this is an excellent must-read title.

Book’s site.

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