Category: Book Reviews

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Doctorow’s Discontent with Content

content cover-small.jpgReaders of this blog know that I am a fan of Cory Doctorow’s work. In addition to his fiction, Cory writes nonfiction. His main topics are technology, creativity, copyright, and the future of the future. I know this because I read his work and his latest book, ©ontent, gathers his thoughts on these topics and says so right on the cover. Ah it is so easy. Maybe too easy. Deceptively easy. And that is also Cory’s gift.

©ontent sings. From the opening where Cory tells Microsoft’s Research Group why DRM is foolish to his thoughts on protecting artists to his views on the information economy to his idea that giving away his work is the best thing he can do, Cory offers detailed yet accessible arguments about the way technology, creativity, copyright will affect the future of the future. The essays span several years of writing. Cory makes bold claims about DRM and the market. He presents a rallying call for the United States to keep pace with the changes in information economy lest the rest of the world surpass us. Reading the essays provides insight about his ideas and how they evolved. Remember Cory writes for Boing, Boing, writes science fiction, lectures, and more. His livelihood is at stake here.

Now I can’t say I agree with everything Cory says, but I think what he says merits consideration. Sure, he is in a rarefied world. Maybe he can give away work and still make money. Maybe he is just an evangelist and should be distrusted on those grounds. Then again, read the book. Cory identifies real changes in how our creative system operates and the way in which adherence to the old one could harm us. The last essays grapple with the problems of security and control. They present the possibilities that await us. And that is the point. Cory is speaking of possibility. As he says “We choose the future we want to live in.” ©ontent helps us understand what that future could be and how to have a say in it.

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The Future of Academic Presses

book31.jpgAcademic presses are facing a difficult future. Book publishing in general is an industry that is struggling, and academic presses have it especially hard since many titles they publish will not have mass popular appeal. Unfortunately, many academic presses are no longer subsidized by their universities, including very wealthy schools like Harvard and Yale, which are greedily hoarding the money in their big endowments. As a result, academic presses must find ways to be profitable, which can be difficult with books that aren’t written by Malcolm Gladwell or Stephen Colbert.

The result is that academic presses are increasingly publishing books that are more tradey — that are similar to the kinds of books published by commercial presses. They still publish more academic titles, but these books get priced at insane prices ($45, $50, $60 and up), ensuring that they go “straight to library” — the book equivalent of a straight-to-DVD movie. For these more academic books, little to no marketing is done. The expected sales are very low, and they are priced so high because most copies go to libraries. But library sales are shrinking. An editor informed me that many years ago, an average academic book could expect 500-1000 copies to be purchased by libraries, but today, that number has dwindled to about 400 or less.

Another unfortunate result is that many academic presses are charging astronomical fees for including brief excerpts of their books in textbooks and course materials. This retards the spread of ideas, since many textbook authors don’t include excerpts from books because of the fees. There were a number of books that I didn’t excerpt in my Information Privacy Law casebook because of high fees. I assume that most authors would want their books excerpted, and would have preferred to have had their work included.

It is very unfortunate that universities are not subsidizing their academic presses. Although the readership for academic books may be much smaller than that for commercial trade books, the readership can still be expanded if books are priced reasonably and if they are marketed to a greater degree. Among the missions of a university is the spread of ideas, and academic books contribute to that mission. It is a shame that universities are forcing them to behave more like commercial presses. With a modest subsidy, which for most schools would be a pittance given their large endowments, academic presses could better publish and disseminate academic ideas to a wider audience.

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The Future of Reputation in Korean

Today, I received copies of the Korean translation of my book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. The book begins with an incident in Korea — the dog poop girl — so I hope that the book becomes popular there. I have no idea what all the stuff written on the cover says, so if anybody can read Korean, please let me know (click on the image to see a larger version).

Futurology and Academia

Futurology is often derided as a pastime of trendspotters and luftmenschen. But the recent European Patent Office “Scenarios for the Future” report rehabilitated the genre a bit. I’ve mentioned before that an IP prof has to be a bit of a prognosticator; I’m happy to see Carlin Romano developing the theme (far more eloquently than I could) in this recent review of the Future of Reputation and The Future of the Internet:

Both . . . books, excellent and ultimately upbeat in their separate but related missions, will increase our literacy in their complex yet still intelligible fields. . . .”The best way to predict the future”, the US computer scientist Alan Kay remarked in 1971, “is to invent it.” Pre-emptive description, however, ranks second best. The chief identifying criterion of the future is that it continuously steps back from us, making nothing about it, strictly speaking, true or false.

Both Zittrain and Solove exhibit a common trait of technologically oriented futurists: they tend to assume current values and a wish to preserve them in the face of fresh logistical forces. [Yet] Solove’s examples, such as Jennifer Ringley, the twenty-year-old student who opened her whole life to regular webcam monitoring in 1996 and didn’t shut down until 2004, remind us of truths more explored by Frankfurt School philosophers than American futurists – that technology also changes our values, or at least adjusts them. The iPod, for instance, pressures us to tolerate forms of distraction formerly considered rude, such as the teenager who makes her purchase without removing her earphones.

Both Solove and Zittrain deserve Kierkegaard’s accolade, that to occupy oneself with the future is “an indication of man’s nobility”. Like many “cyberphilosophers”, they are discovering the future in the present with less wonted gloom and doom – and more incisive solutions – than many traditional literary and humanistic pronouncers on the subject.

As someone who has written on the ways new technology can shape values (and believes in the continuing relevance of the Frankfurt School)–I greatly appreciated Romano’s sharp review of these two important books.

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Summer Reading Rave: C.J. Sansom

Summer means different things to different people. For academics, the end of grading means a new opportunity for pleasure reading. My beach-reading recommendation for the relaxing law professor is C.J. Sansom’s historical mysteries: Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, and Revelation.

The novels are set in the latter part of Henry VIII’s reign, after the break from Rome. It’s a world of religious reformation, enormous new wealth, painful social dislocations, and ugly corruption. The protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, is a reform-minded protestant, a skilled lawyer, and a sour-tempered “crookback.” He starts in the service of Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, but the dark deeds he witnesses lead Shardlake to try to pull a Jack Goldsmith: to return to private life while keeping both his principles and his loyalties intact.

The first great pleasure of the Shardlake mysteries is that they do excellently what any mystery should do: take the reader inside the distinctive forms of corruption of a particular time and place. Shardlake is caught up in conspiracies that pit bad people against worse ones. There’re money and power everywhere for the taking, and Shardlake faces some especially unscrupulous attempts to seize both. Sansom is particularly good at working the old multiple-plots magic: more than one person is up to something, and part of the fun is trying to figure out which crime a given clue relates to.

Even better, though, is Sansom’s treatment of Shardlake himself. He’s a wholly credible lawyer. The cases he handles ring true with what I know of Tudor legal history (this is especially telling, because it would have been all to easy to fudge the legal details). He also solves cases like a lawyer: splitting his time between careful book research and dogged cross-examination. Shardlake isn’t a Holmesian genius; he’s just a sharp, diligent lawyer who trudges back and forth from one witness to another, looking for inconsistencies and working them relentlessly. His physical deformity also contributes to his interestingly complex personality and narrative voice: cranky, a little self-pitying, and determined to look beyond appearances. The books are bleak affairs, but reading them is an absolute joy.

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My New Book, Understanding Privacy

Cover 5 medium.jpgI am very happy to announce the publication of my new book, UNDERSTANDING PRIVACY (Harvard University Press, May 2008). There has been a longstanding struggle to understand what “privacy” means and why it is valuable. Professor Arthur Miller once wrote that privacy is “exasperatingly vague and evanescent.” In this book, I aim to develop a clear and accessible theory of privacy, one that will provide useful guidance for law and policy. From the book jacket:

Privacy is one of the most important concepts of our time, yet it is also one of the most elusive. As rapidly changing technology makes information more and more available, scholars, activists, and policymakers have struggled to define privacy, with many conceding that the task is virtually impossible.

In this concise and lucid book, Daniel J. Solove offers a comprehensive overview of the difficulties involved in discussions of privacy and ultimately provides a provocative resolution. He argues that no single definition can be workable, but rather that there are multiple forms of privacy, related to one another by family resemblances. His theory bridges cultural differences and addresses historical changes in views on privacy. Drawing on a broad array of interdisciplinary sources, Solove sets forth a framework for understanding privacy that provides clear, practical guidance for engaging with relevant issues.

Understanding Privacy will be an essential introduction to long-standing debates and an invaluable resource for crafting laws and policies about surveillance, data mining, identity theft, state involvement in reproductive and marital decisions, and other pressing contemporary matters concerning privacy.

Here’s a brief summary of Understanding Privacy. Chapter 1 (available on SSRN) introduces the basic ideas of the book. Chapter 2 builds upon my article Conceptualizing Privacy, 90 Cal. L. Rev. 1087 (2002), surveying and critiquing existing theories of privacy. Chapter 3 contains an extensive discussion (mostly new material) explaining why I chose the approach toward theorizing privacy that I did, and why I rejected many other potential alternatives. It examines how a theory of privacy should account for cultural and historical variation yet avoid being too local in perspective. This chapter also explores why a theory of privacy should avoid being too general or too contextual. I draw significantly from historical examples to illustrate my points. I also discuss why a theory of privacy shouldn’t focus on the nature of the information, the individual’s preferences, or reasonable expectations of privacy. Chapter 4 consists of new material discussing the value of privacy. Chapter 5 builds on my article, A Taxonomy of Privacy, 154 U. Pa. L.. Rev. 477 (2006). I’ve updated the taxonomy in the book, and I’ve added a lot of new material about how my theory of privacy interfaces not only with US law, but with the privacy law of many other countries. Finally, Chapter 6 consists of new material exploring the consequences and applications of my theory and examining the nature of privacy harms.

Understanding Privacy is much broader than The Digital Person and The Future of Reputation. Whereas these other two books examined specific privacy problems, Understanding Privacy is a general theory of privacy, and I hope it will be relevant and useful in a wide range of issues and debates.

For more information about the book, please visit its website.

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Fantasy Authors, Tax Policy & Veil Piercing

Pat Rothfuss, author of the best-selling fantasy novel “The Name of the Wind, and an interviewee in my “Law and Hard Fantasy” series, has a post up on his blog ruminating about tax policy and incorporation.

Up until this year, I’ve always gotten money back because I’ve lived well below the poverty line. This year, I got to give them money. It was, as they say, more fun than getting kicked in the throat. Mostly.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against taxes. Everyone loves to bitch about them, but taxes pay for schools, and roads, and snowplows, and sewage treatment plants. My friends have a son who is autistic, and the government helps them by bringing in well-trained people.

These things are important. If that’s all my taxes went toward, I would pay them gladly. I would sing a song while writing out the check.

However, we all know that’s not the case.

So, under the advice of several wise people, I’ve decided to start a corporation. This is supposed to prevent the government from taking quite as big a bite out of my ass for next year’s taxes.

It doesn’t seem right, honestly. The corporation is just me: I own it. And this corporation (let’s call it Me-corp) will be employing me. That, apparently, is different from being actually self-employed. Sorry? What? How does that work?

I guess what it comes down to is that the government is really, really dumb. Dumb enough so that if I put on sock on one of my hands and use it as a puppet, it will be convinced that the puppet is actually paying the taxes, not me.

But I’m not above exploiting a loophole in the system. So all that remains is to figure out what to call this corporation. I having trouble picking a name. Names are important things, you know. They tell you a great deal about a… a corporation.

I’m not an expert in tax law, so I’ll leave discussion of the income-sheltering aspects of this structure to the experts, but I know something about corporate veil piercing. And I’ll just say that calling a corporation a “puppet” would seem to make it less likely that a court would consider it a bona fide entity for the purpose of shielding a shareholder’s personal assets in any suit against Me.corp.

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Michigan Law Review, Issue 106:6 (April 2008)

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Michigan Law Review, Issue 106:6 (April 2008)

(Past issues are available on our website.)

2008 Survey of Books Related to the Law

Foreword

Patricia M. Wald, War Tales and War Trials, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 901 (2008)

Confronting War

Robert J. Delahunty & John C. Yoo, Classic Revisited: Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 923 (2008)

Karen Engle, Classic Revisited: Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 941 (2008)

Stephen Reinhardt, Posner: Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 963 (2008)

Kevin Jon Heller, Drumbl: Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 975 (2008)

The Administrative State

Jill R. Horwitz, Hyman: Medicare Meets Mephistopheles, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1001 (2008)

M. Elizabeth Magill, Croley: Regulation and Public Interests: The Possibility of Good Regulatory Government, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1021 (2008)

Comparative Law

Benjamin L. Liebman, West: Secrets, Sex and Spectacle: The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1041 (2008)

Roger P. Alford, Krotoszynski, Jr.: The First Amendment in Cross-Cultural Perspective: A Comparative Legal Analysis of the Freedom of Speech, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1071 (2008)

Corporate Governance

Merrit B. Fox, Coffee, Jr.: Gatekeepers: The Professions and Corporate, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1089 (2008)

Immigration

Cristina M. Rodriguez, Motomura: Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1111 (2008)

International Law

Alex Geisinger & Michael Ashley Stein, Guzman: How International Law Works: A Rational Choice Theory, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1129 (2008)

Yang Wang, Peerenboom: China Modernizes: Threat to the West or Model for the Rest?, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1143 (2008)

Legal History

Sam Erman, Allen: Origins of the Dred Scott Case: Jacksonian Jurisprudence and the Supreme Court 1837 – 1857, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1157 (2008)

Payment Systems

Katherine Porter, Mann: Charging Ahead: The Growth and Regulation of Payment Card Markets, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1167 (2008)

Policing and Race

Richard Delgado, Herbert: Citizens, Cops, and Power: Recognizing the Limits of Community; Weitzer & Tuch: Race and Policing in America: Conflict and Reform; Weisburd & Braga: Police Innovation: Contrasting Perspectives, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1193 (2008)

Torts

Anthony J. Sebok, Nagareda: Mass Torts in a World of Settlement, 106 Mich. L. Rev. 1213 (2008)

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The Digital Person Free Online!

Digital-Person-free.jpgLast month, Yale University Press allowed me to put my book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet online for free. The experiment has gone quite well. The book’s website received a big bump in traffic, with many people downloading one or more chapters. The book’s sales picked up for several weeks after it was placed online for free. Sales have now returned to about the same level as before the book went online.

I’m delighted to announce that NYU Press has allowed me to put my book, The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age (NYU Press, 2004) online for free.

Here’s a brief synopsis of The Digital Person from the book jacket:

Seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, electronic databases are compiling information about you. As you surf the Internet, an unprecedented amount of your personal information is being recorded and preserved forever in the digital minds of computers. These databases create a profile of activities, interests, and preferences used to investigate backgrounds, check credit, market products, and make a wide variety of decisions affecting our lives. The creation and use of these databases–which Daniel J. Solove calls “digital dossiers”–has thus far gone largely unchecked. In this startling account of new technologies for gathering and using personal data, Solove explains why digital dossiers pose a grave threat to our privacy.

Digital dossiers impact many aspects of our lives. For example, they increase our vulnerability to identity theft, a serious crime that has been escalating at an alarming rate. Moreover, since September 11th, the government has been tapping into vast stores of information collected by businesses and using it to profile people for criminal or terrorist activity. In THE DIGITAL PERSON, Solove engages in a fascinating discussion of timely privacy issues such as spyware, web bugs, data mining, the USA-Patriot Act, and airline passenger profiling.

THE DIGITAL PERSON not only explores these problems, but provides a compelling account of how we can respond to them. Using a wide variety of sources, including history, philosophy, and literature, Solove sets forth a new understanding of what privacy is, one that is appropriate for the new challenges of the Information Age. Solove recommends how the law can be reformed to simultaneously protect our privacy and allow us to enjoy the benefits of our increasingly digital world.

Book reviews are collected here.

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Should Publishers Put Their Books Online for Free?

book29.jpgYesterday, Yale University Press allowed me to post my book online for free. Over at the NYT’s Freakonomics blog, Melissa Lafsky writes about the growing trend of publishers posting free electronic copies of their books online. HarperCollins, for example, has started posting its books free online. In addition to my book, Yale University Press has allowed for the posting of Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks for free online.

One commenter to Lafsky’s post writes:

Imagine if books went the route of music and charged something like 1 or 2 dollars per download. Hardly a cumbersome fee when you consider most books will be over 10$ in a brick and mortar. Now, if a free ebook can sell 1 million copies in 1 day after some publicity on Oprah, imagine how many copies a trivially priced edition could sell over the span of several months. Certainly a few million, I’d expect.

Money is saved on raw materials, processing, printing, distribution. The only costs would be for the content and the server to house the content and some for publicity. So, say the split goes something like 70/30 for author/distributor. That’s still a great deal of income with extremely low overhead.

Another commenter writes:

Why can’t book publishers use the same business model that magazines use? Namely, inserting advertisements among the pages to offset the costs of production.

I for one, would gladly put up with some ads in favor of a lower price. Imagine paying $5 for a new release, rather than $30.

From the Associated Press:

More than 1 million copies of Suze Orman’s “Women & Money” have been downloaded since the announcement last week on Winfrey’s television show that the e-book edition would be available for free on her Web site, http://www.oprah.com. . . .

According to Saturday’s statement, more than 1.1 million copies of Orman’s financial advice book were downloaded in English, and another 19,000 in Spanish. The demand compares to such free online sensations as “The 9-11 Commission Report,” which the federal government made available for downloads, and Stephen King’s e-novella, “Riding the Bullet.”

The publishing community has endlessly debated the effects of making text available online, with some saying that free downloading is a valuable promotional tool and others worrying that sales for paper editions would be harmed. The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers each have sued Google for its plans to scan and index books for the Internet.

The offer for “Women & Money,” originally released a year ago by Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, Inc., has not kept people from buying the traditional version. As of Saturday, the book ranked No. 6 on Amazon.com. The paper edition of “The 9-11 Commission Report,” published in 2004 by W.W. Norton and Co., was a best seller for months.

“I can tell you that with respect to the `9-11 Report,’ the free download did not seem to hurt sales at all,” Norton publisher Drake McFeely told The Associated Press on Saturday. “There were people who wanted it quickly, in a less convenient form, and that was clearly a different market from the people who wanted the traditional book.” . . .

Is this trend a wise thing for publishers to do? Will it help sales? Hurt sales? I’m curious what readers think.