In Shamans, Software & Spleens, Boyle (1996) examined the laws behind and construction of the information society.  Specifically, he unpacked the ethical, cultural, social and legal issues surrounding the commodification of a series of goods that are often neither tangible nor logical: information (Boyle, 1996).  Boyle’s (1996) argument is framed around four specific instances of information and property rights issues: copyright, blackmail, insider trading and ownership of genetic material.  Within each of these categories, Boyle (1996) dissects the issues surrounding these forms of intellectual property within the realms of economics, political/libertarian ideologies and the often contradictory tension between the public/private realms.  His conclusion is that we are moving away from the free marketplace of ideas “…toward a society more centrally concerned with the production, manipulation, and use of information” (Boyle, 1996, p. 176). The concern with this, however, is how this continuing trend toward information as a pure commodity will stifle both creativity and inventive progress.
            The stifling of creative progress within the realm of communication technology is of particular interest to me.  At one point in the book, Boyle (1996) asked the following question:
            Does a computer program such as Windows infringe the copyright of the Apple operating system if
            it has a similar ‘look’ or ‘feel,’ regardless of whether that look or feel is produced by lines of         
            computer code which share nothing with the original work? (p.19)
While this question was meant to be rhetorical in a sense, what is interesting is that in the past 17 years since this book was published, that same issue has been brought to court by both Microsoft and Apple against each other and against other technology companies.  Most recently, Apple has been in an international legal battle with Samsung over proprietary issues surrounding Samsung’s tablet computers.  Specifically, Apple has sued Samsung for illegally recreating the look and feel of the iPad’s “unique user experience” for their own products, even though, Apple claims, they “own” those rights (Price, 2012).  These lawsuits between Samsung and Apple have been traded between the companies for nearly three years now, and while several different parts of the lawsuits have been thrown out across the world, other parts have actually blocked both companies from releasing various products in numerous countries.  It is within these examples that Boyle’s (1996) semi-rhetorical question becomes eerily prescient; not just because he was able to foresee the sort of nit-picky legal battles over intellectual and design property rights that are commonplace today, but also because he was able to correct foresee how this is stifling creativity.  Because each technology company owns little snippets of code, design, data, etc., it is nearly impossible for the start-up company with visionary ideas to succeed.  Inevitably, that start-up company will find itself in some sort of copyright violation because the corners on their new tech gadget just happen to be at the same radius as a product made by Apple, Samsung, Sony or whatever other company that quietly patented that specific “look” and “feel.”  As consumers, this trend should be concerning, as we are given less choices by fewer companies.  Unfortunately, it would seem that most people are not concerned with this, they are more concerned with when their new iPhone will be released.
            Based upon the reading this week, I have the following questions up for discussion:

            "As academics who can be both the victim and the perpetrators of “fair use” laws, how do each of             us feel about the idea of un-sourced uses of information (aka plagiarism)?"

            "Boyle (1996) makes a compelling argument about the complexities of ownership of genetic   
            material. In the case of John Moore, his genetic material was unique enough to be of use to    
            scientists.  At  which point does the “expression” of how our bodies made our genetic material                  become unique enough that we should be able to retain ownership of it?  In other words, when
            does our unique  expression of genetic material outweigh the expression of use as prescribed by    


Boyle, J. (1996). Shamans, software, & spleens: Law and the construction of the information society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Price, E. (2012, August 13). Why Apple won’t be suing Microsoft over the surface. Mashable. Retrieved from

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