Freedom of Expression

By Jason Wojciechowski on February 22, 2006 at 12:15 AM

I finished Kembrew McLeod's Freedom of Expression: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity. There's a lot to recommend it, including the fact that McLeod is a UMass-Amherst grad (his PhD, anyway) and that he's generally very angry about the continued legal sanctioning of the stifling of creativity in America (and beyond).

That said, I don't know if I'd call it a good book. I sort of felt while reading it that he didn't say anything you couldn't go find out in Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture. That's not entirely fair, because there is lots and lots of interesting material cited as examples of what our culture could be if the muffling effects of intellectual-property law could be re-lessened. For example, McLeod writes about sampling in hip-hop, collage in subversive art, and Todd Haynes's (in?)famous Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. Each story is compelling, but I never really felt it all come together.

Which is not to say his point isn't clear. It certainly is. But is it clear because it's obvious from the first five pages what his point is, or is it clear because he's structured his book and his anecdotes in such a way that each one makes his argument a little clearer, a little more convincing? I'd say the former.

Then again, I'm biased. I did read Free Culture. I'm predisposed to agree with these ideas, and I'm already more familiar with them than McLeod's intended audience might have been. Could this book, then, serve as a primer, a gateway to Lessig's books (which themselves could be gateways to more technical work by other lawyers and academics)? Maybe. If I were making a personal recommendation, though, to someone interested in finding out a little more about, say, the file sharing arguments, I'd advise skipping straight to the head of the class with Lessig's work.

I ought to note, also, that McLeod has done an interesting thing and made his work freely downloadable (as a PDF) at his website (linked above). The book is licensed under a Creative Commons license (the same license, actually, that I use on this site).