Adrian Johns


On his book Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates

Cover Interview of May 09, 2010


I hope that the book will encourage protagonists in today’s intellectual-property debates to think more deeply and broadly than they usually do about what is at stake and how we might move forward.

Often very passionate, those debates take place on grounds of policy and law.  That makes sense, of course.  But it also means that present intellectual property debates leave untouched what are important, perhaps even essential, constituents of the issues at hand.  That is, IP in practice is a matter of custom and convention as much as it is of law per se.

If we neglect that fact, our responses to what everyone agrees to be a crisis in the field are likely to be deficient, and quite possibly even damaging.

The upholders of ever-stronger IP protections in particular tend to make this mistake.  Their arguments about the practical effects of such protections rest largely on political-economic theories and models.

We need profound engagement with how IP operates in practice.  And a necessary part of that engagement must be an appreciation of how the nature and effects of intellectual property have changed over time.  That is, the intellectual property wars need some historical insight if they are not to be waged interminably.

Piracy makes that argument.  And it further shows that an historical understanding can suggest why our current disputes are so intractable.

By identifying the emergence of an “intellectual property defense industry” the book calls attention to a social and economic phenomenon that has gone largely unrecognized, but which in fact lies at the heart of the problem.

© 2010 Adrian Johns