, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 625–628 | Cite as

The priority of piracy

Adrian Johns: Piracy: The intellectual property wars from Gutenberg to Gates. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010, 640pp, $38.00 HB, $22.50 PB
  • Alex CsiszarEmail author
Book Review

With the recent growth of historians’ and anthropologists’ interest in intellectual property, what is at stake in writing a general history of piracy? Adrian Johns argues in this remarkable book that in the most crucial senses it is piracy that has been the fundamental concept all along, with intellectual property a specific historical manifestation and consequence of the broader idea: “To assume that piracy merely derives from legal doctrine is to get the history—and therefore the politics, and much else besides—back to front” (6). What does this mean in practice? First, the historiography: While historical accounts of intellectual property have been dominated by court cases, the history of piracy is primarily cultural; notions and claims about piracy may exist independently of legal doctrines, but not vice versa. Second, the history: Conceptions of piracy relating to intellectual productions predate legal regimes of intellectual property. This is true both in the longue durée (this...

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of the History of ScienceHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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