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Book Review: Intellectual Property and Open Source: A Practical Guide to Protecting Code by Van Lindberg

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Intellectual property is an increasingly important part of our economy, and computer code in particular is presenting IP laws a serious challenge. Is code functional or expressive? Should it be covered by a patent or a copyright? What rights do we consumers have when we purchase a piece of computer software? Intellectual Property and Open Source: A Practical Guide to Protecting Code answers these questions, at least as well as any questions can be answered in this notoriously wishy-washy field of law.

The book serves several potential audiences. First, anyone like me who is simply interested in learning how IP laws work will get that information without having to wade through the endless sea of rhetorical Jello that is Legalese. The author, Van Lindberg, manages to explain everything so that a normal person can at least read it. He makes it clear through real-world examples when certain parts of the law matter, and how sometimes that doesn't match the original intention of the law in writing. It should be noted, however, that potential readers who are totally unfamiliar with technology may find themselves skipping several paragraphs, as about half of the specific IP examples are taken from that area. I believe, lacking their perspective, that this isn't a deal-breaking issue, but sometimes the author explains concepts by using a programming analogy, which isn't very helpful to anyone who is reading this book just to casually learn about IP law. 

Property takes a lot of time to help developers who are looking into how to copyright or license their project as well. In particular, there is plenty of information on how to use copyleft procedures like Creative Commons with a project. The casual inventor truthfully needs to read this book to avoid the sad fate of certain individuals who lost their patent to their employers in court. The book details several specific cases, including a man who created a baseball simulator unrelated to his company's business, talked to them about it, and confirmed it was okay with his boss, only to have them sell his patent to a competitor when an infringement came to court years and years later. Courts tend to favor business, so any individual inventor needs to read this to know how to protect his or her own work.

Truthfully, even lawyers could use this book, particularly if Intellectual Property is a new area for them. The casual reader may hardly think about it, but all of the details are here for a more advanced learner. The case examples are particularly helpful, and they serve as good stories to break up the pure instruction anyway. A lawyer would clearly be better equipped to understand some of the book's core concepts, and able to study this field as it applies to new media in the future.

Basically, the only issues with Property are simply that it doesn't fit every audience perfectly. As mentioned before, a more casual reader may not understand the programming metaphors, or care about several of the later chapters which are meant for others. Everyone can hone in on their chapters of the book, but more likely than not the entire book won't be for them.

Intellectual Property and Open Source has been a real help for me on learning the basics of intellectual property law and how it is going to apply to the technology of the future. This is a field of law with a lot to clarify, and some important elements that can hugely affect future profits (what if someone worded their patent just right so that it covered the Internet?) Intellectual Property is and will always be an important and divisive point for our society, and this book will introduce you to it as well as any other.

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