Book Review: file sharing and open source licensing (and ‘a manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika’)

cover from Steal This File Sharing Book, Wallace WangCover from Steal This Book, Abbie HofmannCover from Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing, St. Laurent

Steal This File Sharing Book by Wallace Wang, Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing by Andrew M. St. Laurent (and Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman).

Starting with Steal This File Sharing Book. I would really like to tell you that this is a great book. Or that it cleverly updates Abbie Hoffman’s yippie freeloader’s bible, Steal This Book (Stealing it from amazon is going to present some problems, though, I guess). Or even that it’ll help you understand file sharing. Sadly, I can’t. I’ll keep it around but it’s tough to imagine a use for it beyond this review. I wish Wang had provided a history of file sharing technologies. I wish he’d thought more about the future (beyond version updates and law suits). I wish he’d found the time to discuss the ethical context and I wish he’d been a bit less morally ambivalent about file sharing. Where Hoffman is morally certain (thieving from dumb corporations and dumber Governments is a good thing), Wang worries the issue and leaves the reader frankly at sea. I’d also have liked some discussion of new rights models (GPL, Creative Commons and so on) and of new methods like BitTorrent. I wonder if file sharing is one of those topics that really doesn’t warrant a book at all?

This is more like it. Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing is a small but perfectly formed 194 pages on every kind of software license you’ve ever heard of, including the non-free and nearly-free ones. Actual licenses, annotated and explained, are the body of the book with plenty of legal asides and some gentle (legally-phrased) criticism where necessary. I’m not about to release a software product but if I were I’d buy this unpretentious book and since software licensing seems to be the bleeding edge of the fast-changing rights landscape (can landscapes have bleeding edges?), where all the interesting work is being done, I think this book should interest a lot of non-techies too.

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