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Paperback | $30.00 Short | £20.95 | ISBN: 9780262511964 | 368 pp. | 6 x 9 in | September 2006

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Digital Phoenix

Why the Information Economy Collapsed and How It Will Rise Again


While we were waiting for the Internet to make us rich—back when we thought all we had to do was to buy lottery tickets called dotcom shares—we missed the real story of the information economy. That story, says Bruce Abramson in Digital Phoenix, took place at the intersection of technology, law, and economics. It unfolded through Microsoft's manipulation of software markets, through open source projects like Linux, and through the file-sharing adventures that Napster enabled. Linux and Napster in particular exploited newly enabled business models to make information sharing cheap and easy; both systems met strong opposition from entrenched interests intent on preserving their own profits. These scenarios set the stage for the future of the information economy, a future in which each new technology will threaten powerful incumbents—who will, in turn, fight to retard this "dangerous new direction" of progress.

Disentangling the technological, legal, and economic threads of the story, Abramson argues that the key to the entire information economy—understanding the past and preparing for the future—lies in our approach to intellectual property and idea markets. The critical challenge of the information age, he says, is to motivate the creation and dissemination of ideas. After discussing relevant issues in intellectual property and antitrust law, the economics of competition, and artificial intelligence and software engineering, Abramson tells the information economy's formative histories: the Microsoft antitrust trial, the open-source movement, and (in a chapter called "The Computer Ate My Industry") the advent of digital music. Finally, he looks toward the future, examining some ways that intellectual property reform could power economic growth and showing how the information economy will reshape the ways we think about business, employment, society, and public policy—how the information economy, in fact, can make us all rich, as consumers and producers, if not as investors.

About the Author

Bruce Abramson received a PhD in computer science from Columbia University and a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center. He has held positions with the faculties of the University of Southern California and Carnegie Mellon. His consulting and legal practice, based in Washington, DC, focuses on issues related to the digital economy. Abramson is also the author of The Informationist blog, which chronicles "life during the transition from industrial age to information age."


"...guides the reader step by step through key technological events, with particular attention to intellectual property law and the evolving concepts of network economics, producing a solid guide to the tech age." , Bill S. Kowinski, San Francisco Chronicle

"A compelling explanation of the forces that produced the 1990s technology boom and bust."—Choice

"Abramson gives an intricate but lucid and engaging account of these controversies, illuminating the interplay of copyright and patent law, technology and marketing. He makes a case both for the government's role in policing abuses of intellectual property rights Microsoft, he believes, is indeed a monopolistand for a relaxed intellectual property regime that fosters competition and innovation."—Publishers Weekly

"It's the best non-technical account I've read of how network economies do and do not work in the information age. I'll be assigning it to my students - as far as I can see, it's the best and most complete account available." —Crooked Timber


"Digital Phoenix is a brilliant explanation of the law, economics, and technology behind the information technology revolution—in my view, the best book on this topic on the market."
Robert Litan, Vice President, Research and Policy, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

"Bruce Abramson has produced a road map for the information revolution that nimbly weaves together insights about the relationships among technology, law, economics, and politics. He's a fantastic storyteller, capturing the details and significance of such important moments as the Microsoft antitrust case, the Napster phenomenon, and the battles over free software, while retaining the swashbuckling flavor of each of these digital adventures."
Jonathan Zittrain, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School

"The Microsoft antitrust trial, the ascent of Linux, the rise and fall of Napster—Abramson not only masterfully retells each of these foundational stories of the digital economy, he explains why they mattered, how they fit into the 'New Economy,' and what they portend for the next information technology boom. This is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand what makes our digital economy tick."
Fred von Lohmann, Electronic Frontier Foundation

"Bruce Abramson has written an interesting and highly accessible story of the information economy. He looks beyond the 1990s cycle of hype and disillusionment to explain what is really important in this story: the reconfiguring of the information flows that form the basis of social, political, and economic life. A revolution is in the making, and Abramson's book helps to clarify the stakes in how it turns out."
Steven Weber, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley, author of The Success of Open Source