First off, if you're looking for a nice introduction to what happens when law meets the internet, this is not your book. If this is your first dip into the debate, you're looking for Code or The Future of Ideas, both by Lawrence Lessig. Like those books (especially TFOI) it's big on the idea of the internet as a wonderful platform for free expression and innovation, both economically and socially motivated. Like them, it stresses the importance of openness and the commons in maximising the internet's potential and so wants open spectrum, open code and less hasty and restrictive intellectual property law. Unlike them, it can be very heavy going at times.
That's not really a criticism, because Benkler's written something much more self-consciously theoretical than most of the other cyber-law stuff you'll find on the market. His big idea is that the really fundamental change that the internet brings is social production - the fusion between social instincts, altruism and OCD that leads people to work on Linux, contribute to Wikipedia and write product reviews on Amazon. He then looks at what exactly this changes for economic production, democratic participation, cultural freedom and development, and argues that we need to do more to recognise and protect the benefits that it brings.
If did have a criticism, it would be that the book formalizes and thus labours what may seem like rather obvious points after the third variation. On the other hand, that's the nature of the beast if you're looking for a thorough academic treatment of these issues. The issues addressed are hugely important for anyone interested in economics or politics in the information age, and this is the most definitive treatment of them so far. Probably not one for the airport lounge, though.
Well, of course it's much more than that. To pursue the Marxist analogy, this is more a 'Capital' than a 'Communist Manifesto'. It is long and it is repetitive, and it's got quite a lot of economic and regulatory theory in it. That said, it is very good, and very clear, if dense. Benkler provides a thorough justification for social production, and a sound argument against the extension of 'intellectual property'. It introduced me to a number of new economic concepts - I had managed to spend my first fifty three years without the idea of a 'nonrival good', for example. There is a great sweep of perspective, but plenty of detail and anecdote. It's a shame that quite a few of these seem a bit dated, and I hope that links to the author online will help with more up to date material.
But I'd recommend this to anyone who wants an introduction to the underlying economics of P2P or to the regulation of property on the internet, or the economics of social production.
One other thing - the organisation and the style of the writing are exemplary. The book ends with a summary of its main arguments. Sometimes that can be tedious, but here it works really well, bringing together and stating the themes very clearly.
A great book that puts the whole social production, such as wikipedia and free software, into a much greater perspective than what one normally sees and analyzes it from several new angles which I havn't read anywhere before. The only weak points of the book is that its quite long and at times somewhat repetitive.