Sunday, November 23, 2008

Remix - Lawrence Lessig

Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy - Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig is a Stanford law professor and was one of the founders of Creative Commons. In Remix he advocates for copyright reform that would give individuals more latitude in quoting and copying media works for personal or non-commercial use. He pulls from recent writing on the impact of the social web, quoting liberally from The Wealth of Networks (Yochai Benkler), Wikinomics (Tapscott and Williams) and Convergence Culture (Henry Jenkins).

Taking language from computing he discusses culture in terms of Read-Only culture and Read-Write culture. Read-Only culture is made to be consumed, while Read-Write culture is participatory.

Copyright law in the US gives us a fair amount of latitude to quote written texts in our own writing. Quoting electronic media within our own electronic media productions is incredibly more restricted, however. The only chance we have for legally quoting copyrighted media is through the loophole of "fair use" which is so ill-defined that a defense on these grounds almost always requires the expense of a lawyer. As such, it puts corporations at an advantage and regular folks at a disadvantage. For young people today, making media is a form of writing though. Commonly available digital tools have removed the barriers to quoting from media. Upload sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, etc have removed the barriers to sharing these media productions. The products of the entertainment industry - movies, tv, recorded music - that were once Read-Only media are now Read-Write media. Contemporary folk forms such as Anime Music Videos (scenes from anime re-cut by fans as music videos) have sprung up (see Convergence Culture). In some cases media companies have eventually come to the realization that the enthusiasm and involvement of fans is something to be encouraged rather than outright prohibited. Opening up a company's intellectual property resources can be a business strategy (see Wikinomics).

Lessig wants copyright law to reflect the common practices and technologies of today. He wants kids to be able to engage actively with the media landscape without breaking the law. He recommends decriminalizing amateur remixing or quoting and simplifying the process of getting permissions for commercial remixes or quotations.

I remember Lessig's Free Culture (2004) being kind of a chore to get through, but Remix is very readable - I picked it up a few days ago and decided to drop the other book I was reading. On the other hand it feels a little superficial. When Lessig writes that he's not concerned about the kind of tracking and analysis that Amazon does on the metrics of site visitors I wonder if he's actually serious or just trying to come off as an average internet-shopping guy for the benefit of selling his copyright argument.

By the way, Free Culture was published (by Penguin) under a Creative Commons license but Remix is published (also by Penguin) under a conventional copyright license. Sort of wondering about that.

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