Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Innovation
The Penguin Press
335 Pp., $22.95
People in the business of creativity must read Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig's passionate plea for the organic spread of ideas. Subtitled "How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity," it focuses on the clash between copyright law and file sharing.
Sex, politics and religion may be the most prominent battlefields in today's culture wars, but the technological combat zone is easily as dramatic, suggests Lessig, a Stanford Law School professor who founded the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and chairs the Creative Commons project. In "Free Culture," his impassioned survey of technology and the Internet, he argues that old interests are on an unnecessary collision course with new technology and suggests that the media, fearful of the consequences of file sharing, have worked to extend copyright so long they are starving the public domain.
He traces the evolution of intellectual property from the Constitution to our times, explaining how the 17-year copyright term the Framers set in that key document has increased to 95 years. Such extension hinders progress, Lessig says, crimping creativity and the naturally transformative nature of ideas.
No matter what side you are on, you will benefit from reading this. If you are engaged in music, film, television, literature and the "bricolage," or reconfigurations of those, that the Internet enables, it will inform you of your rights and how to protect them.
According to one study, 60 million Americans had downloaded music as of fall 2002. A separate survey estimated that as of last May, 43 million had used file-sharing networks to exchange content. Understandably, file sharing has given rise to concerns about piracy, concerns Lessig shares - with caveats:
"All across the world, but especially in Asia and Eastern Europe, there are businesses that do nothing but take other people's copyrighted content, copy it, and sell it - all without the permission of a copyright owner," he writes. "The recording industry estimates that it loses about $4.6 billion every year to physical piracy (that works out to one in three CDs sold worldwide). The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) estimates that it loses $3 billion annually worldwide to piracy."
At the same time, he notes that downloading a CD is different from taking a CD from a store, let alone from corporate fraud or medical malpractice.