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Free Culture: The Nature and Future of…

Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Lawrence Lessig

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1,434168,937 (4.17)13
Lawrence Lessig, "the most important thinker on intellectual property in the Internet era" (The New Yorker), is often called our leading cultural environmentalist. His focus is the ecosystem of creativity, the environment created around it by technology and law. To read Free Culture is to understand that the health of that ecosystem is in grave peril. While new technologies always lead to new laws, Lessig shows that never before have the big cultural monopolists drummed up such unease about these advances, especially the Internet, to shrink the public domain while using the same advances to control what we can and can't do with the culture all around us. What's at stake is our freedom -- freedom to create, freedom to build, and, ultimately, freedom to imagine.… (more)
Title:Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity
Authors:Lawrence Lessig
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2005), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Currently reading, Your library

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Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity by Lawrence Lessig (Author) (2004)

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I was hesitant at first to read this book because it was published more than a decade ago (in 2004). Some of the age shows; Lessig spends a paragraph explaining the new fangled conception of a "blog" and remarks with surprise that the Japanese are streaming mp3s through their cell phones. I'm glad I pushed through and finished the book, it was worth all the dated references. I learned a lot about intellectual property, and came across arguments that are original and relevant even 12 years later.

I enjoyed in particular the "legal" aspects of the work. I had never heard of Causby vs. US before. Lessig uses this as an example of how property rights have always been balanced against the greater good of society. In Causby, under common law, one's property included the sky above one's land. This was seriously challenged with the invention of the airplane. The Causby's sued the government for flying over their land, arguing that their property rights were violated. The supreme court dismissed the Causbys, arguing that it simply defied common sense. I also found Lessig's description of the Statue of Anne and the birth of public domain interesting. For the first time, parliament limited copyright (instead of perpetual copyright under common law) in order to avoid the power of the publishing monopolies and encourage the growth of knowledge. Lastly, it was interesting to get the personal perspective of Lessig in the case he argued in front of the Supreme court (Eldred). Lessig's legal theory, that the extension of copyright to existing works was a violation of the progress clause was fascinating (as well as the rent seeking susceptibility of copyright extension). Ultimately, Lessig failed, and he reflects on the reasons for that failure (mainly failing to make a policy argument and an over reliance on constitutional principle).

Law professors (at least in my mind) have a reputation for being a bit radical and off the rocker. I was surprised to find Lessig's proposals and ideas moderate. He doesn't call for the abolition of property rights or property fundamentalism. What he calls for is a rebalancing of property, and he demonstrates that it has been in our tradition to balance property with the betterment of society. He discusses compulsory licenses, and the congressional decision to require radio to pay composers not recording artists royalties as attempts in our tradition to balance the rights of ownership against the good of broader society. Unlike most politics that are black and white, Lessig puts forth arguments that argue for the protection of property (he is against music pirating for example) while making sure that the owners do not overreach and choke off transformative content or distribution (he discusses various examples of aggressive RIAA lawsuits). He suggests shorting copyright terms, banning copyright extensions, requiring registration and markings for copyrighted material (he also explains why the last two have been dropped as copyright requirements).

The last main idea I really liked in the book was the discussion of types of regulation over culture. Lessig lists four, architecture, law, norms and markets. He discusses how free culture (in the sense of free markets, not free beer) is threatened by the convergence of concentrated media, excessive DRM technology, and the ever increasing scope of copyright law. Though copyrighted material in theory can be used in other works through fair use, Lessig argues that fair use is now facing a burden it was not designed to bear. Technology, big media and the over protecting legal system have created an environment unfriendly to creativity and innovation. DRM and a myriad of laws now allow copyright owners to regulate and require permission for activities that would have never been so regulated before.

I don't agree with Lessig on every issue, but I respect how original and reasonable his positions are. I'm also impressed that his arguments are still enough to make someone think a decade later. I recommend it for anyone who has a beginner's interest in intellectual property rights, technology and the law and even economics.
( )
  vhl219 | Jun 1, 2019 |
Phenomenal! Today we imagine law as an esoteric subject where money has conquered reason. That's only partly true. [a:Lawrence Lessig|25159|Lawrence Lessig|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1280016402p2/25159.jpg] describes what he calls a "land grab" on the territory opened up by new technologies. Framed in this way, digital and copy rights are more an emergent and confused battlefield. The danger is not in losing the fight, the danger is in losing the awareness that there is a fight, its scope, its historical context, and it's relevance to our daily lives. ( )
  Victor_A_Davis | Sep 18, 2015 |
I love authors who provide their stuff under the Creative Commons License. It gives me warm fuzzies inside.
  lafon | Mar 31, 2013 |
The beginning of this book stretches on a little and suffers for Lessig trying to head of objects and arguments that someone who disagrees with him might make against what he's writing. He does though by saying things without wanting to commit to making statements about harms or if something is right or wrong. It makes some of his arguments come off wish-washy a bit and makes the book feels muddled.

Towards the end he states that he lost a major case because he tried to argue to hard for legal and rational points and suppressing some of the passion of his work, but he seems to be making the same mistake again.

Not a bad book, but certainly could have either been compressed and a bit more academic or...shorter and more passionate. There's later books by other authors that argue some of the same points but better. I'd recommend Common As Air by Hyde for more of a general audience interested in the history of copyright and this book for more of a serious buff on copyright issues.

I do wish I knew of a book that examined the tragedy of the orphan works. Lessig makes a good rational argument for the vastness of knowledge affected by it, but it would be nice to see a book that focused on it. ( )
  JonathanGorman | Jul 24, 2011 |
Free download
  lmaceyka | Dec 19, 2010 |
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On December 17, 1903, on a windy North Carolina beach for just shy of one hundred seconds, the Wright brothers demonstrated that a heavier-than-air, self-propelled vehicle could fly.
Since the inception of the law regulating creative property, there has been a war against "piracy."
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