Longtime readers of this blog know that I really, really respect and admire Lawrence Lessig who early on pushed my thinking in all sorts of directions with his presentations, books, and blog entries. I’m still a big admirer of his work, and I seriously think he will come to be known as one of the great change agents of our times. That’s why his new book about he cultural shifts that are occurring around copyright, intellectual property and art went to the top of the list when it arrived a couple of days ago. (I’ve got a long list to get to, but I’ve also got some long flights ahead of me…)
Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy is a treatise on how we need to start rethinking traditional copyright law in the context of these easy sharing and copying technologies. And what’s especially relevant to our conversation is that he frames it in the way this all shakes out for our kids. In talking about how the government continues to create laws that “wage war” against the copyright infringement that many youngsters engage in every day, he says:
…I worry about the effect this war is having upon our kids. What is this war doing to them? Whom is it making them? How is it changing how they think about normal, right thinking behavior? What does it mean to a society when a whole generation is raised as criminals?
And then he asks the central question:
In a world in which technology begs all of us to create and spread creative work differently from how it was created and spread before, what kind of moral platform will sustain our kids, when their ordinary behavior is deemed criminal? Who will they become? What other crimes will to them seem natural.
To Lessig, this is a war that can not be won.
What should we do if this war against “piracy” as we currently conceive of it cannot be won? What should we do if we know that the future will be one where our kids, and there kids, will use a digital network to access whatever content they want whenever they want it? What should we do if we know that the future is one where perfect control over the distibution of “copies” simply will not exist?
Lots of questions that he will no doubt answer in the book, and that I hope to get back to here. But no doubt, these are questions we should be asking ourselves no matter how difficult or disruptive they may be. If you are reading this, you are doing so on your own personal printing press. That isÂ a different world than the one current copyright laws were written under.
Sharon Peters says
Will, I share with you my admiration for Larry Lessig. And I think he asks some tough questions for those of us who are educators. We need a paradigm shift here in the kinds of content we are asking of our students. I caught my son (in grade 9) plagiarizing last week – straight from wikipedia on, of all things, his ethics assignment! For him, it sucks to be a son of a techie English teacher (I made him do it over again in his own words), but I was equally frustrated with a teacher who would give an assignment that so blatantly required a student to do a brain dump from the Internet (or cut and paste job!). If we ask for such things from our students, no wonder they resort to piracy and plagiarism.
When are we going to honour the creativity of a remix and/or the courage to self-publish?
Thanks for sharing.
I read about this book in The American Scholar. I think Lessig poses a great question. My Mock Trial team is preparing a case that involves file sharing. The kid’s(defendant’s) only defense seems to be identity theft. I keep wanting to put the law on trial. The kids on my team do not take this practice of file sharing at all seriously. I feel some sympathy for your son’s English teacher I suppose. Although when I am looking for an information dump, that’s just what it is, an attempt to increase my students’ knowledge base so that we can go on to other things. For instance, we were going to visit Fallingwater. I told them to find out whatever they could about him for homework, and then when they came in the next day, I told them to write a paragraph containing the most important details they had learned. They would be assessed on their ability to organize information.
I have been waiting to read this book! It’s amazing how ownership has been affected by the read/write/remix culture in the last decade. Today’s young people live in a totally different world when it comes to copyright, and perhaps the day is not too far off when we see changes for the better written into law.
I’m curious – does Lessig talk to youth who see themselves committing criminal acts? Or is he merely afraid that their interpretation of fair use will make them into criminals, then disregarding other laws in society?
Gary Stager says
I guess I’ll have to read this book.
However wise on matters of intellectual property law, I find Mr. Lessig to be profoundly ignorant and wrong-headed when he writes about art, creativity and culture.
For example, I do not imagine that “remixing” or “mash-ups” contributes to culture in any way resembling the role of culture over the ages. While remixing and mashing-up has been made easy by digital technology, very little of it can be considered art that has any chance of enduring.
Art and culture are expressions of the human condition that reflect our evolution over a progressive continuum of the ages. They require an aesthetic more sophisticated and profound than the cut and paste tool of the moment.
Art and culture are not commerce, even if Mr. Lessig’s work may starve the real artists he speaks of as abstractions or collateral victims.
Bill Fitzgerald says
On one level, I hear what you’re saying, but at the same time a good argument could be made that Eliot’s Wasteland engages in some pretty serious remixing — or, at the very least, some reuse and recontextualizing of other people’s ideas.
Conflating the tendency/propensity to reuse with the current technologies that make for easier reuse has the danger of submerging the inherent brilliance of *some* remixes and recontextualizations.
Not that I want to lead us down the “death of the author” rabbit hole…
Gary: What about the Grey Album? Whether or not you believe Dangermouse’s creation is “art” with a capital A, it is undeniably a powerful creative and cultural work. Other people think so too: http://popmatters.com/music/columns/powers/040310.shtml
As for me, I’ve finally got my copy of Remix and am going to read for myself.