Posted by: soniahs | August 29, 2010

Exam reading: “Free culture”

In “Free culture,” Lawrence Lessig looks at how copyright law intersects with new media, and the freedom of experimentation with information afforded by electronic technologies. Some timely connections to recent news events in this book.

Summary: After outlining the history of copyright in the U.S., Lessig describes recent movements by content distributors to expand scope of copyright law. Online content includes traditionally non-commercial culture and can easily be monitored, leading to a trend for copyright holders to encroach upon traditionally free/fair use of intellectual property. Lessig discusses the tremendous possibilities for cultural creativity using electronic media, as well as industry (MPAA, RIAA) attempts to quash creative efforts. He outlines four ways that intellectual property is regulated: laws, cultural norms, market forces, and by the distribution architecture itself. His thesis is that the law should change to balance public interest with the interests of copyright holders. Currently, law, the market, and distribution architecture are all being used to restrict fair use of copyrighted materials (e.g., extending copyright terms, software permissions for use, software making everything regulatable, media consolidation), while cultural norms are becoming more accepting of piracy and illegal activity. For Lessig, the ideal is limited-term intellectual property copyright, followed by either release into the public domain or extended copyright under a system that makes it easy for later users to get permission to use works. He also discusses positive developments, including open-source development and Creative Commons licensing.

Comments: Lessig offers several examples of historic and current conflict between content producers and later users (e.g., radio, p2p file sharing, documentary filmmaking, news archiving), which provide a good historical grounding. He likens the current situation to Prohibition (stifling laws with little public support leading to widespread illegality).

Links to: Liu (discusses uses of “free” info); Feenberg (politics/philosophy of material technology)



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