Free Culture – the extended Remix

Remix: making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy (published in the UK by Bloomsbury Academic) is the latest in Lawrence Lessig‘s series on regulation of cyberspace. Lessig is undeniably the leading thinker on copyright in the digital age and, though many label him a radical, his arguments derive from those of earlier leading thinkers and statesmen, many of whom were conservatives.

In Remix, Lessig has developed and refined the arguments in Free Culture (2004), remixed and added plenty of value and thereby produced something new and freshly relevant.

Remix‘s central theme is that the current copyright regime is so at odds with the 21st century context in which it operates that we risk criminalising an entire generation – the net generation – who are growing up with the means to consume, remix and create and publish media in ways unimaginable even 30 years ago, yet with the permission to do less even than consume according to the 20th century industry models. Saddled with arcane laws of whose reach they may be unaware, and which, if acknowledged, they cannot understand and cannot respect, our children do what comes naturally, what seems fair to them – they “break the law”. I’d be surprised if most of us with regular internet access have not done so too, albeit to a lesser degree.

The book is in three parts: in Part 1 Lessig charts the transition from the read-only culture of the past to the read-write culture of the present; in Part 2 he describes the evolution of the hybrid internet economies, exhibiting varying mixes of commercial and sharing economy attributes, with numerous case studies of well known Web 2.0 successes; and in Part 3 he suggests the reforms that will enable the future of creativity rather than criminalise it. These are both the reforms to the law he rehearsed in Free Culture, but also, more importantly, reforms to our norms and expectations around the control of culture.

His conclusion is, however, bleak. Before a truce in the copyright wars has any hope of being brokered, the wholly disproportionate influence of BigMedia on Congress must be addressed.

Laws and politics are different here of course, but the net effect (pardon the pun) is much the same. The uncustomer is always in the wrong.

Read this book.