Lawrence Lessig Talks Copyright

Lawrence Lessig
Center for Internet and Society

I will claim ignorance and admit that I had never really heard of Lawrence Lessig before except on the periphery of conversations. Now that I have actually heard him speak, I wonder what hole I have been living in to have missed him.

This post is a sum of his talk at the University of Houston on February 24, 2006.
Without further ado:

Dr. Lessig has a sticker on his Apple computer that says “free culture” and he has a unique Power Point style that was fun to watch.

“Some things should be free.”

There are two competing cultures in our times, the “Read Only” culture and the “Read Write” culture.

The RO is defined by the right to buy and consume content produced elsewhere. The largest example of this is, of course, iTunes. Amazon has recently released a Pay Per Page and other vendors have Pay Per Read options. This culture allows copyright owners to define how people consume their products. Soon, everything will always be available to buy for a price and copyright supports this perfect control.

But people buy, sell, trade, and consume outside of this model all the time when they buy, sell, trade, and read books in real space. Copyright does not dictate how people consume physical books in “real” space because it is not logical to do so. In conjunction, it is not logical to apply certain copyright restrictions to online information.

In the internet culture, every use becomes a copy because the platform is different; the internet has created the Read Write culture. The law only supports the Read Only culture and DRM (digital rights management). The RW culture begs for creativity to be expressed differently. It shifts the power of expression to anyone with a computer. Remix is nothing new and has always been present in society because people have always been producing, sharing and consuming culture. Literacy in the digital age requires tools that involve more than text. Under the copyright laws today, the RW culture is illegal. The existing system demands permission and it is not coming.

This conflict should be important to academics because we can influence scholarly publishing and the way the upcoming generation views publishing and copyright. We can spread the use of the Creative Commons License.


My question for Dr. Lessig, which I did not get to ask was, “Teaching our current students about copyright and participating in open access movements is all very fine, but how do we effect decisions being made about copyright NOW? The lawmakers NOW are the ones who can make changes NOW. How do we make a difference?”

Copyright in the digital age is something that we, not as librarians, but as consumers of which we should be intensely aware. This subject effects many aspects of our daily lives so why are we not talking about it? The conversation, as Dr. Lessig pointed out, is controlled by the record companies and publishing industry because they are the ones with the money. In our society and government, the only people who get heard every day and in the governemnt are the ones with money.

What more can we do besides spreading the Creative Commons love?

Jane, free to use, but not for profit