Jana | TED Talk: Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity
Larry Lessig shares three stories:
Lessig begins by examining the 20th century fear that user-generated content will soon be obliterated with the rise of infernal “talking” machines, a concept propagated by John Phillip Sousa who felt the machines would ruin artistic development of music in the country. This read only culture became a serious threat as we deviated from a read-write culture where people participated in the creation and recreation of content. Creativity became top down, where readers were no longer creators. It appeared that we did indeed “lose our vocal chords.”
Secondly, Lessig comments on the ludicrous components of the trespassing land law that granted private ownership of land all the way below the property and indefinitely upward. Such a doctrine had no place in the modern world, and appeals to this law (air traffic example) made no “common sense.”
Thirdly, Lessig discusses broadcasting and how it introduced a new way to spread content. However, ASCAP, the company that controlled broadcast music, inflated their rates to ridiculously high levels. This prompted the formation of a new method of broadcasting, exemplified by BMI, where arrangements of public domain works were distributed for free.
Lessig believes the Internet can revive read-write culture and user-generated content. Sites like YouTube foster this amateur culture (NOT amateurish), where people create for the love of the art and not the money. Remixing old and new songs, using the content of yesterday to create new meaning today is exactly what Sousa romanticized. Remix culture is NOT piracy; it is taking and recreating content “to say things differently.” Various technological techniques contribute to the success of remix culture, so it is important that the technique is democratized. Remix culture is, as Lessig puts it, “a literacy for our generation.”
Unfortunately, copyright law presumes these actions are illegal. But considering “every single use of culture is a copy,” this model makes no common sense. The result is a growing extremism between copyright mechanisms and copyright abolitionism. Lessig concludes that balance should be achieved through a private solution where artists and creators make their work available for free, noncommercial use. Businesses also need to embrace this cultural opportunity where the “ecology” of remix can grow naturally. The artist’s choice is the key for new technology having an opportunity to be open for business.
What do you think is the implication of artists letting their work be available for free public use, on the condition that it is used non-commercially? It could have a positive effect on remix culture, but is it positive or negative for creativity and/or originality? Consider whether remix culture itself is beneficial for creativity, or whether more emphasis should be on “original” content?
Jana | RIP: A Remix Manifesto
Notes on Rip: A Remix Manifesto: the hard-hitting messages
Who determines whether sampling another’s work is right or wrong? These rules are not made by the creators of the songs, but by who owns the copyright. Today, sampling even a single note is grounds for a lawsuit. Brett Gaylor, mastermind behind the remix movie, labels the phenomenon “a war over ideas” where the battleground is the internet.
In remix culture, the creative process is significantly more important than the product. It is a realm where consumers became creators. This art, however, is faced with overwhelming opposition from the copyRIGHT who insist that ideas are intellectual property and are therefore subject to a multitude of copyright laws. Brett Gaylor approaches the issue from the copyLEFT, a movement encouraging people to share ideas and protect the public domain.
He outlines the Remixer’s Manifesto:
- Culture always builds on the past
- The past always tries to control the future
- Our future is becoming less free
- To build free societies you must limit the control of the past
It is essentially a battle between the future and the past. Will ideas be determined by public domain or private corporations?
The classic example is music:
Brett Gaylor describes it as a “moral dilemma.” In the words of the copyRIGHT (i.e. Marybeth Peters at the US copyright office), “you can’t argue your creativity when it’s based on other people’s stuff.” Or can you?
Cut to our pal Lawrence (Larry) Lessig: “We can’t kill this technology [the ability to remix content on your personal computer], we can only criminalize it.” So how does Brett Gaylor go about making a documentary which teems with potential copyright lawsuits?
Enter the “fair use” policy, a part of copyright law that allows for free speech. It bears the same concept as citing textual sources in a research paper – you can only sample other people’s work if you are making a point with it. Such is the purpose of Brett’s manifesto, making a point: copyright is out of control, it has been manipulated for profit at everyone’s expense.
Culture is threatened beyond music and movies; patents on inventions and medicinal technology stop the progress of vaccines and cures. With the 21st century we saw the birth of intellectual property – of ideas – compared to the physical property of the 20th century. So it is time to set this culture free and overturn the detrimental regulations of the past.
Larry Lessig introduced the Creative Commons, a license that says: “I as a musician give you the right to sample my work, take and build, create, remix.” Sharing is the nature of creation, and through our current copyright system, we are only hurting the process.
Everything comes from something else; originality is when you mix two things that haven’t been mixed.
The example of remix culture in Brazil is extremely powerful. What do you think is our first step towards actually changing the system as it is today? How can we follow Brazil’s example and finally go about changing the ridiculous copyright laws we have now?