Jana | TED Talk: Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity

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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.

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Most of us already instinctively know what a remix is — we’ve all bought music with tracks that have mixed lyrics from one song with beats from another. However, with regard to music, this concept is often confused with sampling and vice-versa, which is a slightly different concept and often implies copyright disputes (as with artists like Girl Talk). In discussing remix in his TED Talk on how laws stifle creativity, Larry Lessig observes, “it’s important to emphasize that what it is not… is not what we call, quote, ‘piracy’.” So then, what defines a remix? A remix, according to Larry Lessig, is taking “sounds and images from the culture around us” and using them to “say things differently.” The act of remixing then is a way, especially for younger generations, to communicate with one another and is a form of virtual and technological literacy, creativity, and self-expression. The opening lines of RiP: A Remix Manifesto aptly summarize how the general public views remixing: “A way to make something fresh out of something stale.”

The music and film industries do not quite see eye to eye with the public on this issue, and have gone through a lot of trouble in an attempt to remove from video hosting sites any and all remixes containing copyright material without actual consideration for which appropriation are actually valid from a legal standpoint. As Lessig points out, this kind of extremism begets extremism aimed in the opposite direction, and as such remixing continues, now with a new utter disregard for any rule of law except possibly the rules of the internet.

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