Culture and Copyright in the 21st Century

April 30, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

On 24 March, 2009 Lawrence Lessig delivered the keynote speech, Getting the Network the World Needs, at the OFC Conference in San Diego, CA. This is a revision of a REMIX talk, distinguishing between parts of the 20th Century that were Read-Only and parts that were Read-Write.

His brilliantly delivered thesis discusses how culture prior to the 20th century was essentially read-write, everyone consumed and created the culture interactively. During the 20th century centralization and control of media and distribution transformed our culture to a read only – where creation was almost exclusively the province of professionals and professional distribution channels (tv, movies, music).

He then suggests that the 21st century brings the promise and the demand for building a read-write culture once more, and for moving far beyond the mash-up of the past decade. He also discusses the necessary legal and infrastructural changes needed to accommodate this changed reality.

Warner Music has tried to serve a DCMA takedown, based on his inclusion of some music and media clips – despite the obvious and clear “fair use”.


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Category: Communication, computers, Culture, Economy, Entertainment, Intellectual property, Noteworthy

About the Author ()

I’m a technophile with an enduring interest in almost anything real or imagined. I suffer fools badly, and love trashy science fiction, plot-free action movies, playing guitar, and baking (especially scones. You haven’t lived ’til you’ve eaten my scones. I’ve recently undertaken bread, and am now in danger of gaining in a matter of weeks the 60 pounds I’ve lost in the past 2 years). My wife & I are Scottish, living north of Atlanta, GA, with two children, one dog, and a growing collection of gadgets. I work for a living.

Comments (5)

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  1. I'm surprised that more wasn't made in this talk of the Free Software movement (aside from a passing allusion to GNU). Perhaps it's just not as visible. There are plenty of companies that have built very successful business models around free software – most prominently companies like Red Hat, Canonical, and Novell, which support development on popular Linux distributions.

    But I guess his point was more on the need to adapt the law, than on the financial viability of free distribution of creative output.

    Thanks for putting this up.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    One of my frequent fogy rants is about how the last century changed entertainment from something one does into something one buys.

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    The free software movement was born due to one of those hybrid situations such as Lessig mentioned. The Unix operating system began as an experimental OS on an outdated computer at Bell Labs. Because anti-trust law prohibited ATT from offering it as a commercial product at the time, they made it available on a free license to universities.

    Unix was greatly enhanced by university students , who , by adding utilities to address specific problems built UNIX into a stable, efficient and commercially viable product.

    ATT's legal situation changed and they were allowed to offer UNIX as a commercial product. They did but in the process refused to recognize the contributions of the students, offering neither money or credit for the vast amount of free labor they profited from. The encouraged Richard Stallman and others to set about the task of recreating functional equivalents of the utility programs that were legally guaranteed to remain publicly open for anyone to improve and use.

    Linus Torvalds provided the keystone piece, the kernel, but more importantly he started a new approach to developing software, one of extreme democracy and competition, not competition for money, but competition for recognition as a contributing member of the community.

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    Here is an example of low budget multi-national, multi-cultural mixing to create an entertaining product.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    New Zealand is scrapping its copyright law and starting from scratch. Check out this article from New Zealand's National Business Review:

    The Copyright Act was written in the pre-internet age, and does not address any of the complexities surrounding file sharing, format shifting, and other modern issues such as DVD copying – problems the last government was attempting to fix in a piecemeal fashion.

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