Free Culture

8 February 2019

Largeness as such is not bad. Freedom is not threatened just because some become very rich, or because there are only a handful of big players. The poor quality of Big Macs or Quarter Pounders does not mean that you can’t get a good hamburger from somewhere else.

The danger in media concentration comes not from the concentration, but instead from the feudalism that this concentration, tied to the change in copyright, produces. It is not just that there are a few powerful companies that control an ever expanding slice of the media. It is that this concentration can call upon an equally bloated range of rights— property rights of a historically extreme form—that makes their bigness bad.

It is therefore significant that so many would rally to demand competition and increased diversity. Still, if the rally is understood as being about bigness alone, it is not terribly surprising. We Americans have a long history of fighting “big,” wisely or not. That we could be motivated to fight “big” again is not something new.

It would be something new, and something very important, if an equal number could be rallied to fight the increasing extremism built within the idea of “intellectual property.” Not because balance is alien to our tradition; indeed, as I’ve argued, balance is our tradition. But because the muscle to think critically about the scope of anything called “property” is not well exercised within this tradition anymore.

If we were Achilles, this would be our heel. This would be the place of our tragedy.

As I write these final words, the news is filled with stories about the RIAA lawsuits against almost three hundred individuals. Eminem has just been sued for “sampling” someone else’s music. The story about Bob Dylan “stealing” from a Japanese author has just finished making the rounds. An insider from Hollywood—who insists he must remain anonymous—reports “an amazing conversation with these studio guys. They’ve got extraordinary [old] content that they’d love to use but can’t because they can’t begin to clear the rights. They’ve got scores of kids who could do amazing things with the content, but it would take scores of lawyers to clean it first.” Congressmen are talking about deputizing computer viruses to bring down computers thought to violate the law. Universities are threatening expulsion for kids who use a computer to share content.

~ Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture


Copyright/Intellectual Property, Quotes

5 Comments to “Free Culture”

  1. OK. So, what’s his complaint, and what does he want?

    • For everything to be free for him and others to reuse and sell as their own of course. 😛

      • One could, of course, read his actual book before trying to summarize it in a sentence, but that would just be silly.

        As for me, I still think the world took a major wrong turning when it didn’t implement Xanadu hypertext. Ted Nelson was an unappreciated genius.

        • Nah, what’s the fun in buying a book that we already have such a nice summary here on PG’s page?

          I have many songs in my head that would slide so nicely into my stories, but trying to get the right to use them would cost more than I’m expecting the stories to make me.

          So like those: “They’ve got extraordinary [old] content that they’d love to use but can’t because they can’t begin to clear the rights.” guys I will do something else.

  2. Like Terrence, I’m not sure from the snippet what this author is proposing. However, I was struck by the sentence, “They’ve got scores of kids who could do amazing things with the content, but it would take scores of lawyers to clean it first.”

    Here’s a shocking notion for the Hollywood moguls: originality. Yes, it’s risky. But if somebody hadn’t taken that risk with “the content,” you wouldn’t have it to exploit.

    There are lots of wonderful books being published today with original stories and characters, as well as original screenplays, I’m sure. But finding them might require moving outside your comfort zone. Imagine that!

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