Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

Overview

The reigning authority on intellectual property in the Internet age, Lawrence Lessig spotlights the newest and possibly the most harmful culture war-a war waged against those who create and consume art. America's copyright laws have ceased to perform their original, beneficial role: protecting artists? creations while allowing them to build on previous creative works. In fact, our system now criminalizes those very actions. Remix is an urgent, eloquent plea to end a war that harms every intrepid, creative user of...

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Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

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Overview

The reigning authority on intellectual property in the Internet age, Lawrence Lessig spotlights the newest and possibly the most harmful culture war-a war waged against those who create and consume art. America's copyright laws have ceased to perform their original, beneficial role: protecting artists? creations while allowing them to build on previous creative works. In fact, our system now criminalizes those very actions. Remix is an urgent, eloquent plea to end a war that harms every intrepid, creative user of new technologies. It also offers an inspiring vision of the postwar world where enormous opportunities await those who view art as a resource to be shared openly rather than a commodity to be hoarded.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Should anyone besides libertarian hackers or record companies care about copyright in the online world? In this incisive treatise, Stanford law prof and Wired columnist Lessig (Free Culture) argues that we should. He frames the problem as a war between an old "read-only" culture, in which media megaliths sell copyrighted music and movies to passive consumers, and a dawning digital "read-write" culture, in which audiovisual products are freely downloaded and manipulated in an explosion of democratized creativity. Both cultures can thrive in a "hybrid" economy, he contends, pioneered by Web entities like YouTube. Lessig's critique of draconian copyright laws-highlighted by horror stories of entertainment conglomerates threatening tweens for putting up Harry Potter fan sites-is trenchant. (Why, he asks, should sampling music and movies be illegal when quoting texts is fine?) Lessig worries that too stringent copyright laws could stifle such "remix" masterpieces as a "powerful" doctored video showing George Bush and Tony Blair lip-synching the song "Endless Love," or making scofflaws of America's youth by criminalizing their irrepressible downloading. We leave this (copyrighted) book feeling the stakes are pretty low, except for media corporations. (Oct. 20)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Lessig (law, Stanford Univ. Law Sch.; Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity) assesses America's copyright laws in the context of online content, e.g., the Read Only (R/O) and Read/Write (R/W) transmission and production of artistic and cultural content. Read Only characterized the passive transmission of culture through the 1900s, while Read/Write has characterized the production of culture in the 19th century-and, now, the late 20th and early 21st centuries-allowing for active and collective making and remaking of content. Jumping into the copyright morass, Lessig promulgates a hybrid model, set within the context of both a sharing economy and a commercial economy, whereby sharing communities can be augmented with commercial designs. In the end, he argues for a future in which all three models exist. Similar treatment of sharing economies can be found in Dan Tapscott and Anthony Williams's Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Recommended for academic libraries; some larger public libraries may wish to acquire as well.
—Jim Hahn

Kirkus Reviews
The nation's leading cyberlaw scholar denounces "copyright extremism" and boldly re-envisions intellectual-property law for the digital age. The Recording Industry Association of America is suing more than 17,000 people for illegal music downloads. A young mother had home movies of her dancing baby removed from YouTube because the distant background music by Prince triggered legal threats from Universal Music Corp. The growing ranks of artists using sampling or remix techniques to combine existing music and images into new creative works must choose between trespassing on other artists' copyrights and a prohibitively expensive quest for clearance. Copyright infringement is overcriminalized, argues Lessig (Law/Stanford Univ.; Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, 2006, etc.), and in consequence is creating a generation of unrepentant scofflaws: young people used to acquiring music and movies with Napster and other file-sharing programs. They feel that copyright law makes no sense, and it is eroding their overall respect for the law. Lessig calls for sweeping changes to the archaic and industry-favoring copyright code: shortening the protected time period; decriminalizing noncommercial copying and file-sharing; and allowing remix artists to copyright their finished work. Alternatively, he promotes a new type of license, available free from a group he helped found called Creative Commons, which helps artists easily give away or sell their work, especially digitally, with "some rights reserved." Finally he shows how Web practice has vastly outpaced the legal code, contending that corporate culture must adapt in order to take full advantage of this powerful new economic engine. Case in point: theteenage webmaster of a Harry Potter tribute website and chat room, who defended her site from an assault by Warner Bros.-and convinced the film company's lawyer that her members were providing free marketing, not diluting the Potter brand. In the best tradition of legal advocacy: a penetrating analysis; a moral appeal that addresses rather than dismisses commercial concerns; and a concrete, commonsense call to action that anyone with Internet aspirations needs to hear.
The Barnes & Noble Review
What does it mean to society when a whole generation is raised as criminals? This is the question that intellectual property guru and "copyleft" leader Lawrence Lessig asks in Remix. He's building on a point he first raised in his influential volume Free Culture: if we are going to declare a "war on piracy," we need to be prepared for collateral damage. The blowback that Lessig explored in Free Culture was felt by traditional U.S. culture, with its modes of open exchange (libraries distributing books, for instance, as well as teenagers making mix tapes) and its reliance on a growing public domain to spur creativity.

In this book, Lessig identifies victims even closer to home: our children. "How," Lessig asks, is the war on piracy "changing how they think about normal, right-thinking behavior?" The creative practices of today's youth include a range of activities -- file sharing, most notoriously, but also the production of mashups -- that are illegal under the current copyright regime, but criminalization is having little success as a deterrent. Instead, the focus on "piracy" is changing our relationship to the law itself, which has come to seem arbitrary and unfair, and it's hampering creative and educational uses of new technologies. It's time to consider, Lessig argues, whether the costs of this war are too high.

As recently as 100 years ago, the majority of the music that Americans heard was that which they made themselves, or which others around them made. Prior to the popularization of the player piano, followed by the gramophone and the radio, music had to be performed live, and for that reason, an amateur culture of music making flourished. The spread of technologies for the recording and playback of music thus didn't democratize music itself but rather the ability of the masses to hear professionals play. The end result, as Lessig points out, was in fact highly anti-democratic, replacing an amateur culture with a professional culture and transforming much of the populace from producers into consumers. As music (along with other artistic practices) became increasingly professionalized, it also became increasingly subject to ideas of ownership, with the result that amateur uses of music's professional products became increasingly restricted.

However, many of those amateur uses of professional culture were restricted throughout the 20th century, not just by legislation but also by the scarcity and cost of the technologies involved. Since few people had access to recording facilities, for instance, the unauthorized reproduction of music was a fairly limited affair. What copyright controlled, for much of its existence, was thus the professional reproduction of cultural texts -- usually in the form of books and other printed matter -- and copyright law was understood to restrict publishers from releasing competing versions of texts, rather than restricting consumers in their uses of those texts.

The situation has of course changed, and changed radically, in the age of the computer, as the technologies of cultural production are available on an increasing number of desktops throughout the country. On the positive side, this change has the potential to transform a professionalized, read-only culture back into a widespread amateur read-write culture. On the negative side, however, computer technologies have caused the jurisdiction of copyright law to spread from producers to consumers and thereby increasingly restrict the uses we can make of the culture we participate in.

As Lessig has explored since 2000's Code, the potential for control over our uses of new technologies exists not just at the level of legislation, what he has referred to as "east-coast code," but also at the level of the technologies themselves, in the form of "west-coast code," programming that permits only certain behaviors. Digital rights management (DRM) technologies have the potential to dictate restrictions on the uses of media materials that vastly exceed the dictates of law. Copyright law, for instance, does not prevent the legitimate owner of a copy of a book from reading a book multiple times, or from lending that book to a friend; it only restricts the owner from republishing or otherwise copying that book. DRM, however, can restrict how, where, and when we read or listen to the materials we have purchased, and can prevent any kind of lending -- not to mention the quotation practices that have become a part of remix culture.

Through DRM and the advancement of copyright law, the war on piracy has shifted its focus from the illegal reproduction and distribution for profit of texts, films, and music -- something we can all probably agree should be controlled -- instead leveling its sights on the uses consumers make of media texts, the sharing and remix of such texts by fans, the kind of amateur creativity that had been at the heart of American culture prior to the twentieth century. But the result has not been a reduction in illegal file sharing but instead an increase in violation of the law; as Lessig points out, "Even the good become pirates in a world where the rules seem absurd."

Media corporations are actively resisting the spread of read-write culture, in no small part because their economic model rests on keeping their products contained within a read-only framework. A significant part of what's revolutionary in Remix, setting it apart from his earlier work, is Lessig's clear argument that this is a short-sighted mode of profit maximization destined to backfire. After a thorough exploration, in the first half of the book, of the differences between read-only and read-write cultures, and of how these cultures might support and extend rather than threatening one another, Lessig turns his attention in the second half of the book to the conflicts between the two different economic modes that undergird professional and amateur culture, one based on the commercial transaction and the other based on sharing. Lessig argues for the potential of a new economic model, one neither wholly commercial nor wholly based in sharing but instead "hybrid," in which the desires of the consumer and the enterprise work together to create value. Lessig points to a number of successful examples, including craigslist, Flickr, YouTube, and Slashdot, all of which combine a mode of community-based production with corporate services. "You create value by giving people what they want," Lessig points out; "you create good by designing what you're offering so that people getting what they want also give something back to the community. No one builds hybrids on community sacrifice."

Such hybrid economies, built upon both corporate and public creativity, may best enable today's youth to flourish, feeding their desires to produce as well as consume media texts. Lessig defuses the usual claim made against amateur culture -- that most of what it produces is bad -- by pointing to the fact that many of us produce bad writing, and yet the teaching of writing is still considered fundamental: "As bad writing is not an argument against writing, bad remix is not an argument against remix. Instead, in both cases, poor work is an argument for better education." In order to facilitate that education, Lessig ends Remix with a call for a mode of copyright reform that will enable both read-only and read-write cultures to prosper, freeing kids from the specter of criminalization that currently overshadows their creativity. And where, after all, do we expect tomorrow's musicians to come from? --Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Kathleen Fitzpatrick is Associate Professor of English and Media Studies at Pomona College, and author of The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television, published in 2006 by Vanderbilt University Press. She is coordinating editor of MediaCommons and has blogged at plannedobsolescence.net since 2002.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143116134
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/29/2009
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 332,015
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 7.76 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence Lessig is a professor at Stanford Law School and the founder of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. The author of The Future of Ideas and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, he is the chair of the Creative Commons project. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Cambridge University, and Yale Law School, he has clerked for Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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