Lawrence Lessig: copyright law as dismantling copyright for intellectual freedom

“But let me end with something I think much more important — much more important than business. It’s the point about how this connects to our kids. We have to recognize they’re different from us. This is us, right? (Laughter) We made mixed tapes; they remix music. We watched TV; they make TV. It is technology that has made them different, and as we see what this technology can do we need to recognize you can’t kill the instinct the technology produces; we can only criminalize it. We can’t stop our kids from using it; we can only drive it underground. We can’t make our kids passive again; we can only make them, quote, “pirates.” And is that good? We live in this weird time, it’s kind of age of prohibitions, where in many areas of our life, we live life constantly against the law. Ordinary people live life against the law, and that’s what I—we —are doing to our kids. They live life knowing they live it against the law. That realization is extraordinarily corrosive, extraordinarily corrupting. And in a democracy we ought to be able to do better. Do better, at least for them, if not for opening for business.” –Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig is an American academic, political activist and a founding member of Creative Commons who holds strong opinions regarding copyright law in a new age of technology. In this speech, Lessig advocates for a reduction of legal limitations on copyright and trademark material, particularly that which is present on the internet.  Lessig believes that copyright law over-protects  original creators and is too constraining for artists who follow them.

Importantly, Lessig purposes two main changes in his speech. The first purposed change is that artists and creators must embrace the idea that their works be made available more freely. The second purposed idea is that business’ “building a read-write culture must embrace this opportunity expressly so this ecology of free content can grow on a neutral platform where they both exist simultaneously.”

Mr. Lessig has become the standard-bearer for those who see copyright law as too protective of original creators and too stifling of the artists who follow them.

Lawrence Lessig's matrix of what copyright law should and should not be

This particular quote (centered above) reflects Lessig’s desire for a fundamental change in copyright law. Lessig makes a logical argument for the change: “you can’t kill the instinct the technology produces, we can only criminalize it.” To clarify this statement, Lessig is referring to the way that people view the advancement of technology. Clearly, it is something that isn’t slowing down, so the only way we know to respond to it is to criminalize. Lessig argues that criminalizing the amateur use of materials to create new products such as remixes does not make sense in a time when sharing and replication are so ingrained into our culture. In short, we must recognize that this is the new age and that the kids of today are “different from us.” This point is exaggerated in the beginning of Lessig’s speech when he shows 1940s film clips with Humphrey Bogart remixed onto a running horse.

Lessig clearly believes that certain aspects of copyright law hinge our ability to get the full advantage out of material. In Lessig’s opinion, the technological revelation is unstoppable, and the duplication and replication of material goes hand-in-hand with this revelation. Therefore, copyright law needs to reflect this progression and change its policies. Current copyright law makes younger people into ‘pirates’ who are “constantly [living] against the law,” and this is not a positive thing for democracy. Copyright law needs to reflect reality.

Importantly, I would like to hear Lessig’s views on what would happen if copyright law wasn’t so protective over original creators-i.e. if he had it his way and the law changed. What does Lessig envision as the negative implications of such a bold choice? While I see his well-constructed points, I also see the importance of protecting the ‘original’ creator and his/her work which can so easily be exploited in a space such as the internet.

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One Response to Lawrence Lessig: copyright law as dismantling copyright for intellectual freedom

  1. JessicaSegal says:

    I really liked this TED Talk, and I think you picked a lot of good points out of it. I definitely agree with you that allowing work to be used by others creates a lot of issues in regard to protecting the original creators. There has to be some kind of balance that allows works to be remixed without the remixer being labeled a “pirate,” because if that was the case then no one would be able to use other people’s work in the creation of their own work made from remixing. It would be extremely difficult to create this harmony between original creators’ rights and remixers’ rights, but I hope that we will one day be able to strike a fair balance.

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