Saturday, May 02, 2009

Remix by Lawrence Lessig: Why Copyright Laws Need Changing

Lawrence Lessig has published a new book, about why we need to change our current copyright laws. Lessig is a law professor, and the founder of Stanford's Center for Internet and Society.

Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy

You can buy the book in paperback; and/or you download a free PDF ebook.

You can also listen to a 38-minute interview with Lessig on NPR. A summary of the book is given at the beginning of the NPR interview:

"Our copyright laws must be updated to fit the digital reality we live in. Or else, teenagers will be seen as criminals, and forms of creative expression will be trampled by outdated copyright laws."

Here is passage from the book:


For as well as complaining about the “piracy” of
mechanical music, [John Philip] Sousa also complained about the cultural emptiness that mechanical music would create. As he testified:

When I was a boy . . . in front of every house in the summer evenings you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cords will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.

“We will not have a vocal cord left.”

John Philip Sousa was obviously not offering a prediction about the evolution of the human voice box. He was describing how a technology— “these infernal machines”—
would change our relationship to culture. These “machines,” Sousa feared, would lead us
away from what elsewhere he praised as “amateur” culture. We would become just consumers of culture, not also producers. We would become practiced in selecting what we wanted to hear, but not practiced in producing stuff for others to hear.

So why would one of America’s most prominent professional musicians criticize the loss of amateur music?

Sousa’s fear was not that the quality of music would decline as less was produced by amateurs and more by professionals. Instead, his fear was that culture would become less democratic: not in the sense that people would vote about what is, or is not, good culture, but in a sense that MIT professor Eric von Hippel means when he argues that innovation today is becoming more “democratized.” In the world Sousa feared, fewer and fewer would have the access to instruments, or the capacity, to create or add to the culture around them; more and more would simply consume what had been created elsewhere. Culture would become the product of an elite, even if this elite, this cultural monarchy, was still beloved by the people.


In the NPR interview, Lessig talks about many aspects of copyrights, about music piracy, and the decline of newspapers. He says that newspapers lost an enormous amount of revenue due to Craigslist. Lessig's number one news source, he says, is Google News, where he can read many different reports about the same story.

In the summer of 2009, Lessig will be begin work at Harvard University. He will be investigating various aspects of corruption, the improper influence of money on public policy.

For more information about Lessig's works and ideas:

Lessig's Blog:

Lessig's book Remix, free:

Lessig interviewed on NPR: