News Center

Elsewhere Online twitter Facebook SLS Blogs YouTube SLS Channel Linked In SLSNavigator SLS on Flickr

Don't Make Criminals Out Of Artists, Kids With Computers: Books

Publication Date: 
October 31, 2008
Andrew Dunn

Professor Lawrence Lessig's book "Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy" is reviewed in

Lessig cites the use of words like "terrorist", "pirate", or "Let's go crazy" while taking aim at a copyright regime he finds ill-suited for a digital world.


John Philip Sousa complained to Congress more than a century ago about the proliferation of unauthorized copies of his music via mechanical means. The lesson of his testimony that has come down to us is that such reproductions hinder creativity by cheating artists of an incentive to create.

But Sousa had a second complaint, one that Lessig finds telling. Record players and player pianos arose at a time when "music"' was an activity, not a commodity. Mechanical reproduction, Sousa said, threatened a custom of music-making that permeated life in the 19th century.


With cheap, widely available digital technology, read-write has returned in the form of remixes, mash-ups, fan fiction and file sharing. It's time, Lessig concludes, for a copyright law devised to protect read-only technologies to catch up.


Lessig recommends decriminalizing file sharing, thus ending a "war" that has done nothing to reduce the practice or resurrect the flagging fortunes of the record business. In its place, he proposes blanket licensing, with fees going to the most-swapped artists, or some other form of taxation.


Lessig also supports "creative commons" copyrights, which allow artists to determine how their works can be reproduced and altered and what can be done with those secondary products.

Ultimately, Lessig's concern is less legal than moral. Digital culture, with the Internet as midwife, has spawned a remarkable array of hybrid relationships with the blessing of legislatures and the courts. Copyright law needs to catch up. A draconian law haphazardly enforced will do nothing to win respect from the digital generation.

"To the extent that they see these senseless laws as indicative of the legal system generally, they may be less likely to obey those laws generally,'' he concludes.