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Lawrence Lessig: De-Criminalizing The Remix

Publication Date: 
October 17, 2008
M. J. Stephey

Time quotes Professor Lawrence Lessig in a story that summarizes his new book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy:

In his latest book, the Stanford professor and Wired columnist rails against the nation's copyright laws — regulations he believes are futile, costly and culturally stifling. Citing "hybrid" economies like YouTube and Wikipedia (both of which rely on user-generated "remixes" of information, images and sound), Lessig argues in favor of what he calls a "Read/Write (RW)" culture — as opposed to "Read/Only (RO)" — that allows consumers to "create art as readily as they consume it."


Lessig explains, today's copyright laws regulate reproductions or "copies." But in a digital context, every time you listen to a song or play a video, that content is "copied" from a server somewhere to the hard drive in your computer. The same is not true when you crack open a book: "For most of American history it was extraordinary rare for ordinary citizens to trigger copyright law ... RO culture in the digital age is thus open to control in a way that was never possible in the analog age ... For the first time, [copyright law] reaches beyond the professional to control the amateur." And when it comes to prosecuting copyright infringement, Lessig doesn't spare members of his profession: "The threat of litigation is huge, so the payoff to make litigants go away is also huge. The system loves the game; the game therefore never ends."


As he sees it, reforming copyright law is the only way to salvage it: "We, as a society, can't kill this new form of creativity. We can only criminalize it. We can't stop our kids from using the technologies we give them to remix the culture around them. We can only drive that remix underground."