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Remix, By Lawrence Lessig - Little Brother, By Cory Doctorow

Publication Date: 
November 28, 2008
Source: 
The Independent
Author: 
Pat Kane

British newspaper The Independent reviews Professor Lawrence Lessig's book Remix:

Apparently, they're scratching their heads in the Transition Team: what exactly do we do with ten million e-mail registrants to barackobama.com? While the current talk is all about rights and privacy and the correct use of citizens' information, perhaps the question should be reversed. What will those ten million do with Barack Obama?

If the account of the digital generation given in both of these books is accurate, then the new connected constituency that partly pushed the Obamacrats over the line will be neither mute nor tractable. The campaign phrase "Yes We Can" was both a lift from Cesar Chavez's Mexican migrant labour movement of the Seventies ("Si se puede!"), and a crisp summation of the experience of the Net-Gens – where the right to cultural consumption and expression, and civic activism, is an icon-click away. "Yes we can vote once every four years" is unlikely to be their mantra for the new adminstration.

Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow outline the energy and dynamism of these "netizens" in different ways. And they have different kinds of cautionary advice for politicians struggling to make the most of their irrepressible activism. Strikingly, both Remix (a lucid academic work on technology and copyright) and Little Brother (a schlocky but ideas-packed teen potboiler) are motivated by the same initial anxiety. Why are we criminalising a generation of youth for being creative with new technology?

...

Remix sums up the argument Lessig has been prosecuting for 10 years. The entertainment industry's "war on digital piracy" is more about their failure to make a business model out of new technologies, and the failure of regulators to legitimate that model. It's much less about the rise of a new criminal class of "intellectual property thieves".

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... Lessig takes great pleasure in the story of the mom who put a clip of her baby on YouTube, dancing to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy". She then received a court order from Warner's corporate lawyers to take it down. With all the dudgeon of the legal academic, Lessig asks whether paying "armies of eight-hundred-dollar-an-hour lawyers" is the right way to respond to genuinely "amateur" creativity like this.

Thankfully (and I'm writing as a rights-holding musician here), Lessig isn't anti-copyright. He only wants it to apply sensibly – particularly in this dynamic new environment, where the circulation of culture is operating at light-speed. Some of his broad solutions are pretty familiar to artists. He wants to take the principle of the "performers royalty" for radio – invisible to the audience who listens for free, but which all stations pay – and extend it to internet service providers as a whole.