Lessig’s slides are white typewriter-like text on black backgrounds, usually with one or just two words. It’s a very interesting way to give a talk, and quite effective. I may have to try it myself.
“90% of my motivation for what I do is to reject what my peers have to say about what interests me.”*
Remix, ergo sum. Culture is remix, knowledge is remix; people, politicians and companies do it.
It’s been free– unregulated, no cost… except when we do it with technology, in which case it becomes more complex.
For most of our history, the restrictions to remixing have been reasonable: based on economic constraints, and very limited in their legal bounds. Commercial remixing (by a small number) was regulated, but remixing without technology and markets (by most of us) was free in both the economic and legal senses.
Technology, however, changes how we remix: it is more broadly spread, the tools are more broadly distributed. Anyone with a $1500 computer, Net access, and ideas can do very compelling work. (Just look at stuff that’s been produced during this election.)
Here’s the problem: What was controlled is now free, and what was free is now controlled.
The spread of verbatim copies of cultural products (what Jack Valenti calls his own “terrorist war”). And in fact, “P2P file sharing of copyrighted work is wrong;” it’s a case of what was controlled now being free, and being bad.
But the weapons we develop to fight this war– meaning code (east coast: law, west coast: software)– will not only reinforce copyright, but kill off remix culture by making it illegal. As DRM technology flows into the veins of our digital world, fewer and fewer people will be able to do the kind of remixing that has been a bedrock of our culture– all culture.
The problem is neither technology nor copyright: it’s a particular version of copyright developed for the last century that no longer fits the technology. The costs are too high (lawyers are too involved). Before 1978, we lived in an opt-in regime (you had to choose to make your work protected); after, we went an opt-out world, in which you have those rights whether you ask for them or not.
The consequence is that we moved from a free culture, using the tools of ordinary engagement to speak about our culture, to a permission culture, in which we have to seek permission to remix.
So, for example, 99% of books published in the US in 1930 are out of print. If you want to do a digital library of those books using 1978 law, you just did it; now, you have to now go through extraordinarily measures to try to identify who owns the copyright of every one of those works, then negotiate for the rights.
The constraints to remix culture are no longer primarily economic, but legal; in other words, this is censorship.
*All quotes, of course, are approximate.