The moment Lessig's new book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, finally arrived in the mail, someone I know grabbed it (!) and I may just have to wait til he's finished to grab it back.
In the meantime, reviews that get it (and some that don't) are out...
October 24, 2008 4:20 PM
It was a tough morning swallowing Spencer's review. My reaction was -- "really, that's what you see in the book?!" None of the key points that made it worth my writing the book were visible to him (or at least, as evinced by the review). And that, frankly, was astonishing, and astonishingly depressing.
But it is the end of the day (here in Hong Kong), and with it comes a review by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, that is actually about the stuff in this book that is what the book's about, and new (and of course, as I think, important). What the book "is" of course is hard to say. But her review is actually a review of the book I thought I wrote.[...]
excerpt of the Fitzpatrick review (in B&N reviews):
Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy
By LAWRENCE LESSIG
Reviewed by Kathleen Fitzpatrick
"What does it mean to society when a whole generation is raised as criminals?" This is the question that intellectual property guru and "copyleft" leader Lawrence Lessig asks in his new book, Remix. He's building on a point he first raised in his influential volume Free Culture: if we are going to declare a "war on piracy," we need to be prepared for collateral damage. The blowback that Lessig explored in Free Culture was felt by traditional U.S. culture, with its modes of open exchange (libraries distributing books, for instance, as well as teenagers making mix tapes) and its reliance on a growing public domain to spur creativity.
In this book, Lessig identifies victims even closer to home: our children. "How," Lessig asks, is the war on piracy "changing how they think about normal, right-thinking behavior?" The creative practices of today's youth include a range of activities -- file sharing, most notoriously, but also the production of mashups -- that are illegal under the current copyright regime, but criminalization is having little success as a deterrent. Instead, the focus on "piracy" is changing our relationship to the law itself, which has come to seem arbitrary and unfair, and it's hampering creative and educational uses of new technologies. It's time to consider, Lessig argues, whether the costs of this war are too high.
As recently as 100 years ago, the majority of the music that Americans heard was that which they made themselves, or which others around them made. Prior to the popularization of the player piano, followed by the gramophone and the radio, music had to be performed live, and for that reason, an amateur culture of music making flourished. The spread of technologies for the recording and playback of music thus didn't democratize music itself but rather the ability of the masses to hear professionals play. The end result, as Lessig points out, was in fact highly anti-democratic, replacing an amateur culture with a professional culture and transforming much of the populace from producers into consumers. As music (along with other artistic practices) became increasingly professionalized, it also became increasingly subject to ideas of ownership, with the result that amateur uses of music's professional products became increasingly restricted.
However, many of those amateur uses of professional culture were restricted throughout the 20th century, not just by legislation but also by the scarcity and cost of the technologies involved. Since few people had access to recording facilities, for instance, the unauthorized reproduction of music was a fairly limited affair. What copyright controlled, for much of its existence, was thus the professional reproduction of cultural texts -- usually in the form of books and other printed matter -- and copyright law was understood to restrict publishers from releasing competing versions of texts, rather than restricting consumers in their uses of those texts.
The situation has of course changed, and changed radically, in the age of the computer, as the technologies of cultural production are available on an increasing number of desktops throughout the country. On the positive side, this change has the potential to transform a professionalized, read-only culture back into a widespread amateur read-write culture. On the negative side, however, computer technologies have caused the jurisdiction of copyright law to spread from producers to consumers and thereby increasingly restrict the uses we can make of the culture we participate in.