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Friday, October 31, 2008
Lawrence Lessig Q&A

imageLawrence Lessig, the reigning authority on intellectual property in the Internet age, spotlights copyright laws and the newest culture war affecting users of new technologies. In his latest book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, Lessig outlines plans for a “read-write culture,” which allows its users to create art as readily as they consume it. Lessig is a professor at Stanford Law School and founder of the school’s Center for Internet and Society. He is the author of Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, and a columnist at Wired. He’ll be speaking at the Y on November 17 to share his thoughts on “Art and Ideas in the Internet Age.” Here’s a quick Q&A with him to get the conversation started.

Can you define what a remix is, in the context of your new book, Remix? Is it the multiple-creator model of Wikipedia? GPS on cameras that pinpoint photo locations on Google maps? The jackalope?
All of these are remix, as all of them take as their challenge how to engage with the creativity or innovation of others, and add something useful and new to it. Remix is to culture what web 2.0 is to the Internet: a practice of building upon what others have built, with minimized control over how others interact. 

While copyright laws might be hampering creativity and the formation of new technologies, mash-ups and remixes are still abundant, especially online. Why aren’t people frightened about breaking the law?
“People” aren’t frightened because individuals are unlikely targets for prosecution in this environment (such prosecution is limited to filesharers just now). But institutions are fundamentally frightened. How many lawyers advising high schools would permit them to run “creative filmmaking” classes, which encourage kids to remix movies with their own creativity? I know the answer to that: Zero.

Although Disney appropriated works that were in the public domain for its movies, the company, arguably, only achieved massive success by copyrighting these creations. Would global and cultural success like Disney’s be achievable under a more open Creative Commons copyright scheme?
Everyone should be free to copyright the creativity they add. But copyright shouldn’t stop follow-on creators from adding more. For some business models of creativity, that means expressly enabling followon creativity, through licenses such as Creative Commons licenses — science, and education are good examples here. For other business models of creativity, such express freedoms may not be useful initially. But there needs to be limits to the power of the past to control the future.

At Netroots Nation 2008, you said that “every ten years I am going to throw away all of my intellectual capital and work on something new.” Does Change Congress, your movement to end corruption in the U.S. Congress, have a decade expiration date? What would you concentrate on next?
Yes. And stay tuned.

The Bible is a remix of sorts, with people adding and subtracting and changing text, and that’s created quite a bit of confusion. Maybe the leap here is too big, but is that what we’re in for if we adopt a remix culture?
It is, and it is unavoidable. Authoritarian control has never quashed controversy. It has only ever pushed it underground.

[Lawrence Lessig: Art and Ideas in the Internet Age: 11/17/08]

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