Thursday, March 25, 2004

Free Culture

Lawrence Lessig, who might be one of the few people in the legal industry actually fighting the Good Fight, has just published his new book 'Free Culture':

In FREE CULTURE, he widens his focus to consider the diminishment of the larger public domain of ideas. In this powerful wake-up call he shows how short-sighted interests blind to the long-term damage they're inflicting are poisoning the ecosystem that fosters innovation.

All creative works - books, movies, records, software, and so on - are a compromise between what can be imagined and what is possible... technologically and legally. For more than two hundred years, laws in America have sought a balance between rewarding creativity and allowing the borrowing from which new creativity springs. The original term of copyright set by the Constitution in 1787 was seventeen years. Now it is closer to two hundred. Thomas Jefferson considered protecting the public against overly long monopolies on creative works an essential government role. What did he know that we've forgotten?

I've written before about Lessig's fight to keep marketing from subsuming our culture, and I fear that unless we get more Lessig's we're going to live in a world where all information is mediated, which in this culture means that if they can't make a buck off of it, you won't see it. This isn't a theory, it's something that happens all the time - books or music that are out of print remain out of print forever, because the company that holds the copyright doesn't see enough a market for them... but they aren't going to let them go, either.

But Lessig doesn't just talk about this stuff, he's actually doing something about it. While his book has just become available at booksellers, he has also released it (under a Creative Commons license) for free download (2.5MB PDF, or here's the torrent). A number of authors have been doing this lately, and they are finding that it actually increases sales of the physical book, something the marketroids probably wouldn't understand. Makes sense to me: let me see that the book is interesting, and I'm more likely to buy it. It works just like file sharing... I bought more CDs during the Napster era than ever before, because I'd download a song I liked and I'd want to hear the rest of what that band had done. Think of it as viral advertising, that lets the work speak for itself, instead of a barrage of marketing nonsense that you've probably become inured to anyway.

Lessig's blog is worth watching to see how your freedoms fare these days.