Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity

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Penguin Press, 2004 - Law - 345 pages
4 Reviews
From "the most important thinker on intellectual property in the Internet era" (The New Yorker), a landmark manifesto about the genuine closing of the American mind.

Lawrence Lessig could be called a cultural environmentalist. One of America's most original and influential public intellectuals, his focus is the social dimension of creativity: how creative work builds on the past and how society encourages or inhibits that building with laws and technologies. In his two previous books, Code and The Future of Ideas, Lessig concentrated on the destruction of much of the original promise of the Internet. Now, 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?

Lawrence Lessig shows us that while new technologies always lead to new laws, never before have the big cultural monopolists used the fear created by new technologies, specifically the Internet, to shrink the public domain of ideas, even as the same corporations use the same technologies to control more and more what we can and can't do with culture. As more and more culture becomes digitized, more and more becomes controllable, even as laws are being toughened at the behest of the big media groups. What's at stake is our freedom-freedom to create, freedom to build, and ultimately, freedom to imagine.

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Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity

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Lessig (Stanford Law Sch.; The Future of Ideas) has written an important book about the intrigues and interactions of copyright, intellectual property, and technology. Named a special master in the ... Read full review

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Lawrence Lessig is a top-notch lawyer with a calm wit and a big heart. I'm sure that there are other books that could succinctly teach someone interested in copyright history about the major arguments and legal traditions from Anglo-Saxon tradition to Eldred v. Ashcroft. The first 3/4 of the book is mostly argumentative: setting up the case for why free culture is important and demonstrating the historical shift from a free culture in America to a permission culture. The last quarter deals with the Eldred case and Lessig's close involvement with it, providing most of the original material for this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling in this part. As much as Lessig is careful to avoid legalese throughout the work it is here that we finally see Lessig as a narrator and not a lecturer (paradoxically these passages highlight Lessig himself as a lawyer). If you find yourself bogged down or uninspired by the historical lecture just skip ahead to the description of the Eldred case (although when reading the Afterword be aware that Lessig alludes to arguments and anecdotes presented earlier in the book).
I thoroughly enjoyed Lessig's introduction to the battle for free culture. Maybe I'm biased because I used to be into bittorrent and have seen the potential for technology to enhance culture (like discovering pilots for programs that never aired another episode). If you can make it through the entire book and remain unconvinced of most of Lessig's arguments I would submit that you too need to discover just how much potentially-free culture the big media companies are hiding from you.

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About the author (2004)

Lawrence Lessig is a professor at Stanford Law School and the founder of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. The author of The Future of Ideas and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, he is the chair of the Creative Commons project ( A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Cambridge University, and Yale Law School, he has clerked for Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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