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Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology And The Law To Lock Down Culture And Control Creativity
by Lawrence Lessig
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From Publishers Weekly
From Stanford law professor Lessig (Code; The Future of Ideas) comes this expertly argued, alarming and surprisingly entertaining look at the current copyright wars. Copyright law in the digital age has become a hot topic, thanks to millions of music downloaders and the controversial, high-profile legal efforts of the music industry to stop them. Here Lessig argues that copyright as designed by the Framers has become dangerously unbalanced, favoring the interests of corporate giants over the interests of citizens and would-be innovators. In clear, well-paced prose, Lessig illustrates how corporations attempt to stifle innovations, from FM radio and the instant camera to peer-to-peer technology. He debunks the myth that draconian new copyright enforcement is needed to combat the entertainment industry's expanded definition of piracy, and chillingly assesses the direct and collateral damage of the copyright war. Information technology student Jesse Jordan, for example, was forced to hand over his life savings to settle a lawsuit brought by the music industryfor merely fixing a glitch in an Internet search engine. Lessig also offers a very personal look into his failed Supreme Court bid to overturn the Copyright Term Extension Act, a law that added 20 years to copyright protections largely to protect Mickey Mouse from the public domain. In addition to offering a brilliant argument, Lessig also suggests a few solutions, including the Creative Commons licensing venture (an online licensing venture that streamlines the rights process for creators), as well as legislative solutions. This is an important book. "Free Cultures are cultures that leave a great deal open for others to build upon," he writes. "Ours was a free culture. It is becoming less so."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Lessig looks at the disturbing legal and commercial trends that threaten to curb the incredible creative potential of the Internet. All innovations are derived from a certain amount of "piracy" of preceding innovations, Lessig argues, and he presents a catalog of technological breakthroughs in film, music, and television as illustrations. Drawing on distinctions between piracy that benefits a single user and harms the owner and piracy that is useful in advancing new content or new ways of doing business, Lessig strongly argues for a balance between the interests of the owner and broader society so that we can continue a "free culture" that encourages innovation rather than a "permission culture" that does not. He reviews an array of legal actions, including the restrictions on peer-to-peer sharing made famous by Napster, and the threat they represent to the kind of openness the law has traditionally allowed and from which the marketplace has benefited. This is a highly accessible and enlightening look at the intersection of commerce, the law, and cyberspace. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2004
Provocative...and sure to inspire argument...
...an accessible and compelling case for the need for balance...
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.
"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?
About the Author
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 (www.creativecommons.org). 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.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
On December 17,1903, on a windy North Carolina beach for just shy of one hundred seconds, the Wright brothers demonstrated that a heavier-than-air, self-propelled vehicle could fly. The moment was electric and its importance widely understood. Almost immediately, there was an explosion of interest in this newfound technology of manned flight, and a gaggle of innovators began to build upon it.
At the time the Wright brothers invented the airplane, American law held that a property owner presumptively owned not just the surface of his land, but all the land below, down to the center of the earth, and all the space above, to "an indefinite extent, upwards."1 For many years, scholars had puzzled about how best to interpret the idea that rights in land ran to the heavens. Did that mean that you owned the stars? Could you prosecute geese for their willful and regular trespass? Then came airplanes, and for the first time, this principle of American law-deep within the foundations of our tradition, and acknowledged by the most important legal thinkers of our past-mattered. If my land reaches to the heavens, what happens when United flies over my field? Do I have the right to banish it from my property? Am I allowed to enter into an exclusive license with Delta Airlines? Could we set up an auction to decide how much these rights are worth?
In 1945, these questions became a federal case.When North Carolina farmers Thomas Lee and Tinie Causby started losing chickens because of low-flying military aircraft (the terrified chickens apparently flew into the barn walls and died), the Causbys filed a lawsuit saying that the government was trespassing on their land. The airplanes, of course, never touched the surface of the Causbys' land. But if, as Blackstone, Kent, and Coke had said, their land reached to "an indefi- nite extent, upwards," then the government was trespassing on their property, and the Causbys wanted it to stop.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Causbys' case. Congress had declared the airways public, but if one's property really extended to the heavens, then Congress's declaration could well have been an unconstitutional "taking" of property without compensation. The Court acknowledged that "it is ancient doctrine that common law ownership of the land extended to the periphery of the universe." But Justice Douglas had no patience for ancient doctrine. In a single paragraph, hundreds of years of property law were erased. As he wrote for the Court, [The] doctrine has no place in the modern world. The air is a public highway, as Congress has declared. Were that not true, every transcontinental flight would subject the operator to countless trespass suits. Common sense revolts at the idea.To recognize such private claims to the airspace would clog these highways, seriously interfere with their control and development in the public interest, and transfer into private ownership that to which only the public has a just claim.2
"Common sense revolts at the idea."
This is how the law usually works.Not often this abruptly or impatiently, but eventually, this is how it works. It was Douglas's style not to dither. Other justices would have blathered on for pages to reach the conclusion that Douglas holds in a single line: "Common sense revolts at the idea." But whether it takes pages or a few words, it is the special genius of a common law system, as ours is, that the law adjusts to the technologies of the time. And as it adjusts, it changes. Ideas that were as solid as rock in one age crumble in another.
Or at least, this is how things happen when there's no one powerful on the other side of the change. The Causbys were just farmers. And though there were no doubt many like them who were upset by the growing traffic in the air (though one hopes not many chickens flew themselves into walls), the Causbys of the world would find it very hard to unite and stop the idea, and the technology, that the Wright brothers had birthed. The Wright brothers spat airplanes into the technological meme pool; the idea then spread like a virus in a chicken coop; farmers like the Causbys found themselves surrounded by "what seemed reasonable" given the technology that the Wrights had produced. They could stand on their farms, dead chickens in hand, and shake their fists at these newfangled technologies all they wanted. They could call their representatives or even file a lawsuit. But in the end, the force of what seems "obvious" to everyone else-the power of "common sense"-would prevail. Their "private interest" would not be allowed to defeat an obvious public gain.
Edwin Howard Armstrong is one of America's forgotten inventor geniuses. He came to the great American inventor scene just after the titans Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. But his work in the area of radio technology was perhaps the most important of any single inventor in the first fifty years of radio. He was better educated than Michael Faraday, who as a bookbinder's apprentice had discovered electric induction in 1831. But he had the same intuition about how the world of radio worked, and on at least three occasions, Armstrong invented profoundly important technologies that advanced our understanding of radio.
On the day after Christmas, 1933, four patents were issued to Armstrong for his most significant invention-FM radio. Until then, consumer radio had been amplitude-modulated (AM) radio. The theorists of the day had said that frequency-modulated (FM) radio could never work. They were right about FM radio in a narrow band of spectrum. But Armstrong discovered that frequency-modulated radio in a wide band of spectrum would deliver an astonishing fidelity of sound, with much less transmitter power and static.
On November 5, 1935, he demonstrated the technology at a meeting of the Institute of Radio Engineers at the Empire State Building in New York City. He tuned his radio dial across a range of AM stations, until the radio locked on a broadcast that he had arranged from seventeen miles away. The radio fell totally silent, as if dead, and then with a clarity no one else in that room had ever heard from an electrical device, it produced the sound of an announcer's voice: "This is amateur station W2AG at Yonkers, New York, operating on frequency modulation at two and a half meters."
The audience was hearing something no one had thought possible: A glass of water was poured before the microphone in Yonkers; it sounded like a glass of water being poured. . . . A paper was crumpled and torn; it sounded like paper and not like a crackling forest fire. . . . Sousa marches were played from records and a piano solo and guitar number were performed. . . . The music was projected with a live-ness rarely if ever heard before from a radio "music box."3
As our own common sense tells us, Armstrong had discovered a vastly superior radio technology. But at the time of his invention, Armstrong was working for RCA. RCA was the dominant player in the then dominant AM radio market. By 1935, there were a thousand radio stations across the United States, but the stations in large cities were all owned by a handful of networks.
RCA's president, David Sarnoff, a friend of Armstrong's, was eager that Armstrong discover a way to remove static from AM radio. So Sarnoff was quite excited when Armstrong told him he had a device that removed static from "radio." But when Armstrong demonstrated his invention, Sarnoff was not pleased.
I thought Armstrong would invent some kind of a filter to remove static from our AM radio. I didn't think he'd start a revolution- start up a whole damn new industry to compete with RCA.4 Armstrong's invention threatened RCA's AM empire, so the company launched a campaign to smother FM radio.While FM may have been a superior technology, Sarnoff was a superior tactician. As one author described, The forces for FM, largely engineering, could not overcome the weight of strategy devised by the sales, patent, and legal offices to subdue this threat to corporate position. For FM, if allowed to develop unrestrained, posed . . . a complete reordering of radio power . . . and the eventual overthrow of the carefully restricted AM system on which RCA had grown to power.5 RCA at first kept the technology in house, insisting that further tests were needed.When, after two years of testing, Armstrong grew impatient, RCA began to use its power with the government to stall FM radio's deployment generally. In 1936, RCA hired the former head of the FCC and assigned him the task of assuring that the FCC assign spectrum in a way that would castrate FM-principally by moving FM radio to a different band of spectrum. At first, these efforts failed. But when Armstrong and the nation were distracted by World War II, RCA's work began to be more successful. Soon after the war ended, the FCC announced a set of policies that would have one clear effect: FM radio would be crippled. As Lawrence Lessing described it,
The series of body blows that FM radio received right after the war, in a series of rulings manipulated through the FCC by the big radio interests, were almost incredible in their force and deviousness. 6
To make room in the spectrum for RCA's latest gamble, television, FM radio users were to be moved to a totally new spectrum band. The power of FM radio stations was also cut, meaning FM could no longer be used to beam programs from one part of the country to another. (This change was strongly supported by AT&T, because the loss of FM relaying stations would mean radio stations would have to buy wired links from AT&T.) The spread of FM radio was thus choked, at least temporarily.
Armstrong resisted RCA's efforts. In response, RCA resisted Armstrong's patents. After incorporating FM technology into the emerging standard for television, RCA declared the patents invalid-baselessly, and almost fifteen years after they were issued. It thus refused to pay him royalties. For six years, Armstrong fought an expensive war of litigation to defend the patents. Finally, just as the patents expired, RCA offered a settlement so low that it would not ...
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