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Lessig, “the copy” as meaningless, and some thoughts about CC licenses

I can’t help but post about Lessig this week, as his chapter in the Social Media Reader was probably the most inspiring of all the readings for me, mainly because Lessig did what he always does – he challenges his audience to care, and he challenges his audience to act. I found his discussion of the meaning of a “copy” very compelling; I agree with him, that at the present time, the concept of a “copy” is meaningless, especially to this next generation of digital natives. What is meaningful, according to Lessig, and I would agree, is the use of that copy. And this gets to the one misconception that Lessig actively attempts to set right – the misconception that his desire for a “free culture” means the abolition of copyright. Lessig makes clear over and over again (in this article, and in his other writing) that his idea of a “Free Culture” is essentially bringing balance back to a copyright system that has become extremely restrictive. As he states on page 11:

“…copyright law needs to focus on professional work being copied without being remixed….Amateurs making remixes need to have free use, not fair use; they need to be exempted from the law of copyright.…I am arguing in favor of deregulating a significant space of culture and focusing regulation where the regulators can convince us that it will be doing some good.”

And for Lessig, the deregulating of a significant cultural space will allow for this next generation to “cite” cultural products (as is already happening) without being criminalized. To frame the use of cultural products in the remix and hybrid culture Lessig describes as a way of “writing” is really interesting to me – and I think in general, Lessig is ahead of his time in viewing the hybrid and remix media culture as a way this next generation “writes” about the world they live in and the culture they are actively apart of. I feel as though the “remix culture as terrorism” idea Lessig presents as the opposition to the hybrid culture he advocates is a knee jerk reaction to lucrative business models of the past being threatened by new technology, and refusing to adapt. Such a viewpoint also doesn’t put much stock into the agency of the “digital native” or the “music terrorist”. This stand point assumes that the music terrorist is not actively thinking about what they are consuming and using, but just stubbornly running the music industry into the ground…and I think what Lessig is really getting at is that perhaps societies values have changed….rival goods only have value when there is risk of scarcity, and when there is demand… non-rival goods do not suffer from scarcity…which will definitely lead to a shift in how society values those goods.  And maybe the ability to remix, reuse, transform, comment on, and actively participate in the transforming of culture is of value to a generation where the idea of “pay per copy” is becoming more and more ludicrous.

Lessig also challenges the reader to support creative commons, because he wants people to understand that creative commons is an opt-in system. Creators need to opt-in in order to release certain rights, and it is all about the freedom for the creator to choose what rights they give away, and what rights they retain. And this is where I thought Fred Benenson’s article about Creative Commons licensing tied in really well – and really brought some extra clout to Lessig’s idea that Creative Commons is about the creator’s choice. Having been fairly involved, aware, and observant of CC culture for a while now, I have witnessed and personally experienced that same sentiment among many CC advocates that cultural products should be treated like computer code, where “as free as possible” is the only “real” or “legit” way to use a CC license. But I appreciated how Benenson pointed out that works of art are different than tools…as a musician, this rings very true for me. A variety of license is the only way that a variety of creators turning out a variety of products all within different, unique circumstances can find a license combination that suites their specific scenario. And in the case study Benenson provides, it is clear that by failing to take into consideration the more personal, “non-fungible” aspects of a work of art, the suggestion of what some believe to be “the best” CC license scheme may be getting in the way the work being CC licensed in any way….a case of “free culture utopia” being an enemy of “one more small step in the right direction”.



Posted in Motivations.

One Response

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  1. Christina says

    I’ve been thinking about what to write as my comment for over a week now. I’m not sure what it is that I’m having trouble articulating. But what I have been thinking about is how every use of the digital is making a new copy. I haven’t got my thoughts on this worked out yet, but I’ve been thinking about how instead of downloading something and saving it on my computer I just delete it once I’m done and likely will need it again and so I just download it again. So I’ve been thinking about this and waste. It seems like there is no waste because I can’t see anything. But I recycle my plastic bags and all the paper that I can and try not to be wasteful generally in the real world, but in the digital world I’ll have 10 versions of the same thing in my trash. So it’s not a fully formulated thought yet, but I am thinking about this and the social effects of us as a culture always being able to regenerate digital things but having a world with finite resources being destroyed every day.

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