Week 1 – About “Remix”, by Lawrence Lessig

I have learned quite a lot with Remix about the situation of copyright here in the US and I agree with the author, Lawrence Lessig, in his goal: the urge for a revision of both legislation and society conceptions about copyright.

Being from Spain, most of our “national” experience with copyright cannot be compared with cases like Ms. Lenz’s (Introduction, pp.1-3). We have the same “70-year after the author´s death” rule that gives exclusive rights to the copyright holders but the law makes an important exemption: copying is always permitted for individual and non-commercial uses. Nevertheless, I will not center my analysis on the differences in legislation between US and Europe (it would be certainly interesting but I am not an expert in law); instead I will address three main ideas developed in Remix which I believe really help to understand why Lessig pursues the mentioned goal.

First, he draws the picture of a paradox from the very beginning (Preface, p. xviii): the technological advances have influenced our culture in a way that encourages us to share and create but copyright laws (as they are today in the US and several other countries) empower the holders of exclusive rights to suffocate those practices for easily 100 years or more. Today, digital technology enable people to express their creativity in ways impossible to imagine a few years ago. Unfortunately, most of these opportunities of communication and ways to show creativity infringe the copyright laws. Yesterday, I bumped into a PBSoffbook video in YouTube that specifically illustrates how the image editing software Photoshop encourages communication and serves as a medium for social statements (see min. 3:22+)

As a result, comes the second idea, that is, the rise of the read and write (RW) culture opposed to the traditional read only (RO) one. The latter is devoted to the protection of its creators’ rights, is professionalized, follows a hierarchy and seeks profit from its activities whereas the former promotes sharing, democratic access, involves the audience in participation, and emphasizes collective value (Chapter 5, pp. 84-86, 106-107). In my opinion, given that each culture has polarized values nobody should be surprised to see that coexistence is complicated; and when disputes are solved, one must be favored against the other. Lessig defends the need of both cultures but fears that the actual copyright laws inherited and unaltered from an analog era (Chapter 3, p.37) entitle with excessive power the RO culture and can compromise the potential growth of the RW one.

The third and last idea explains of how a hybrid culture has flourished in the Internet as a middle path or neutral ground between RO and RW. The Internet has proved to be an excellent medium for each culture to develop activities: commercial economies based on RO culture (Chapter 6, pp.122-128), sharing economies based on RW culture (Chapter 6, p.155), and hybrid economies that combine features from both of them. There are obvious aspects still to be developed to support the development of hybrid culture and its economies but the author considers there are enough elements of success to make it worth to consider.

As I see it, hybrids are common in many areas and prove that coexistence is not only a suitable solution but sometimes the natural step of evolution. This kind of middle ground sometimes appear when there are two polarized social structures or ideologies and no one can triumph over the other because both have assets to defend. Examples can be found in economics, like the neoclassical synthesis model which tried to find a halfway between the Keynesian model and the monetarists, or in politics, like the so-called “Third Way” position. It occurs to me that there are even more hybrid examples in the academia: sciences and knowledge are evolving faster thanks to interdisciplinary field (or hybrids) developments (e.g. biochemistry, sociolinguistics, geopolitics, educational technology, etc.). In our field, there are examples of coexistence between those two worlds too. A very recent one was provided by Katie Stroud in a Google Hangout with Dr. Zobel: when asked about how to put a foot in the job market of instructional designers she pointed out the coexistence of formal and informal relationships (see min. 5:10+):

I would like to end with a couple of reflections based on economics:

a) Copyright laws allow monopolies and these structures must be defended when the good they provide (reward the author for his/her effort) is greater than the costs for the majority. I agree with Lessig that the “whole life of an author plus 70 years” is an excessive amount of time because most of the works generate revenue in the first years after which the copyright blockage prevails (Chapter 9, p.262). This is not an efficient solution especially if we add the legal costs involved to defend those protected works.

b) In addition, the Laffer curve of taxation predicts when taxes rates are so high that people perceive them as abusive, fiscal evasion increases rapidly. And vice versa, if taxes rates are low, they can bring underground activities and stimulate economic growth. Here we find how copyright is holding a far too high tax on citizens and if we do not correct it, RW culture will grow hidden. Lessig’s main concern in Remix is to avoid the criminalization of our youngest generations who are already taking part on the RW culture (Chapter 10, p.284). The hybrid, active changes in copyright laws and social attitudes have the potential to bring more proportionality, equality, participation and business opportunities (Conclusion, p.293.)

P.S.: I will keep it shorter next time.

References

Laffer, A. (2004, June 1). The Laffer Curve: Past, Present and Future. The Heritage Foundation. No. 1765. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2004/06/the-laffer-curve-past-present-and-future

Lessig, L (2008). Remix. New York: The Penguin Press.

PBSoffbook (2013, April 11). Is Photoshop Remixing the World? [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egnB3teYiPQ

Samuelson, P. A., & Nordhaus, W. D. (1985). Economics. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Zobel, G. (2013, April 10). Katie Stroud Interview (pre-broadcast removed). [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_xgkKHxDbU

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2 Comments

Filed under CSE 619

2 responses to “Week 1 – About “Remix”, by Lawrence Lessig

  1. Thoughtful, focused, and specific. Given the economics citations, I wonder if you are familiar with Taleb’s book The Black Swan: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Swan-Improbable-Robustness-Fragility/dp/081297381X

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