P2P Classics: Free Culture

Jeff Petry will be presenting a series of books related to P2P, including some earlier classics, that helped to define the movement, such as the following by Lawrence Lessig.

Free Culture is a must-read for anyone reading this, writing blogs, code, or music. In this moment of emerging mash-ups and embedded feeds, online articles and books that are easily copied and pasted, and DVDs and software that I can buy for $3.00 on the streets of Bangkok (while attending a conference on IPR), we must at some point draw a line in the sand and take our stand; what is acceptable, and what is not? What is plagiarism, and what is sharing? Or, with Arnold and Jackie, what is the difference between downloading a movie and stealing a comic book off the stands?

This is indeed an important book for our times, and well-worth reflecting upon and engaging with. As Adam Cohen wrote in the New York Times in this regard, “The shrinking of the public domain, and the devastation it threatens to the culture, are the subject of a powerfully argued and important analysis by Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School and a leading member of a group of theorists and grass-roots activists, sometimes called the ”copyleft,” who have been crusading against the increasing expansion of copyright protections. Lessig was the chief lawyer in a noble, but ultimately unsuccessful, Supreme Court challenge to the copyright extension act. ”Free Culture” is partly a final appeal to the court of public opinion and partly a call to arms.”

In Lessig’s own words, in his Keynote Address to the Open Source Convention, he summed up his thesis as follows:Â “If you understand this refrain, you’re gonna understand everything I want to say to you today. It has four parts:

  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.”

Now is the time that we should all be concerned over the direction we’re heading, the laws currently being made that will affect our future, and the degree of openness and sharing that we will be increasingly forced to accept and live under.

This book is an excellent primer on all these issues and more; and, quoting Mr. Cohen (once again)Â in conclusion, “It is also surprisingly entertaining. Lessig writes for the interested layman, carefully explaining copyright’s often opaque terminology and doctrines. And he draws on a rich array of literary and pop-culture references, from ‘The Country of the Blind,’ a thought-provoking H. G. Wells short story, to Japanese comics.

For the silliness to which copyright battles frequently descend, it is hard to improve on Lessig’s story of the Marx brothers telling Warner Brothers, after it threatened to sue if they did a parody of ‘Casablanca,’ to watch out because the Marx brothers ‘were brothers long before you were.'”

1 Comment P2P Classics: Free Culture

  1. AvatarMichael Pick

    Nice piece.

    Just wanted to mention that you can download this book for free, thanks to Lawrence Lessig’s belief in open content. You can get it by going here, in all kinds of formats, including via a torrent stream.

    Oh, and you can also snag a free audio version to listen to on your mp3 player, recorded by volunteers. This is hosted over at Legal Torrents. I’ve been listening to it on the way to work this week. Eye opening stuff, and a must read/listen for anyone interested in p2p culture and the threats posed to it.

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