Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

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

Lawrence Lessig, The Penguin Press & Rédaction Transversales ,   348 pages, October 15, 2004 – 2004/10/15

In Free culture, author Lawrence Lessig, an American lawyer, stresses that the struggle that rages just now centers on two ideas: "piracy" and "property". And its aim is to explore these two ideas. However, he warns : « The argument here is not much about the Internet itself. It is instead about the consequence of the Internet to a part of our tradition that is much more fundamental. That tradition is the way our culture gets made. We come from a tradition of "free culture": not "free" as in "free beer", to borrow a phrase from the founder of the free- software movement, but "free" as in "free speech," "free markets," "free trade," "free enterprise," "free will," and "free elections" ». According to the author, a free culture supports and protects creators and innovators. It does this directly by granting intellectual property rights. But it does so indirectly by limiting the reach of those rights, to guarantee that follow-on creators and innovators remain as free as possible from the control of the past. A free culture is not a culture without property, just as a free market is not a market in which everything is free. The opposite of a free culture is a "permission culture": a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past. This idea is an element of the argument of Free Culture.

Moreover, the central theme of the author’s argument is not just on the concentration of power produced by concentrations in ownership, but more importantly, if because less visibly, on the concentration of power produced by a radical change in the effective scope of the law : « The law, says it, is changing; that change is altering the way our culture gets made. A free culture has been our past, but it will only be our future if we change the path we are on right now ». Instead, the free culture defended by the author in this book is a balance between anarchy and control : « A free culture, like a free market, is filled with property. It is filled with rules of property and contract that get enforced by the state. But just as a free market is perverted if its property becomes feudal, so too can a free culture be queered by extremism in the property rights that define it. That is what I fear about our culture today. It is against that extremism that this book is written ».

In Free culture, the author attacks the manner in which large “cultural” industries use technology and law to prevent the emergence of new forms of creativity that threaten their positions as market leaders. According to the author, the history of intellectual property has been a search for balance between the protection of creators, inventors, and their distributors on one side, and the enrichment of a public creative good on the other, which allows for any creation to benefit from previous creations. The sudden emergence of information and communication technologies (TIC) has led industries to defend their quasi-monopoly on the legal front first. He states, “For 30 years, each new piece of legislation leading to stronger ownership rights (copyright, patents) has restricted the public domain.” These industries then began to defend the technological front. The author states, “Manufacturers are trying to include measures to protect their rights concerning artefacts, such as the anti-piracy measure for CDs and DVDs, or DRM (Digital Rights Managements). With the freedom of American culture – its democratic foundation – at risk, the author proposes a new balance ownership and freedom. His recommendations include a symbolic act that would be made by an author after 45 years to renew his copyright: “Works neglected by their authors which no longer have a commercial value would fall under the public domain.”

Free Culture is available for free under a Creative Commons license. You may redistribute, copy, or otherwise reuse/remix this book provided that you do so for non-commercial purposes and credit Professor Lessig. [05-09]