Week 7: Copyright, free culture and copyleft

I really had to take some time to think about this week’s readings from Lawrence Lessig’s book Free Culture  http://www.free-culture.cc/freeculture.pdf (specifically the Preface, Introduction, and chapters 1, 7 and 10). I honestly didn’t understand his point at first but think I do now.  Rather than go through his somewhat lengthy and complicated theory of the forms of regulation upon an entity and the shift in balance among them, I’d like to discuss his point about restriction of creativity.

In essence, Lessig claims that creators have always drawn from and built on the ideas and creations of those that came before them.  I completely agree.  Whether you agree with those older ideas, want to reinterpret or want to completely negate them, new ideas built on old ones.  You never know where a bit of inspiration is going to come from and often in retrospect you might not even remember exactly what it was the stoked your imagination – only that you had been inspired.  Lessig further argues that free cultures leave a great deal available for others in the future to be inspired by and build upon.  Essentially, when we restrict the ability to be inspired, then we restrict creativity.

The Constitution provided adequate protections for creators in the form of copyrights but more recent law had changed how those copyrights are created and greatly extended their length.  Lessig argues that these extensions unfairly hamper creativity.  He fully believes in granting protections to creators (I in all honestly thought he didn’t at first!), but only for a limited time.  After finishing the assigned readings from his book, I’ve come to better understand his point.  I think these changes to copyright law only increase the fear of being sued and limit the ability of others to be inspired and to think and to create.

          All this doesn’t just apply to movies or music or works of fictions, it also has relevance to the work of historians.  There’s creativity in non-fiction and critical thought too.  An interest in a particular subject can be (and I think usually is) but another person’s research and writing on that subject.  But it would be ludicrous to limit new thought, approaches, research and writing on a subject to the first person who showed an interest or until that person was finished with the subject.  It would greatly limit, if not eliminate, new thought and knowledge along with creativity.  And that I think is a good part of what Lessig is worried about.

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