Free Culture

Lawrence Lessig’s latest book “Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity” isn’t only free, it is a subversive exercise to see how far we can go in terms of intellectual property protection.
Go to his website to download a free electronic version of his book or, my favorite, download a “remix”. In theRemixes section, the book is available in multiple formats, translation and, yes, even in MP3 audio book format. On top of that, if you want to own a hard copy of the book, you can buy it from Amazon or your nearest bookstore.

This means that Lessig is losing a portion of his book revenue because people would freely get his book in other formats (PDF, mp3, txt, etc) which is well and fine with him. What’s important is not the revenue from the sale of the book (though that might be a lot) but proving a point that as people share ideas freely, the basic ideas can be built upon by other people and improved.

What better way to prove this than to quote a real-life example of what happened not long after the book has been launched. A few people got together and decided to record the book into an audio book. They organized themselves through the internet and the unpaid volunteers divided the chapters of the book among themselves and went wild with their notebook or computer microphones. The result of that was an audio recording of the book that took less 24 hours to complete! To make matters even more interesting, another group, wanting the the audio book to sound more “professional” decided to do another recording! And all this, without the need of a written consent from the author.

(Of course, if the producers of the amateur audio books were to sell their “performance”, they would be prohibited due to restrictions of the license that Lessig has applied to his work).

If you have come to my site often, you would have noticed a Creative Commons logo on my page. Click on it and read the licence. The license covering my work in this blog is a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0 license. This means that I, as the creator of the content within this site, allow you, the reader, to use and create derivatives of my content freely as long as you do not try to make money out of it.

In the old days, works are preserved as scrolls, books, records, tapes, etc. This physical method stores informations as atoms, whether it is the atoms that make the molecules in inks or atoms that align themselves to a magnetic orientation in tape. These atoms can be scrambled (by rearranging, thus destroying them) and information will be lost forever. In this digital age, however, information are stored as bits. Information as bits are what digital discs (though not the form but the information contained within the form) and the Internet are all about. Therefore, information cannot be easily destroyed because they are easily stored, replicated, copied and manipulated.

Lessig believes that as corporations clamp down on copyright, works that are not commercially viable will not be made available anymore. The cost of imprinting information physically is costly and atoms are scarce- try to get a copy of a rare book and you’ll get the picture. Therefore, a large part of unprofitable body of knowledge is lost forever. With a Creative Commons, people like me hope that our work will not be locked into rigid intellectual property protection and will be available freely.

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