Going Down the Tubes: The Illegal-ization of Culture

January 3rd, 2007 | by ian |

We’ve all heard the platitude before: today’s culture is going down the tubes. In recent history, major conduits for cultural influence have been “talking machines” (radio) and “boob tubes” (TV). More recently we have the rapid increase in influence of the internet (also composed of “tubes” if you listen to Senator Ted Stevens). Most of us who use the ‘net feel intuitively that something special and new is going on, due in part to its bidirectional, “read-write” nature and in part to the freedoms of its architecture compared with television and radio broadcasting. The internet makes it possible to “rip mix and burn,” something Larry Lessig of Creative Commons fame sees as a key aspect of the “democratization of culture.” The problem we arrive at is that back in the pre-internet day of mix tapes, big business couldn’t monitor the extent of “re-mixing” but in the age of Napster and MySpace today’s teenagers and aspiring artists can be a monitored and targeted by richly funded corporate copyright lawyers.

In the ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT presentation below, Larry Lessig summarizes how our culture is at risk to the increasingly draconian restrictions of intellectual property law, particularly the more recent interpretations of copyright in the USA, and its impact on creativity and expression. Make time to watch at least the first 15-25 minutes, the entire presentation is just under 50 minutes long.

Few things are as important to social democratization as what Larry Lessig has to say in this presentation. His discussion of John Phillip Souza is particularly poignant. Quoted from Wikipedia:

“Souza held a very low opinion of the emerging and upstart recording industry. In a submission to a congressional hearing in 1906, he argued that:

These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy…in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape. “

There is a fair consensus that JPS was essentially right about the effect of the centralization of media production on local production. This situation seems to be turning around with the internet being less of a “talking machine” and more like a walkie-talkie, with its “long-tail” opportunities contributing to the potential for a renaissance of culture, assuming that the internet remains a neutral and bidirectional transport. This is already not the case with most ISP connections optimized for the downloading but not the uploading of content. But I digress. Watch the video, it will be time well spent.

For an interesting opinion that revolution, not evolution is required to reform the intellectual property system, scroll to John Perry Barlow‘s commentary at 1:08:12 and an excellent response from Lessig.

  1. One Response to “Going Down the Tubes: The Illegal-ization of Culture”

  2. By kidv on Jan 4, 2007 | Reply

    I like how he has a beer cached in the podium :)

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