Lessig on Copyright and Culture: "Things could have been different"

For the Love of Culture, Google, Copyright and our Future. Astute and moving commentary by Lawrence Lessig, a love letter to the real-space library.
Whatever your view of it, notice first just how different this future promises to be. In real libraries, in real space, access is not metered at the level of the page (or the image on the page). Access is metered at the level of books (or magazines, or CDs, or DVDs). You get to browse through the whole of the library, for free. You get to check out the books you want to read, for free. The real-space library is a den protected from the metering of the market. It is of course created within a market; but like kids in a playroom, we let the life inside the library ignore the market outside. This freedom gave us something real. It gave us the freedom to research, regardless of our wealth; the freedom to read, widely and technically, beyond our means. It was a way to assure that all of our culture was available and reachable--not just that part that happens to be profitable to stock. It is a guarantee that we have the opportunity to learn about our past, even if we lack the will to do so. The architecture of access that we have in real space created an important and valuable balance between the part of culture that is effectively and meaningfully regulated by copyright and the part of culture that is not. The world of our real-space past was a world in which copyright intruded only rarely, and when it did, its relationship to the objectives of copyright was relatively clear. We forget all this today.


  1. Not everyone has forgotten.

    I take my children to the library.

    It’s not like the towering stacks and wooden ladders of my youth, but the essence still lingers here and there…

  2. It would take a huge moneyed interest to push Lessig’s proposal through America’s bought-and-paid-for legislature.

    Google is the closest thing to a viable advocate for it we have, and even they got bogged-down and headed-off by the huge army of entrenched media lawyers.

    Looks like we’ll get stuck with the next-best answer: copyright will be completely ignored by the average citizen, who will freely copy and share all the digital media they can. But most things non-digital or DRM’ed will be soon be effectively lost to history.

  3. There also seems to be a disconnect between the global & non-local nature of disruptive technology change and the regional & local community base of public libraries.

    The occasionally mentioned risk of losing our cultural record to ephemeral electronic formats may unfortunately be heralded by the reduction of access to those resources as they are developed (or perhaps more importantly RE-developed) and monetized/licensed out of the reach of the public and their libraries.

    Should the “new” market remove the freedoms we have currently and – perhaps even worse – prevent this existing public access continuing to new types of media (as they become developed), we may indeed, as Lessig says, be “about to make a catastrophic cultural mistake”.

    Libraries are the pre-existing guardians of public access, but unless there is a kind of “Think Local, act Global” discussion regarding this very access, at every level from a small town municipality to the highest authority in the land, we risk losing a public good.

    Some interesting comments on Libraries in a previous post – http://www.boingboing.net/2010/01/11/burning-the-library.html#comment

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