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

52 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1594200069
ISBN-10: 1594200068
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From Stanford law professor Lessig (Code; The Future of Ideas) comes this expertly argued, alarming and surprisingly entertaining look at the current copyright wars. Copyright law in the digital age has become a hot topic, thanks to millions of music downloaders and the controversial, high-profile legal efforts of the music industry to stop them. Here Lessig argues that copyright as designed by the Framers has become dangerously unbalanced, favoring the interests of corporate giants over the interests of citizens and would-be innovators. In clear, well-paced prose, Lessig illustrates how corporations attempt to stifle innovations, from FM radio and the instant camera to peer-to-peer technology. He debunks the myth that draconian new copyright enforcement is needed to combat the entertainment industry's expanded definition of piracy, and chillingly assesses the direct and collateral damage of the copyright war. Information technology student Jesse Jordan, for example, was forced to hand over his life savings to settle a lawsuit brought by the music industry—for merely fixing a glitch in an Internet search engine. Lessig also offers a very personal look into his failed Supreme Court bid to overturn the Copyright Term Extension Act, a law that added 20 years to copyright protections largely to protect Mickey Mouse from the public domain. In addition to offering a brilliant argument, Lessig also suggests a few solutions, including the Creative Commons licensing venture (an online licensing venture that streamlines the rights process for creators), as well as legislative solutions. This is an important book. "Free Cultures are cultures that leave a great deal open for others to build upon," he writes. "Ours was a free culture. It is becoming less so."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Lessig looks at the disturbing legal and commercial trends that threaten to curb the incredible creative potential of the Internet. All innovations are derived from a certain amount of "piracy" of preceding innovations, Lessig argues, and he presents a catalog of technological breakthroughs in film, music, and television as illustrations. Drawing on distinctions between piracy that benefits a single user and harms the owner and piracy that is useful in advancing new content or new ways of doing business, Lessig strongly argues for a balance between the interests of the owner and broader society so that we can continue a "free culture" that encourages innovation rather than a "permission culture" that does not. He reviews an array of legal actions, including the restrictions on peer-to-peer sharing made famous by Napster, and the threat they represent to the kind of openness the law has traditionally allowed and from which the marketplace has benefited. This is a highly accessible and enlightening look at the intersection of commerce, the law, and cyberspace. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (March 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200068
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200069
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.3 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,029,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lawrence Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Prior to rejoining the Harvard faculty, Lessig was a professor at Stanford Law School, where he founded the school's Center for Internet and Society, and at the University of Chicago. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.

Lessig serves on the Board of Creative Commons, MapLight, Brave New Film Foundation, The American Academy, Berlin, AXA Research Fund and, and on the advisory board of the Sunlight Foundation. He is a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Association, and has received numerous awards, including the Free Software Foundation's Freedom Award, Fastcase 50 Award and being named one of Scientific American's Top 50 Visionaries.

Lessig holds a BA in economics and a BS in management from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in philosophy from Cambridge, and a JD from Yale.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By James J. Lippard on July 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
Lessig has written a very clear and entertaining book about copyright, piracy, and culture, filled with lots of real-world examples to make his points. The book covers major events in the history of copyright in the United States (from its beginnings in English common law and the UK Statute of Anne) in order to show how its meaning has changed, and how those who are making accusations of piracy today were the pirates of yesterday. (Jessica Littman's book, Digital Copyright, is a nice complement to this book, covering the history of copyright in greater depth.) Lessig makes a strong case that the direction of copyright, giving greater control over content to a very small number of owners than has ever existed, is eroding the freedom that we've historically had to preserve and transform the elements of our culture.

Lessig begins by describing how the notion of a real property right for land extending into the sky to "an indefinite extent, upwards" became a real rather than theoretical issue with the invention of the airplane. In 1945, the Causbys, a family of North Carolina farmers, filed a suit against the government for trespassing with its low-flying planes, and the Supreme Court declared the airways to be public space. This example shows how the scope of property rights can change with changes of technology, in this particular case resulting in an uncompensated taking from private property owners, yet leading to enormous innovation and the development of a new industry and form of transportation. He follows this with the example of the development of FM radio, which was intentionally back-burnered by RCA and then hobbled by government regulation at RCA's behest in order to protect its existing investment in AM radio.
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62 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Brito on May 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Lawrence Lessig's "Free Culture" is nothing short of brilliant. It outlines an incredibly important modern problem that is lost under the noise of more pressing concerns like the war in Iraq or corporate scandals. That problem is the loss of our culture at the hands of intellectual property law. And what that problem lacks in immediacy and prime-time-worthy sex appeal, it makes up in long-term consequences.
Lessig does a formidable job of making the issue come alive for both experts and laymen with his use of anecdotes that clearly illustrate how the ever-growing term and scope of copyright have stifled creativity and shrunken the portion of our culture in the public domain. He shows how the content industry is trying to redefine IP as the equivalent of tangible property, when it is not and has never been, and how that industry has manipulated Congress and the Courts to get closer to its goal.
If you followed the Eldred v. Ashcroft case (like I did; I was lucky to be at oral argument before the Supremes), you'll want to pick up this book for Lessig's inside account. Most of it is a mea culpa for not realizing that the Court didn't want a constitutional argument, but a consequentialist one. I'm not sure this would have made a difference. The Court's right, who, like Lessig, I thought would chime in for a strict reading of what is clear language of "limited times" in the Copyright Clause, must have had some special reason for turning their backs on their originalist rhetoric and I doubt that a political argument would have changed their minds. I still can't understand what that reason might be, and I refuse to believe it's just the dead hand of stare decisis that gave Scalia pause.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Dominic Hui on February 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
Discussing law is always a challenge to an author, especially if he/she wishes to make it simple, interesting, and critical. This book is not a book for academics, it is a book for the people who support the tradition of freedom of speech and liberty in our culture. This book is simple, interesting and critical : simple in the sense that one with no legal background can understand it (but at the same time, Professor Lessig's argument is compelling); interesting in the sense that Professor Lessig has great sense of humour in explaining the present situation; critical, needless to say, Professor Lessig is well-known of his role in the litigation regarding the legitimacy of the extension of the copyright term at the Supreme Court.

This book is recommended for all, and is a must for all law students and lawyers.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C. Cesman on January 9, 2007
Format: Paperback
I heard Lawrence Lessig speak at a conference earlier in 2006 and it was one of the best presentations I'd ever heard. So it will come as no surprise that his book is written in the same to the point, easy to follow and conscise style.

It's historical research sets the foundation for a look at things to come on the Internet as new technology threatens established media, much the same way as Lessig points out it did in previous centuries. The pirates of yesteryear are the corporations of today who threaten the pirates of today. He is humble as he describes his defeat in the US Supreme Court and proactive as he puts some suggestions forward to resolve the current crisis affecting copyright on the Net.

Couldn't put it down and have already purchased Code 2 by the same author.
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