Free Culture, Creativity and Media Law

by Renate Riedl

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

Hardcover published by The Penguin Press
Pages: 348
ISBN 1594200068
Pub. Date: 25 Mar 2004
[photo credit:]

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
Considering whether it is legal to use this quote by William Shakespeare without citing it, I might experience a rough time. Luckily, Shakespeare's work is old enough and his play, Henry VI, is not a music file on the Internet, so it should be okay.


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Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig's book, Free Culture, is thankfully not another dry legal work about intellectual property law in the Internet age. Rather, it is a good piece of storytelling that focuses on the story of new technologies and inventions in the 20th century, and how big media companies embraced them. The law has served to guide companies in expanding and maintaining their monopolies on music, films, software, and books. A piece of intellectual property is now protected by law for almost two hundred years. Consumers should be aware of the conspicuous disappearance of the public domain: Creative work is an expression of what we have learned in our surroundings, and much of what we hear and see nowadays comes in digital formats. If someone controls the rights to this digital information, they also control everything that derives from it.

Lawrence Lessig neither excuses infringement upon others' intellectual property, nor does he encourage it. While he voices his concern that governmental restriction of the use of intellectual property by the general public is perhaps too far-reaching, he does not advocate throwing caution to the wind. Piracy is still piracy. The balance between the rights of the intellectual property owner and the public domain is something he continually evaluates.

Although some people have called the book provocative, the idea that there was - and should be - freedom to use bits and pieces of our culture as creative building materials should not be that disturbing.

With a brand new decision by the Supreme Court about the copyright infringement of commercial producers of file-sharing software, and an ongoing discussion about copyright law in the U.S., this book is not to be missed.

For more information about Lawrence Lessig: