Who Owns Culture

Professor Lawrence Lessig's "podcast" of "Who Own's Culture" explores the technology of "piracy" starting from player pianos and sheet music all the way to mixing technologies used for "digital creativity."

In the speech, which is synchronized with some slides, Lessig notes how the conflict between "piracy" and copy right owners has historically been framed in legal terms, and how in the past the law favored the "pirate" by forbidding any regulation of pirated technology. For example, broadcast radio today does not have to pay the performer for the broadcast of records. Same holds for VCR, another copying technology.

Lessig notes that the rhetoric of war applied to the conflict between "piracy" and "copy rights" distracts us from the main issues involved. When copyright "ownership" is given the greatest weight "collateral damage" to creativity can actually be quite serious.

He notes that as we "wage war" against 'piracy,' we will destory digital technology's potential for creativity. Hence, destroying the historical opportunity given to us by the new technology to create new cultural modes of expression. Lessig points out that the new generation will be at the forefront of digital creaitivity. Taking away their ability to use these technologies to produce cultural products is to do their generation a great disservice.

If you wait through the speech, you could watch some very funny samples of "digital creativity" in the video clips selected along with the slides accompanying Lessig's speech!

A greater issue regarding "who owns culture" is "who gets to make culture" and "who gets to describe or limit how culture is made". More importantly, the question should be asked as to what culture is — not so much what can be "counted as culture" but what it means "to have a culture."

I think, in this particular speech, Lessig defines "having a culture" a bit too narrowly as "having the ability towards" artistic creation. Most artistic creation is individual creation, and much of the culture we experience has to do with our social experience. Lessig does allude to this briefly when he contrasts "one talking to many" vs. "peer-to-peer" conversation. I supposed that's a good start towards growing an understanding of what true participation is all about.

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