Lawrence Lessig: Laws That Choke Creativity.

In his TEDTalk, Lessig shares three short stories with his audience. Through his storytelling, Lessig is able to set the foundation for a discussion around technology as a creative outlet and form of literacy for our youth. Additionally, he critiques the creators of new technologies (the businesses) and copyright laws for hindering creativity in today’s society.

Lessig’s Stories

  1. “Talking Machines”
    • Composer John Philip Sousa was concerned that recording devices would cause a decline in a culture that participated and re-created.  The recording devices would instead, propel our society into a “read-only” culture.
  2. Trespassing Laws
    • United States v. Causby stated that while trespassing laws protected land (property), it no longer protected the land’s airspace.  As technologies advanced, the supreme court stated that the hundred year old law had no place in the modern world.
  3. Broadcasting
    • A battle between public (BMI) and private (ASCAP) businesses to share media content erupted.  BMI’s competition was enough for ASCAP to fall, as the people settled for the “second best”, but free, public domain.

In telling these stories, Lessig argues three key points:

  1. Digital technology allows our society to participate in a “participate and re-make” culture. We not only participate in these technologies, but transform and recreate the information we obtain from them into something new.
  2. Laws around technology will constantly evolve as technology evolves. We, as a society, cannot uphold dated laws that cannot keep up with the advancing technologies of our modern world.
  3. Society will always gravitate towards the “more free” option, so we need to build “artists’ choice”. Artists should make their work content more availible and to the public and businesses should embrace and enable that sharing of free (or “more free”) digital content.

Digital technology is embedded in our culture, part of both our personal and professional lives. Particularly for those of us who have grown up in this digital word, technology is a means of communicating creatively and sharing our ideas and talents with others.  Copyright laws hinder this creativity by prohibiting the sampling and re-mixing of copywritten content. The problem with these laws lies in the belief that the “original” can not be re-made into something new (or cannot be modified without the permission of the original creator).  Why are certain forms of re-invention, like that of the recording device, acceptable and others not? Perhaps the businesses who profit or the ego of the artist?


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