Lessig in his book ‘Free Culture’ focuses on wars against copyright in an expert yet entertaining approach (1). Lessig acknowledges that with the advent of high technology, copy right law is a topic of interest to major stakeholders who include musicians, authors, and editors among others. According to Lessig, copyright laws as designed by framers have been designed to favor interest of the affluent business giants and not that of ordinary citizens (Lessig 4).
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The attempt to stifle innovation from frequency modulated (FM) radio and instant camera to the so called peer to peer technology by corporate giants, is an injustice clearly illustrate by Lessig. Further, Lessig asserts that the copy right law is meant to distort the meaning of piracy as defined by the entertainment industry. Lessig intentions are to indicate to the reader that the copy right law put in place at the moment does not protect the interest of parties that are affected (Lessig 14).
The argument staged by Lessig concerning technology and copy right law is based on the interest of the larger society. Before the invention of technology, issues concerning copying of intellectual materials were difficult to deal with. However, the rise of the internet and subsequently the peer to peer data sharing possibilities created a different environment that have been addressed by lawmakers both incorrectly and inadequately. According to Lessig, the legislation put in place to curb illegal use of intellectual materials is strict to the point of almost denying the general public access to such works. Consequently, cultural production and creativity of both the public and intellectual authors has been affected (Lessig 47).
In the past, literal material was majorly in print form. This allowed several users unlimited access to the material so long as the print version of the author’s work remained in their possession. It was possible for people to contribute and buy either a book or any other literal material and use it in turns. Families maintained their own libraries and generations within the family had access to these materials. However, without technology, obtaining some of the material was a tedious process. Some of the materials were found in specific book shops or other particular vendors. Some of the literal materials were only to be found in specific country and those who needed them had either to travel or make orders for deliveries. This was a tiring, time consuming and expensive process. Technology was meant to facilitate easy access to such material majorly because of uniformity in availability of material across the borders. Contrary to this expectation, accessing literal material has been made impossible to many even after technology has been extensively upgraded. Users are required to pay specific fees every time literals material is accessed and this has turned out to be expensive to many. Even material that can obtained for free are restricted by the copyright law thus forcing people to limitedly use them.
Free culture provides readers with comprehensive overview of the changed nature of copyright and the legal responses to the advanced technology. On the onset of technology, content providers and creators felt threatened. This was majorly because technology seemed to encourage the use of literal material without the permission of the creators and providers. For example, the use of e books made authors and other concerned people to think that students would use their material free of charge. Prior to revision of the copyright law, legislation concerning literal material allowed a balance between the users and the providers. This allowed adequate access to various intellectual sources whist proving sufficient compensation to the producers and providers. The current legislation concentrates on safeguarding the interest of corporate giants and not concerns of the society in need of the literal material. The advent of VCR recording particularly raised the concern of producers such as Jack Valenti who by then headed the Motion Pictures Association of USA. The concerns raised by providers were based on the fact that technology allowed easy duplication of original material while maintaining the same quality. Consequently, producers were worried that they would lose much money in the process (Lessig 67).
Lessig points out that the powers of the copyright prior to the advancement of technology had limited success in controlling external copyright material but the current legislation as it is has total control. Lessig claims that the lawmakers who contributed to the change in copyright law from external to total control are paid to protect the interest of the corporate giants. He says, “The new copyright law as written by lawmakers who have their pockets lined by the few who tremendously benefit from such strict restriction” are to blame for such unfavorable strict measures. Those advocating for complete control have always based their arguments no control versus reasonable control. This is meant to imply that without the complete control of copying original work then there is totally no control of how such material is accessed thus demoralizing producers of these works.
The major concern raised by Lessig in this book is defined consequences for those found guilty for illegally copying other people’s productions. For instance, very high penalties have been put in place top guard illegal reproduction of music. Lessig cites an example of stealing an audio CD in California that may lead to penalty of up to $1000 while downloading the same would render a guilty party to damages costs that may amount to a maximum of 1,500, 000. What is observed as the big issue with such penalties is not only high for patent use but also stifle fair or legitimate use off such material. The copyright law as it is imposes a large burden to many societies especially because this legislation is hard to track down. Most of the work protected is out of print and not in society’s reach and as a result, dissociation between literal material and producers and providers. Thus, the incentive to use or avail these materials has been lost (Lessig 114).
The consolidation of most big Medias coupled with the strict copyright laws has encouraged concentration of literal material in the hand of few corporations. The use of new technology to enhance creativity has thus been restricted by insufficient literal material. Technology presents various opportunities but because the laws put in place restrict the extent of utilizing such resources has greatly affected creativity and further inventions. Lessig critically argues that the legislation as it is protects the interest of a few people but affects intellectual development of societies. Lessig argues that the reasons for which these laws were put in place are not represented in its implementation. This being because both the users and the providers are not benefiting from it.
To allow people limited access to literal material especially through the internet is the author’s main agenda. Lessig’s arguments are that innovations are usually derived from a “piracy” and other preceding discoveries. Therefore, the copyright law as it intends to curb incredible creative potential brought about by advanced technology. Based on this argument, Lessig’s ideas are credible given that most of the technologies observed currently are developments made from other people’s previous work. Free culture is a book with innumerable strength. The authors’ style of writing is particularly interesting. The author addresses serious issues in an interesting format. Lessig build up his ideas from the history of copyright, indicating his great understanding of such issues. The impacts of copyright law are made clearer by Lessig through the use of known examples and science. This makes the reader understand the seriousness of the limited access to literal material as dictated by the law. Most importantly, Lessig walks his talks by making his work available both in print and free versions on the internet. Lessig’s is also formulated in a way that gives room for further development given the diverse changes observed in recent times. This indicates his commitment to making literal material to the society thus help improve creativity especial in young scholars (Lessig 182).
On the other hand, Lessig exposes a couple of weaknesses in his work. To begin with, Lessig’s arguments are majorly based on elegance and not precision. Some of the arguments staged the author of free culture are not a true reflection of what happens in real life. Lessig must have known that literal material in print are also sold and lent to various users but fails to acknowledge this in his argument. These mistakes make the image of libraries to be distorted. One is left to think that libraries are meant to keep leftover literal material with law quality while this not the actual case. As an example, Lessig’s arguments are based on inaccessible and out of print works in libraries but he gets it wrong. According to Lessig, “After books are out of print, they are sold to and stored in some used book stores where people get to read the books for free without copyright owners getting anything” (113). Lessig is biased in his work, addressing all corporate workers as selfish and who have all their interest in revenue from sell of literal material. The author of this book does not address the interests of providers and producers in his work.
The development of technology and formulation of strict copyright are the two competing theories in this book. Technology was meant to make access to literal material but as it was developed, copyright law was formulated to stop such access. Technology has influenced the society in many ways. Learning has been made easier through e learning. E mails have enable people to communicate over long distances in real time. However, free flow of literal material has been hindered by the formulated legislations.
Most scholars have praised Lessig’s arguments but a good number have also been full of criticism. The strongest criticism has come from copyright proponents such as Rick Carnes who have argued that the free Lessig’s ideas that copyright does not support culture fails to addresses the negative impacts that would arise from free access to literal material, especially damage to arts industry and growth of the economy. This argument may be addressed by Lessig by stating the extent to which information can be accessed without payment.
In conclusion, Lessig’s arguments are well placed given that access to literal material has become more difficult in this error than it ever was before. It is therefore important that a review of the laws is made if creativity is to be encouraged in the current society.
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