Lawrence Lessig’s background at the non-profit organization Creative Commons plays an important part in extending my personal interpretation to his 2008 published book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.Interestingly, Remix has already indicated its goal is negotiating in between two opposite sides to reach a solution, on the page right under the book cover, that this book is dedicated to L. Ray Patterson and Jack Valenti. It captured my attention immediately because as we all know, Jack Vlenti was the father of creating the MPAA film rating system and a minute later, my research yield the information that Valenti was the lobbyists for Digital Millennium Copyright Act because he contended that Internet would severely damage the recording and movie industries. So my first reaction was that this book is supporting whatever Jack Valenti had strongly asserted his position upon. Simply typed “L. Ray Patterson”, the other figure this book is devoted to, into the name search on Google, I was surprised to see Lyman Ray Patterson was indeed the author of Copyright in Historical Perspective, the so-called ‘Bible’ of introduction to Copyright Law in a course I took during my previous education.
His name is later coined to the Patterson Copyright Award because he focused on supporting the protection to information access and opposed to excessive privileges for publishers.
Why Lawrence Lessig, previously a professor of law at Stanford Law School and now at Harvard Law School, chose to devote his work to two figures who were leading representatives on two opposite sides? I consider Lessig is seeking a moderate standpoint in the midst of heated copyright&creation debate, and his Creative Commons is the attempted solution Lessig has been devoting to. As the co-director and founder of the Center for Internet and Society and a founding board member of Creative Commons(CC), he once stated CC’s mission is to “enable the sharing and the use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools” and CC licenses provide easy transformation of copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved” while it intents not to be “an alternative” to copyright, but to “work alongside copy”, to “modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.”
Thus the goal for Creative Commons is apparently to solve a problem the conflict between the rich online platform for creativity and remix with the copyright restriction and if referring to Remix and the majority of other books by Lawrence Lessig, his academic writings, and the blog posts, they mostly carry the same vision, that it admits “copyright law regulates culture in America”, while “copyright law must be changed. Changed, not abolished” (254) and that his mission as a founding board member of Creative Commons, is to ensure that copyright law shall allow integrating, remixing, which better serves encouraging creativity, not ended up feeding power control or suffocating creativity.
So the theme rational behind Lessig’s book is to anwer two questions: what does copyright prevent and prohibit currently and what changes should be made to it. The author embarks the discussion of the first question by exploring the differences between Read/Only culture with Read/Write (RO & RW). His narration first traces back to the history of American copyright in 1976, arguing that when Congress increased copyright control, the system, combining with today’s software code, has quickly expanded to granting the powers to copyright holders over not only original forms, but derivative expressions like amateur performances. It locks down culture, stifling creativity and keeping amateurs from adding value to the work of professional creators. Read/Only culture creates “me-regarding” economy, in which creators maintain near complete control over the terms and conditions under which their creations may be experienced; whereas in “Read/Write” culture fosters “we-regarding” economy, which helps leveraging labors to different functionality that can “better support its shared aims” (177). To solve the problem of copyright, Lessig again endorses a proposal of “authorizing a simple blanket licensing procedure, whereby users could, for a low fee, buy the right to freely file-share” that we could possibly “decriminalizing file sharing” (271). However to thoroughly consider this proposal of shared blanket licensing process, wouldn’t it inevitably still need some type of mandatory rules, if not legislation, to determine A. who have contributed to the group creation? B. How to “track and tag” who downloaded the material? C. What amount should each individual create? D. How to promote this philosophy to artists, authors who believe in the copyright protection is more valuable than sharing or co-creating?
I certainly touched by Lessig’s relentless persistence to seek out a solution and devoted to found the Creative Commons organization to stretch the limits of copyright regulation, relinquish oxygen for creativity to breathe. However the collective licensing he suggested indeed introduced a new layer of complexity for regulation and rights protection. There is still a long journey ahead to explore and better the solution in dealing with copyright& remix creation related challenges that we are already facing today.