Monday, May 9, 2011

Life is One Big Remix

Lawrence Lessig's Remix is interesting on many levels, but to me, this is one of the most significant: The average individual (one without large stakes in the copyright industry) is bound to agree with what it says. In a nutshell, Lessig argues that copyright wars are senseless and extremely damaging to children who are born into a culture that inherently compels them to break those laws (which they don't understand); therefore, copyright laws need to be modified.

Our culture is one of consumption. It always has been. And now that our culture is saturated with technology, we are destined to consume technology with gusto. We do. In fact, this very class, English 295, encourages my classmates and me to consume, create, and connect (see Professor Burton's post, "Traditional Literary Study Breaks Down in the Digital Age"). This cycle of consumption, creation, and connection--which is actually quite natural for those of us reared in the digital age--leads to layers of information that pile up on top of the original source, creating richer material and a greater depth of knowledge. In other words, we consume knowledge more thirstily than ever before--how exciting for teachers and scholars! And we contribute to knowledge--also incredibly exciting. This is remix. This is natural. Life isn't some disjointed collection of separate ideas and events, it is a symphony of layers and overlays, intersections and interminglings. Unfortunately, adding our ideas to copyrighted ideas is, in the improper context, against the law.

Maria Popova, curator of the blog Brain Pickings, summarizes Lessig's argument neatly: "[E]ncouraging exclusivity of access is inconsistent with the ethics of our world, the sort of paradigm that lets knowledge wither in the hands of the privileged" ("Lawrence Lessig on the Free Access Movement"). Read more:

I'm seeing major connections between Remix and everything we're learning in and doing for class. Knowledge shouldn't be bought and sold; it should be shared. Funny how our consumer culture advocates copyright laws that contradict our inherent urge to consume. That isn't to say anything goes is a good philosophy in regard to copyright (see the Wikipedia summary of Lessig's proposal to reform copyright laws), but it does pose some interesting questions. Why must we struggle so much with laws that we don't understand when we aren't trying to make a profit off of our intellectual internet exploits? Shouldn't we be able to garner knowledge and share what we learn in peace so long as we aren't ruining others' livelihood?

According to my classmate, Matt Harrison, Convergence Culture reiterates Lessig's ideas in Remix (see Matt's blog on the topic). Matt mentions that, as copyright laws are implemented in various situations, our digital consumption evolves to conform (as loosely as possibly) to those laws. But our culture is one of sharing, one of consuming, one of creating, so why do we have to work so hard to do so legally?

I don't have good answers to the questions I posed in this blog, and I'm sure that there is much to be said about the necessity of our current copyright laws. From all I've been learning from English 295, though, these laws are counter-intuitive in any society that values knowledge.


  1. I think you have a good point--we should be wanting to share content, and making our intellectual property laws more lax would certainly help with that. As of right now, though, we are completely allowed under fair use (and plain common sense) to share any knowledge that we derive. Facts are not copyright-able. I think my main struggle with this copyright debate is how much a commons-centric way of pooling content would create things that are more than just shallow, passing fads. Either way, I'm definitely going to blog about this post. Thanks for the food for thought.

  2. I definitely misspoke when I wrote "Knowledge shouldn't be bought and sold; it should be shared." I mean, that's a true statement, but you're right--it isn't knowledge that is being bought and sold thanks to fair use. So good catch. I think we're both on the same page, though, that current copyright laws (and all the misunderstanding that surrounds them) inhibit our intellectual creativity and our ability to access information in the most efficient way possible. I look forward to reading your post.

  3. Thanks for all the links they were helpful. I was sitting at a church meeting the other day and we were talking about honesty and pirating music and movies came up. One of the guys made a comment saying, "Hey i'm a digital media major, when you download movies and music the people who really feel it are those who do the grunt work like mixing and editing. They are the first one to get pay cuts not the artist or the agents. Every time you download something illegally you are making it harder to provide for my family." I thought that it was really interesting way to think about it. I liked Lessig's thoughts on how to reform copyright laws. What do you think about them? After reading through the book do you think it'll be effective?