The Internet revolution has come. Some say it has gone. In The Future of Ideas, Lawrence Lessig explains how the revolution has produced a counterrevolution of potentially devastating power and effect. Creativity once flourished because the Net protected a commons on which widest range of innovators could experiment. But now, manipulating the law for their own purposes, corporations have established themselves as virtual gatekeepers of the Net while Congress, in the pockets of media magnates, has rewritten copyright and patent laws to stifle creativity and progress.
Lessig weaves the history of technology and its relevant laws to make a lucid and accessible case to protect the sanctity of intellectual freedom. He shows how the door to a future of ideas is being shut just as technology is creating extraordinary possibilities that have implications for all of us. Vital, eloquent, judicious and forthright, The Future of Ideas is a call to arms that we can ill afford to ignore.
In his previous book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, constitutional scholar and former Industry Standard columnist Lessig offered a wary assessment of both the burgeoning architecture of the Internet and the work of those seeking to control its growth. In this sprawling follow-up, Lessig takes his arguments in Code to the next level. Warning of a digital future that, despite all its promise, could in fact turn out quite darkly, Lessig argues that while most of the world is still pondering a digital revolution, a counterrevolution is already underway. Programmers are closing off Internet innovation through code. And lawmakers, lobbied by entrenched commercial interests, are applying overly broad interpretations of copyright and intellectual property laws. To fully realize the cultural and economic benefits of our technological revolution, Lessig urges the creation of a public "commons" for the Internet, an open system that would allow for quicker exchange of intellectual capital and offer future innovators the ability to freely build upon the innovations of others. Some of Lessig's sweeping proposals are sure to spark a lively debate, but his well-reasoned, clearly written argument is powerful. If we fail to deal appropriately and immediately with the intellectual, legal, cultural and economic issues associated with rapid technological change, Lessig asserts, we risk not only squandering the promise of the digital future, but reverting to "a dark age" of increased corporate and government control. Although some readers may find parts of the book rather dense, Lessig has authored another landmark book for the digital age. Agent: Amanda Urban. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners BusinessInformation.
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October 21, 2002
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Excerpt from The Future of Ideas by Lawrence Lessig
Davis Guggenheim is a film director. He has produced a range of movies, some commercial, some not. His passion, like his father’s before, is documentaries, and his most recent, and perhaps best, film,The First Year, is about public school teachers in their first year of teaching–a Hoop Dreams for public education. In the process of making a film, a director must “clear rights.” A film based on a copyrighted novel must get the permission of the copyright holder. A song in the opening credits requires the rights of the artist performing the song. These are ordinary and reasonable limits on the creative process, made necessary by a system of copyright law. Without such a system, we would not have anything close to the creativity that directors such as Guggenheim have produced. But what about the stuff that appears in the film incidentally? Posters on a wall in a dorm room, a can of Coke held by the “smoking man,” an advertisement on a truck driving by in the background? These too are creative works. Does a director need permission to have these in his or her film? “Ten years ago,” Guggenheim explains, “if incidental artwork . . . was recognized by a common person,” then you would have to clear its copyright. Today, things are very different. Now “if any piece of artwork is recognizable by anybody . . . then you have to clear the rights of that and pay” to use the work. “[A]lmost every piece of artwork, any piece of furniture, or sculpture, has to be cleared before you can use it.” Okay, so picture just what this means: As Guggenheim describes it, “[B]efore you shoot, you have this set of people on the payroll who are submitting everything you’re using to the lawyers.” The lawyers check the list and then say what can be used and what cannot. “If you cannot find the original of a piece of artwork . . . you cannot use it.” Even if you can find it, often permission will be denied. The lawyers thus decide what’s allowed in the film. They decide what can be in the story. The lawyers insist upon this control because the legal system has taught them how costly less control can be. The filmTwelve Monkeyswas stopped by a court twenty-eight days after its release because an artist claimed a chair in the movie resembled a sketch of a piece of furniture that he had designed. The movieBatman Foreverwas threatened because the Batmobile drove through an allegedly copyrighted courtyard and the original architect demanded money before the film could be released. In 1998, a judge stopped the release ofThe Devil’s Advocatefor two days because a sculptor claimed his art was used in the background. These events teach the lawyers that they must control the filmmakers. They convince studios that creative control is ultimately a legal matter. This control creates burdens, and not just expense. “The cost for me,” Guggenheim says, “is creativity. . . . Suddenly the world that you’re trying to create is completely generic and void of the elements that you would normally create. . . . It’s my job to conceptualize and to create a world, and to bring people into the world that I see. That’s why they pay me as a director. And if I see this person having a certain lifestyle, having this certain art on the wall, and living a certain way, it is essential to . . . the vision I am trying to portray. Now I somehow have to justify using it. And that is wrong.” This is not a book about filmmaking. Whatever problems filmmakers have, they are tiny in the order of things. But I begin with this example because it points to a much more fundamental puzzle, and one that will be with us throughout this book: What could eve