Free Culture Versus Big Media

Recently, I finished reading Lawrence Lessig’s book Free Culture and recommend it for anyone interested in preserving America’s spirit of innovation and creativity. Mr. Lessig is was a Law professor at Stanford University and CEO of Creative Commons, a project that he founded to provide an alternative to the current copyright term system.

In a nutshell, Mr. Lessig shows how Walt Disney Company, in its heyday, reinvented stories from other writers and legend but that today such “copying” and recreating of classics like Cinderella, Fantasia, and Bambi would not be allowed since our copyright terms our so long. Instead, we should allow creative works to go into the public domain sooner so that other writers, DJ’s, film makers, etc can create new value from those works by retelling the story, melody, etc in new ways (e.g. mashups).

Mr. Lessig describes inequities in our system like the following one (from page 180):
When I take a CD from Tower Records, the maximum fine that might be imposed on me, under California law, at least is $1000. According to the RIAA, by contrast, if I download a ten-song CD, I’m liable for $1,500,000 in damages.

He also interestingly shows how our legal system punishes all users of file sharing networks, thereby damning the entire technology, when really there are three uses (out of the following four) that should be allowed (from pages 68-69).
A. Using sharing networks as a substitute for purchasing content (e.g. the latest Madonna CD)
B. Using file sharing networks to sample new music
C. Using file sharing networks to get access to copyrighted content that is no longer sold or where the purchasing costs offline were too high.
D. Distributing content that is not copyrighted or that the copyright owner wants to give away

Clearly, type A users are the ones that congress and the RIAA want to punish. But type B, C, and D users have a good reason for using file sharing networks. Why then are we intimidating all file sharing network users and crushing the innovation of this amazing distribution system?

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