Lessig on Copyright Newly Expanding Control Over Amateurs

Here’s a choice nugget from Lawrence Lessig’s book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy:

Second, digital technologies also change how RW [read-write] culture and copyright interact. Because every use of [a digital] creative work technically produces a copy, every use of [a digital] creative work technically triggers copyright law. And while many of these uses might be fair use, or uses licensed, expressly or implicitly, by the copyright owner, the critical point to recognize is that this is still a vast change to the history of American copyright law. For the first time, the law regulates ordinary citizens generally. For the first time, it reaches beyond the professional to control the amateur–to subject the amateur to a control by the law that the law historically reserved to professionals.

This is the most important point to recognize about the relationship between the law and RW culture. For the first time, the law reaches and regulates this culture. Not because Congress deliberated and decided that this form of creativity needed regulation, but simply because the architecture of copyright law interacted with the architecture of digital technology to produce a massive expansion in the reach of the law. (p. 103)


Remix Culture and Lawrence Lessig

I’m finally getting around to reading something longer than an article or blog post by Lawrence Lessig. In preparation for my fall course I’ll be teaching here at Baruch College, “Information Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities,” (the course site from spring 2010 is still up), I’m trying to find more material that will make remix culture a theme for the course. This three-credit course has essentially the same learning goals you might create for a one-shot course for a first-year composition class; the real difference is that we get to take a deep dive into topics that we would only just skim in the one-shot.

This fall, my class will be part of the learning communities program here at Baruch, which means the twenty-two first-year students in my class will also be block scheduled so they are in other classes together. As part of this program, I am teamed up with another professor teaching one of the classes the students are taking, an introduction to ethics class in the philosophy department. The point of contact between our two classes will be issues of ethics; while the philosophy class is distinctly aimed at approaching ethics at the theoretical level, my class will delve into applied ethics. Specifically, I want my students to delve into the ethics of information use and reuse by having them try to delineate the boundaries between sharing, remix, reuse, homage, collage, plagiarism, originality, etc.

The music of Greg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, will be the springboard for some of the discussions I hope to have. Gillis is known for building songs out of hundreds of samples of other songs. Last spring, my class talked about this for one highly productive day following our viewing of a documentary that features his work (RIP: A Remix Manifesto). I’m now reading Lawrence Lessig’s 2008 book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, to see if there is a chapter we might read in class. When I am done with that book this week, I hope to dive into Henry Jenkins 2006 book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, for more ideas.