Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Copyright But Were Afraid to Ask

If you’ve got 80 minutes to spare, watch RiP: A Remix Manifesto, a probing investigation into how culture builds upon culture in the information age.

If you’ve got 20 minutes to spare, watch Professor Lawrence Lessig‘s TED Talk, where he shows how current laws strangle creativity.

But if you’ve only 3 minutes to spare, watch Madeon‘s live mashup of 39 songs while asking yourself this: Should each of the sampled artists have the power to demand this video be removed due to copyright infringement?

Gaining Better Understanding of This Digital Age

A few years ago when I first saw someone watching a video on YouTube, I dismissed the phenomenon, thinking it would never catch on as who would ever want to watch videos in a tiny box sized 425 by 350 pixels. I have learned my lesson well, and recognizes my lack of imagination when it comes to new technologies. That is why when these days people ask me ‘So why do we need Twitter?’, I simply answer ‘We just don’t know yet’.

Following are two video lectures by people who explain things well. We spend so much time on YouTube, passively watching videos or actively creating content, that spending an hour in order to gain better understanding of it all should not sound like a lot.
The first video is by Professor Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist who studied indigenous cultures and now explores the effects of social media and digital technology on society. Although the lecture is one hour long, I have already watched it three times in the past year:

The second video is by Professor Lawrence Lessig, one of the foremost authorities on copyright issues. In order to reconcile creative freedom with marketplace competition he founded Creative Commons as an alternative choice for the default ‘all rights reserved’. This is a twenty minutes video discussing how creativity is being strangled by the law:

We have to recognize [our kids] are different from us. We made mixed tapes; they remix music. We watched TV; they make TV. It is technology that has made them different, and as we see what this technology can do we need to recognize you can’t kill the instinct the technology produces; we can only criminalize it. We can’t stop our kids from using it; we can only drive it underground. We can’t make our kids passive again; we can only make them, quote, “pirates”. And is that good?
We live in this weird time, it’s kind of age of prohibitions, where in many areas of our life, we live life constantly against the law. Ordinary people live life against the law, and that’s what we are doing to our kids. They live life knowing they live it against the law. That realization is extraordinarily corrosive, extraordinarily corrupting. And in a democracy we ought to be able to do better.
  – – Professor Lawrence Lessig, TED conference 2007

This Book Cannot Be Read Aloud

Illustration: Amazon Kindle 2 Warning - This Book Cannot Be Read AloudIf you had any doubt we are amidst a cultural war, what with file sharing, digital rights management and the free culture revolution, the dinosaurs in suits over at Amazon.com had just decided that the Text-To-Speech option on the new Kindle 2 will be disabled if the book publisher chooses that. This means that book publishers will be able to control a right that they do not possess. Read more on this at Professor Lawrence Lessig’s blog.

For us Israelis this triggers a flashback to the Anti-Mehikon: up until the 1980’s the Israeli television broadcast was in black and white as the government thought this would bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots, those who can afford to buy a color TV set, and those who cannot. As idiotic as that plan sounds today, it worked for a few years until a device was invented to restore the color bursts that were deliberetly erased at the Israeli Broadcast Authority.

All this may have sounded like fun nostalgia, if only the people of yesterday would have given up on their futile attempt at stopping the natural evolution of technologies.

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Download some text2speech audio files (MP3 and WAV) of the phrases ‘Amazon sucks’ and ‘Amazon’s Kindle 2 sucks’