Lawrence Lessig’s, Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity tackles the concept of how the internet fundamentally changes culture. Humans once exchanged ideas largely through oral methods- street performing or storytelling, which were largely unregulated by the law. With the advent of the internet age, we see an emerging importance in the role the law plays in protecting the creative rights of innovators and artists. This protectionism serves to aid those from the past to maintain their intellectual rights and identity, while also aiding the future in not letting confining restraints limit progress. These laws largely protect businesses and corporations, as the internet has given many the ability to change the course of culture, creating threats to established institutions.
It is generally agreed upon that most artistic endeavors in modern times are recreations of older works. Walt Disney is mentioned in Lessig’s book as an example of how “rip, mix, and burn” creativity can be blatant and yet still highly celebrated as a creative method. Taking the best elements from classics and splicing them with some original elements and content evokes nostalgia and fondness while still appearing very unique in it’s own right. Early American comic books followed this approach as well, with authors borrowing moderately from their contemporaries to create. In Japan, a unique situation has emerged that shows just how different two cultures can be in the internet age. The co-existence of “manga”, Japanese comic books that chronicle not just superheroes, but all aspects of life and human experience, and “doujinshi” a copycat of a mainstream comic.These “copies” are regulated and require differences in production value and storyline, but are widely popular and accepted. The main reason these variants are allowed to exist is because they generate interest in the mainstream comic and create a mutually beneficial relationship. Many questions are raised by this instance. Is Japan a more free culture than America? By allowing contributors to riff off of mainstream ideas are the Japanese creating a more free society in relation to the masses? Or are they limiting the intellectual freedoms of the original creators and reducing the freedom of the culture?
The idea of property in accordance with creativity is the central issue that arises in copyright law. It is an intellectual ideal that “there are no second-class property owners”; that creative works, however intangible, hold the same value of ownership as more tangible and physical possessions. Lessig finds that our own constitution notes a marked difference between intellectual property and other possessions. When considering the “Taking Clause” of the Fifth Amendment, just compensation must be given for taking of any possessions (land, homes, etc.). However, after a predetermined time, intellectual property falls into the public domain in which no compensation is given. Arguing against this notion would be less a battle for creative rights than a movement for a change in our constitution. It is interesting that given how much more monetary protection the framers of the constitution placed on non-intellectual possessions, we see the possibility of more control and restraints over uses of intellectual property. This future, as Lessig calls it, is the future of “copyright code”, a world in which programmers, not lawyers, are at the front lines. The vehicle for this change would be software that limits the number of times you can access an article, restricts or negates copy and pasting of text, or word processors that auto-delete protected text as you type. Clearly, some may feel the need to exercise increased control of their work given the ability of the available technology, though it is arguable that those versed in programming could find ways around this. It may seem hostile for intellectuals to place restraints on knowledge and tools the world may desperately need. However, given that the work of an author, whose entire life’s accomplishments are expressed and stored in something so fragile as the careful combination of words, perhaps it’s best to be a little paranoid.