Culture & Media

Free: Copyright Questions in a Digital Age

In the digital age, the central question becomes not whether government or the market should control a resource, but whether a resource should be controlled at all.

A recently assigned reading for my Communication Law class brought up the issue of copyright law in a digital age.  The reading was the first chapter entitled “Free” from the book  The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World by Lawrence Lessig.

Lessig introduces several ideas in the first chapter.  He claims that the free flow of creativity and innovation that was encouraged a facilitated by the emergence of the Internet is being threatened by copyright laws that restrain that creativity with too much control. Lessig also focuses on the idea of resources and how they are accessed in a society, exploring the definition of “free” in terms of free resources and controlled resources.  The chapter is begins and ends with the conflict between old and new, and Lessig argues that the issue of control over ideas in the digital sphere is the attempt of those who are used to the old system to protect themselves against the new system of creating and distributing ideas.  Halfway through the chapter, Lessig asks:

It is instead best described as a constitutional question: it is about the fundamental values that define this society and whether we will allow those values to change.  Are we, in the digital age, to be a free society? And precisely what would that idea mean?

I found Lessig’s arguments to be compelling, and I was encouraged to look into purchasing the book itself.  As I did, I found myself following a link to Lessig’s website, where an electronic file of The Future of Ideas can be downloaded for free. Even though the book was first published in 2002 and Lessig has released many other books on similar topics, I’m interested enough to plan on reading this particular one.  So, I thought I’d share.


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