Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

12 12 2008

Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy
By Lawrence Lessig
Penguin
October 2008, 327 pages, $25.95

By Derek Beres

“They are dazzled by the machines they import,” wrote Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul in his 1979 classic, A Bend in the River. “That is part of their intelligence; but they soon start behaving as though they don’t just own the machines, but the patents as well; they would like to be the only men in the world with such magical instruments.” While the author may have been referring to the character Mahesh’s fascination with the opening of his BigBurger franchise in Africa, we can understand, and sympathize with the universality of this statement.

Men have long hoped to own the machine and the patent with it, though that process was not so begrudgingly legislated until the 20th Century. In his previous book, Free Culture, Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig challenged the trademark process like no one else was able to. Not only did he make his plea against the overbearing legislation in which grandmothers and tots were being called to court over downloading “scandals,” but he did what few other authors attempt: something about it. His Creative Commons trademarks have helped level the playing field in entertainment, offering the creator of art numerous levels of control over their creations.

Remix reads like a eulogy for Lessig’s decade-plus work in the field. It is his siren call, his offering of how the industry could benefit both corporation and consumer. He has recently announced that he’s done all he can in that realm, and instead of beating (and beating and beating) the proverbial dead horse, he will be focusing his efforts on corruption in Washington. He is not looking to franchise his own industry of trademark philosophy—he has raised the baby; now it’s time to let him stand up for himself.

More than anything, Lessig understands and often wrestles with a rather understated theory: common sense. Many of our ideas about the presentation and execution of entertainment have been carefully molded by a very small number of people who want the general population to believe that this is how entertainment should be presented and executed. From the outset, Lessig tackles this demon: “Here were two examples of free riding: people downloading Britney Spears’ music without paying her and people listening to ‘All Things Considered’ without paying NPR. With one, we criminalize the free riding. With the other, we don’t. Why?”

Read the full review on PopMatters.

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