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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday January 22 2006

Lawrence Lessig writes about the Read-Write internet.  (And once again, I got to the Big Media article via his blog.) The Big Bad Guys want a Read-Only internet, and they are shaping the law to get that, and only that.  But the next generation wants to download stuff, and then do new stuff with that stuff.

Yet the law of intellectual property will not easily accommodate this remix creativity. As the rules are written today, even for purely noncommercial purposes, there is no clear right on the side of the remixers. The lawyer for Wind Up Records could speak politely, because the law today speaks firmly: there is no freedom for this sort of creativity. There is no way to even license the right. And most importantly, as the technology for the Read-Only internet gets more perfectly deployed, even the technical capacity to remix will be increasingly threatened. Already, AMV creators must circumvent technological protections to get access to the underlying anime that they remix. Those protections will only get better and the war against circumvention technologies will just increase. As one type of digital technology increasingly begs for this remix creativity, a different kind will work to disable it.

AMVs, it seems, are videos which put music together with Japanese animé cartoons.

It is hard for those of us from the couch potato generation to understand why the creativity of the Read-Write internet is important. But if you focus on something that we are likely to understand – market value – then the Read-Write internet, indeed, has a great deal to recommend it. The computers, bandwidth, software and storage media needed to enable an efficient Read-Only internet are but a fraction of the technology needed to support the Read-Write internet. The potential for growth with the Read-Write internet is extraordinary, if only the law were to allow it.

But to those building the Read-Write internet, economics is not what matters. Nor is it what matters to their parents. After a talk in which I presented some AMV work, a father said to me: “I don’t think you really realise just how important this is. My kid couldn’t get into college till we sent them his AMVs. Now he’s a freshman at a university he never dreamed he could attend.”

The father was right. We do not realise how significant the Read-Write internet could be. Nor can I even begin to imagine how policymakers could be made to see the harm that perfecting the Read-Only internet will have for this more vibrant and valuable alternative.

At least I can be confident that Lessig won’t mind me copying and pasting all that.

My first reaction is that Lessig is maybe being a little pessimistic about how easy it will be for this new economy to emerge.  After all, if the creators of commercial stuff refuse to allow it to be used for Read-Write purposes, won’t there simply be a parallel economy of stuff being produced where the rule is you can do what you like with it?  (By the way, you can do whatever you like with my photos, should any of you actually want to do anything with them.  I don’t know why you would want to do anything with them, but go ahead if you want to, and ideally, please tell me about what you’ve done, although that is not a condition.)

As the technology of non-commercial movie making, for instance, gets ever better, there will surely be plenty of stuff out there for the post-couch-potato generation to have fun with, and use to impress colleges if that’s their problem.  I mean, Big Music tried for a while to stop downloading.  Now they love it.

Lessig is a world ahead of the likes of me about all this stuff, so I am sure there are answers to temper my optimism.  But what are they?  I suppose part of it is that even those who, say, want to faff about with my photos don’t now know for sure that they have this right, or that I definitely won’t set my huge army of lawyers loose on them, even with what I say in this posting, which in any case they may not know about.  And as for downloading, well, the way Big Music is arranging that, that is the problem rather than any sort of solution.  Is that the kind of thing Lessig has in mind?  The law now chills, in other words, even where it does not actually, it turns out, prohibit.

But once a powerful subculture emerges where the norm is share-and-share-alike, then mere participation in such a world means that you have consented to this regime.  And, the hardware will follow.  In fact, surely, we already have a lot of it, or the subculture would not now be emerging in the first place.

But I suppose it is now a bit of a struggle.  But when were these things ever not?