talkgroup

Free Culture: Preface and Introduction

Continuing the discussion from Create new versions/formats of Free Culture and Discover the “truth” of copyright:

Let’s read maiki/free-culture: A repository for the book "Free Culture", as Markdown text files. - preface-and-introduction.md at main - free-culture - allthe.codes.

The Free Culture book has a wonky outline that works really well for a physical object, but I’m going for hypertext, so I’m breaking it up into distinct docs; I don’t intend to change the text, just arrange it in a way that makes sense to me.

The Preface is relatively short, and I found it covered similar ground as the Introduction is setting up the inspirations and premise of the rest of the book, hence combined.

At the end of his review of my first book, Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, David Pogue, a brilliant writer and author of countless technical and computer-related texts, wrote this:

Unlike actual law, Internet software has no capacity to punish. It doesn’t affect people who aren’t online (and only a tiny minority of the world population is). And if you don’t like the Internet’s system, you can always flip off the modem.

Pogue was skeptical of the core argument of the book—that software, or “code,” functioned as a kind of law—and his review suggested the happy thought that if life in cyberspace got bad, we could always “drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome”-like simply flip a switch and be back home. Turn off the modem, unplug the computer, and any troubles that exist in that space wouldn’t “affect” us anymore.

Pogue might have been right in 1999—I’m skeptical, but maybe. But even if he was right then, the point is not right now: Free Culture is about the troubles the Internet causes even after the modem is turned off. It is an argument about how the battles that now rage regarding life on-line have fundamentally affected “people who aren’t online.” There is no switch that will insulate us from the Internet’s effect.

  1. The Internet definitely affects more folks today (the book is copyrighted 2004)
  2. I’m gonna start all my prefaces casting shade on folks who gave overtly-critical reviews on my past books. :rofl:

I tried to read that review, there is a copy at Don't Just Chat, Do Something - The New York Times, but NYTimes is such an dumpster fire of a website, it is not easy to read.

But unlike Code, the argument here is not much about the Internet itself. It is instead about the consequence of the Internet to a part of our tradition that is much more fundamental, and, as hard as this is for a geek-wanna-be to admit, much more important.

That tradition is the way our culture gets made. As I explain in the pages that follow, we come from a tradition of “free culture”—not “free” as in “free beer” (to borrow a phrase from the founder of the free software movement), but “free” as in “free speech,” “free markets,” “free trade,” “free enterprise,” “free will,” and “free elections.” A free culture supports and protects creators and innovators. It does this directly by granting intellectual property rights. But it does so indirectly by limiting the reach of those rights, to guarantee that follow-on creators and innovators remain as free as possible from the control of the past. A free culture is not a culture without property, just as a free market is not a market in which everything is free. The opposite of a free culture is a “permission culture”—a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past.

“Permission culture”. I believe that may be easier to use to explain “free culture” than comparing it to other uses of “free”. I mean “free culture” as opposed to “permission culture”. Nice!

If we understood this change, I believe we would resist it. Not “we” on the Left or “you” on the Right, but we who have no stake in the particular industries of culture that defined the twentieth century. Whether you are on the Left or the Right, if you are in this sense disinterested, then the story I tell here will trouble you. For the changes I describe affect values that both sides of our political culture deem fundamental.

Okay, do we even have a Left and Right today, end of Oct, 2020? I am so comforted by the simplification of a Left vs. a Right. Today it feels like the Bathos Party and a motley crew of everyone else. But it wasn’t great, then. And it wasn’t about Left and Right: it is always about power.

Sorry not really directed at Lessig, just more of an observation (or theory) in hindsight.

:thinking:

1 Like

If we understood this change, I believe we would resist it. Not “we” on the Left or “you” on the Right, but we who have no stake in the particular industries of culture that defined the twentieth century. Whether you are on the Left or the Right, if you are in this sense disinterested, then the story I tell here will trouble you. For the changes I describe affect values that both sides of our political culture deem fundamental.

We saw a glimpse of this bipartisan outrage in the early summer of 2003. As the FCC considered changes in media ownership rules that would relax limits on media concentration, an extraordinary coalition generated more than 700,000 letters to the FCC opposing the change. As William Safire described marching “uncomfortably alongside CodePink Women for Peace and the National Rifle Association, between liberal Olympia Snowe and conservative Ted Stevens,” he formulated perhaps most simply just what was at stake: the concentration of power. And as he asked,

Does that sound unconservative? Not to me. The concentration of power—political, corporate, media, cultural—should be anathema to conservatives. The diffusion of power through local control, thereby encouraging individual participation, is the essence of federalism and the greatest expression of democracy.

This idea is an element of the argument of Free Culture, though my focus is not just on the concentration of power produced by concentrations in ownership, but more importantly, if because less visibly, on the concentration of power produced by a radical change in the effective scope of the law. The law is changing; that change is altering the way our culture gets made; that change should worry you—whether or not you care about the Internet, and whether you’re on Safire’s left or on his right.

I like the tradition of checks and balances, of curbing power. The Republican party has organized efforts to disenfranchise voters, which means the “tradition” will not apply to today’s political landscape, and that is worrying.

There are a lot of political optics, very distracting. And then there is concentration of power, and related struggles, always going on where folks can not easily observe. Part of the obfuscation is because we didn’t handle the way culture is being produced, no one trusts anything while also being untrained at free thinking, and now we still have to deal with the concentration of power. :cold_sweat: