Lawrence Lessig is often presented as the leader of the anti-copyright movement. That is the way that, for example, Mark Helprin presents him in Digital Barbarism. This is a misrepresentation. It would be closer to the truth to say that Lessig argues that copyright law should be reformed – and that reform is the best way to preserve a system of copyright. Ultimately, Lessig strikes me as a classic descendant of American pragmatism: his concern is to create a copyright framework that maximises creativity across society.
Lessig is a lawyer – now a professor at Harvard. His books, such as Remix (Penguin, 2008), do indeed focus on law. Yet they do not do so narrowly. Rather, they explore the relationship between three phenomena – the law, digital technology, and culture. Lessig observes that we live in an age of digital technology in which the creation of new works through remixing is easy, low-cost, and widespread – especially amongst the young. Lessig argues that copyright law is out of sync with this technology.
Over a series of posts on this blog I have been identifying key texts on publishing. (For the others, please see the Publishers’ Bookshelf above.) In keeping with that series, I have here selected one of Lessig’s text – but really it would make more sense to recommend his oeuvre as a whole. The inter-related themes that I have identified above – law, technology, and culture – recur throughout his books to date. All are written in lucid prose employing an uncluttered syntax that one wishes more academic authors could match.
The focus in these posts has been on books about publishing. Yet Lessig, though himself an author, is inclined to see text-based works as old hat – he has spoken of text as ‘the Latin of the 21st century’. Perhaps, then, I should be directing readers not to the book – or at least not exclusively to the book – but to the multimedia versions of the argument to be found online. Currently, for example, there is a video on YouTube called “Remix: Lawrence Lessig on IP in the Digital Economy”.