Larry Lessig- How Creativity is being strangled by the law

I don’t know Larry Lessig well. As a matter of fact, I’ve only met him once. But he knew who I was. You see Hank Barry had me add him to my mailing list, eons ago.

Hank Barry, head of Napster.

Hank asked Milt if he should be afraid, after I wrote that I was going to come to his house and steal all his stuff. During the initial Napster hysteria. Yes, I was on the other side. The wrong side. But unlike our President, I could admit I was wrong and switch sides.

Well, it’s not quite that easily explained. As a member of the California Bar, I believed there was no way Napster was not enabling copyright infringement. And the initial position of Napster was contrary to this. But I was under the illusion that the record companies just wanted to establish this legal point, and then license Napster, or build their own equivalent. It was quite a wake-up call when neither of these actions took place.

And this was after "Newsweek" put Napster on its cover, after tens of millions of computer users had employed the software, after I had used it. Because believe me, once you used Napster, for only minutes, you were converted. Tunes that were unavailable anywhere suddenly appeared. Concerts you attended years before could suddenly be heard, shows you hadn’t even known were being recorded. To this day the music industry’s problem is its decision-makers haven’t used P2P. Because if they did, they’d see the error of their ways.

That doesn’t mean music should be free. Just that the old idea of paying a buck a track, whether as a single or as part of an album, is antiquated, outmoded. Your money should allow you access to the wealth of recorded music history. You can only listen to one track at one time, but shouldn’t you be able to surf and find what interests you?

Milt laughed when Hank asked him about me. And I ended up going to Michael’s, for lunch with Hank, after the demise of the original Napster. And Hank started discussing alternative online music services. And I told Hank to forget it, because the labels would never license music for his ideas, no matter how good they might be.

Larry Lessig fought the copyright bullies. All the way to the Supreme Court. And he lost. That’s kind of like going to spring training with the Yankees and not making the team. It puts you through the bends. But Larry hasn’t retired, he’s just addressing the issues from a different vantage point. He believes fighting the battle in court, or in Congress, is futile. He believes in a private solution.

I told Felice what I like to do most is go to the shrink. Because of the intellectual exchange of ideas.

Intelligence used to be revered. Now it’s for pussies. Now it’s solely how much money you have. How you made it is irrelevant. You’re rich, you’re a big swinging dick! And I’m not going to condemn all rich people. But too many times, they end up being bullies, not addressing the issues, only protecting their turf. Buying Congressmen, never mind creating a separate society.

Not that the hoi polloi are much better. They go to college to study business. They too are only interested in the money. You can’t talk to these people, you can only count their possessions.

I went to college. I certainly didn’t study business, they didn’t have it where I went to school. But where I went to school was bullshit. I wasn’t interested in what they were purveying. But now I have a university at my fingertips. It’s called the World Wide Web. And sure, I’ve been known to look at naked women online, but what’s most stimulating is observing the fast-moving culture, getting a pulse of what’s truly going on in this world. And that’s where it’s happening, online. You may not know it, but the kids do. That’s the generation gap.

And that’s what Larry Lessig is concerned with. The generation that is remixing culture while their parents say everything they’re doing is illegal.

I don’t know if Larry’s Creative Commons is a solution to our problems. I believe it’s close to a nonstarter, because it doesn’t have enough heavyweights behind it, because it lacks momentum. Then again, too many of the creators who could jump-start it are locked up by the copyright bullies. But the issues Larry raises… They are important.

What I’m saying here is Larry is smart. He radiates intelligence. In a world where we’re inundated with the ravings of almost unintelligible, uneducated nitwits, it’s stimulating to find someone who’s wrestled with the issues, and invites us to think about the process. Believe me, the average rapper’s got more money than Larry. But what Larry is saying is more interesting to me. Because it makes me think. Listening to him is what I wanted from college, but never got. Someone speaking about something that counts, in a way that holds my attention.

In this TED speech, Larry is talking about user generated content. All those YouTube videos Prince wants taken down. They can’t be taken down. They can only be driven underground. Because the kids have tools. And they can’t be taken away.

Watch this video. It may not be as overwhelming as the latest "Spider-Man" or other bloated Hollywood production, but it’s a hell of a lot more stimulating.

They say that the writers strike is going to drive people to the Web, that they’ll never come back to TV. Watching this speech, I tend to agree. The Web offers a cornucopia of stimulation, sliced ever more narrowly, to suit your particular taste. This is anathema to the copyright bullies. But it’s manna from heaven for the proletariat.

Larry Lessig: How Creativity is being strangled by the law

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.