October 23, 2006 · Lessig
So Nick Carr charges me with launching the Cultural Revolution, in a post dripping with references to the evils of communism, and with a triumphant close: “The Cultural Revolution is over. It ended before it even began, The victors are the counterrevolutionaries. And they have $1.65 billion to prove it.”
The point of my Web 2.0 post is probably clearer to anyone who read my earlier post about the three economies of the Internet — commercial, sharing, and hybrid. As that post suggested, in my view, the really critical question for the Internet economy is how well companies negotiate the hybrid economy. In my view, those who follow Web 2.0 values are likely to profit most; those who don’t, won’t. Thus, when David Bowie tries to jump into the mashup/remix world by offering prizes for the best remix of his content, but demanding the rights to all the creativity produced by the remixers, he’s violating a Web 2.0 principle, and by doing so, weakening the extraordinary potential his effort could have. Put differently, sharecropping is no better a strategy for the virtual world than it was in the physical world.
Yet if you don’t see that there are different economies, then of course if follows that any effort to argue in favor of less control sounds just like communism. (Not technically, of course, because the control under all the communism we’ve seen was shifted to the state, it wasn’t eliminated. But this is a detail red-baiters often overlook). If there is just the commercial economy, then an argument in favor of exercising less control over content sounds just stupid — like arguing to GM that it should give every 5th car away for free.
But if you really don’t see that there are different economies, then I suggest you spend sometime reading the very best scholarship about what’s new about the Internet. Benkler, Weber, and von Hippel are my favorite examples; though not directly on point, much in Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail points in the same direction.
And if you don’t have time to read, then ask yourself a simple question: Is Jimmy Wales a communist? (Anyone who knows him knows how absurd the question is, but even if you don’t know him, you can figure it out.) There is no better, more effective advocate for the sharing economy. The project he’s helped steward — Wikipedia — is perhaps the sharing economy’s prize. But when he advises companies, and others trying to use the net, how best to build upon the value of the Internet, is he just doing Chairman Mao’s work?
I hope YouTube is an extraordinary success — much bigger than it has been so far. (Carr says YouTube is my “villain.” I must really be confused, because in the very same week, YouTube was my hero). It will be so, I believe, if it plays by the rules of the hybrid economy. A hybrid neither gives away everything, nor does it keep everything. And I’d suggest we’ll find that golden mean more quickly if we left the red-baiting to the 20th century.