October 25, 2008 · Lessig
Spencer asks for a review of his review. I’ll reply to one part: the suggestion that the work is “a derivative essay that rehashes a lot of his older work.” That would be true if the book were, as he describes it, about “curtailing creativity, innovation, and even some of our most basic freedoms.” But that’s Free Culture, not REMIX. As I describe in the preface to this REMIX:
“In the past, I’ve tried to advance this view for peace by focusing on the costs of this war to innovation, to creativity, and, ultimately, to freedom. My aim in The Future of Ideas was to defend industries that never get born for fear of the insane liability that the current regime of copyright imposes. My subject in Free Culture was the forms of creative expression and freedom that get trampled by the extremism of defending a regime of copyright built for a radically different technological age.
But I finished Free Culture just as my first child was born. And in the four years since, my focus, or fears, about this war have changed. I don’t doubt the concerns I had about innovation, creativity, and freedom. But they don’t keep me awake anymore. Now I worry about the effect this war is having upon our kids. What is this war doing to them? Whom is it making them? How is it changing how they think about normal, right-thinking behavior? What does it mean to a society when a whole generation is raised as criminals?”
This wasn’t a focus in Free Culture. It was a passing thought. It is now the frame for REMIX, the motivation for trying to place in the center the good that this net might offer, as a bribe to get policy makers (aka, citizens) to stop this hopeless war, and sue for peace.
That’s one focus (and new) at the core of the book. The second is the idea of “remix.” REMIX, unlike Free Culture, is focused on a particular kind of creativity. I hadn’t recognized, or even thought carefully, about this creativity when I wrote Free Culture. But the Sousa quote I’ve referred to again and again (railing against “talking machines,” he observes “we will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cords will be eliminated by a process of evolution was was the tail of man when he came from the ape.”) got me to think about the importance of “democratic creativity” — meaning a kind of creativity that ordinary people engage just like the professionals. This focus on the amateur vs. the professional of course is a theme of others — Benkler, most importantly. But I liked the way it explained something about how creativity was different in he 20th century from every other century, including the 21st.
The third idea in REMIX is the one Spencer’s review focuses on — the emergence of what I call the “hybrid” — and here Spencer has nice words.
Although this section borrows heavily from the work of others, including The Long Tail by Chris Anderson and Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, Lessig breaks new ground.
That passage made me happy. Because I was inspired by Chris and Don/Anthony (and Benkler). But I am happy that even in an otherwise critical review, it’s clear that this part “breaks new ground.”
These are three ideas, or frames, that move REMIX beyond Free Culture. Different points, not “rehashing” of old. Is it “derivative”? Well, of course, it is the thought that I currently have about a subject I’ve been working on for a decade, deriving from thoughts I had before. But I had thought — I had hoped — the new added something to the old. These three things frame the new.
Finally, Spencer criticizes my 35 pages of prescription at the end.
Most annoying, he devotes only the last 35 pages of the book to his reform plan, and some of those ideas are not even that new.
Better, he suggests, would have been if I had “used Remix to tell the story of his Creative Commons.”
I’ll leave it to others to tell the story of Creative Commons. Understanding requires a less self-interested source. But I’m not sure I get what’s “annoying” about the 35 pages. I’m not sure how “new” the suggestions are. I’m more concerned with whether they’re true. Spencer seems upset that he has heard versions of them before (because the proposals I advance in fact are not the proposals I had advanced before). I guess I’m not convinced of the fairness of that annoyance. This is a second book on the culture issues. The things I believed in book one I still believe in book two. Sure, it would have been more interesting had I come to believe completely different things. (“Wait a minute — Valenti is right. What was I thinking!”) But I didn’t. I still think the copyright system regulates too much. I still believe social resources should be devoted differently. I believe even more now in the “humility” that law needs.
Though there are things that remain the same, I wrote Remix because the work of many others had helped me see important parts of this debate differently. Most importantly, the good, the optimistic, the promising parts. Remix and hybrids: they give us yet another reason to end this war.
But enough. Spencer’s a good soul. He’s written well for Businessweek, and while I’m just midway through his book, Creative Capital, I’m sure I’ll have nicer things to say about his than he about mine. I’ve said this book was essentially finished a year ago. I’ve moved on to different work. So “you won’t have [Free Culture Lessig] to kick around any more, gentlemen, because this is my last [free culture book].” (And see, if I were 15, and had any real talent, I would have taken Nixon’s press conference, superimposed my face on Nixon’s, added some Gil or NIN music, or whatever.)