October 12, 2011  ·  Lessig

Like a fever, revolutions come in waves. And if this is a revolution, then it broke first on November 4, 2008, with the election of Barack Obama, second, on February 19, 2009, with the explosion of anger by Rick Santelli, giving birth to the Tea Party, and third, on September 10, 2011 with the #Occupy movements that are now spreading across the United States.

The souls in these movements must now decide whether this third peak will have any meaningful effect — whether it will unite a radically divided America, and bring about real change, or whether it will be boxed up by a polarized media, labeled in predictable ways, and sent off to the dust bins of cultural history.

In the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., championed a strategy of non-violence: that in the face of state sponsored and tolerated aggression, the strongest response was a promise not to respond in kind.

In this movement, we need a similar strategy. Of course a commitment to non-violence. But also a commitment to non-contradiction: We need to build and define this movement not by contradicting the loudest and clearest anger on the Right, but instead, by finding the common ground in our demands for reform.

So when Ron Paul criticizes the “Wall Street bailouts,” and attacks government support for “special businesses” with special access, we should say, “that’s right, Congressman Paul.” Bailouts for the rich is not the American way.

And when Rick Santelli launches a Tea Party movement, by attacking the government’s subsidies “to the losers,” we should ask in reply, what about the subsidies “to the winners” — to the banks who engineered the dumbest form of socialism ever invented by man: socialized risk with privatized benefits. What, we should ask Mr. Santelli, about that subsidy?

Or when Republican Senator Richard Shelby tells NBC’s Meet the Press that the message in bank reform “should be, unambiguously, that nothing’s too big to fail,” we should say that’s right, Senator, and it’s about time our Congress recognized it.

Or when Sarah Palin calls GE the “poster child of crony capitalism,” we should say “Amen, Mamma Grisly”: For whether or not we are all believers in “capitalism,” we should all be opponents of “crony capitalism,” the form of capitalism that is increasingly dominating Washington, and that was partly responsible for the catastrophe on Wall Street in 2008, and hence the catastrophes throughout America since.

We should practice “non-contradiction,” not because we have no differences with the Right. We do. We on the Left, we Liberals, or as some prefer, we Progressives, have fundamental differences with people on the Right. Our vision of that “shining city on the hill” is different from theirs. Our hopes for “We, the People,” are more aspirational. More egalitarian. More ideal.

But even though our substantive views are different, we should recognize that we have not yet convinced a majority of America of at least some of our fundamental views. And that in a democracy, no faction has the right to hold a nation hostage to its extreme views, whether right or not. We should fight in the political system to win support for our Liberal views. But we should reject the idea that protest, or violence, or blackmail are legitimate political techniques for advancing views that have not yet prevailed in a democratic system.

Instead, we should use the energy and anger of this extraordinary movement to find the common ground that would justify this revolution for all Americans, and not just us. And when we find that common ground, we should scream it, and yell it, and chant it, again, and again, and again.

For there is a common ground between the anger of the Left and the anger of the Right: That common ground is a political system that does not work. A government that is not responsive, or — in the words of the Framers, the favorite source of insight for our brothers on the Right — a government that is not, as Federalist 52 puts it, “dependent upon the People alone.”

Because this government is not dependent upon “the People alone.” This government is dependent upon the Funders of campaigns. 1% of America funds almost 99% of the cost of political campaigns in America. Is it therefore any surprise that the government is responsive first to the needs of that 1%, and not to the 99%?

This government, we must chant, is corrupt. We can say that clearly and loudly from the Left. They can say that clearly and loudly from the Right. And we then must teach America that this corruption is the core problem — it is the root problem — that we as Americans must be fighting.

There could be no better place to name that root than on Wall Street, New York. For no place in America better symbolizes the sickness that is our government than Wall Street, New York. For it is there that the largest amount of campaign cash of any industry in America was collected; and it was there that that campaign cash was used to buy the policies that created “too big to fail”; and it was there that that campaign cash was used to buy the get-out-of-jail free card, which Obama and the Congress have now given to Wall Street in the form of a promise of no real regulatory change, and an assurance of “forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness” — not of the mortgages that are now underwater. The foreclosures against them continue. “Forgiveness” — not even of the sins now confessed by Wall Street bankers, for our President has instructed us, no crimes were committed. “Forgiveness” — just enough to allow candidates once again to race to Wall Street to beg for the funds they need to finance their campaigns. The dinner parties continue. The afternoons at the golf course are the same. It’s not personal. It’s just business. It is the business of government corrupted.

There is no liberal, or libertarian, or conservative who should defend these policies. There is no liberal, or libertarian, or conservative who should defend this corruption. The single problem we all should be able to agree about is a political system that has lost is moral foundation: For no American went to war to defend a democracy “dependent upon the Funders alone.” No mother sacrificed her son or daughter to the cause of a system that effectively allows the law to be sold to the highest bidder.

We are Americans, all of us, whether citizens or not. We are Americans, all of us, because we all believe in the ideal of a government responsive to “the People alone.” And we all, as Americans, regardless of the diversity of our views, need to stand on this common ground and shout as loudly as we can: End this corruption now. Get the money out of government. Or at least get the special interest money out of government. And put back in its place a government dependent upon, and responsive too, the people. Alone.

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil” — Thoreau, 1846, On Walden — “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root.”

If this fever is to have its effect, if this revolution is to have any meaning, if this struggle — and the carnival notwithstanding, it is an obvious struggle to sleep on the streets — is to have real consequence, then we all, Left and Right, must strike first at that root.

“It is the duty of youth,” they say Kurt Cobain said, “to challenge corruption.” He may have meant a different corruption, if indeed he uttered this poetry too. But whatever he meant, embrace his words. It is your duty to challenge this corruption. And once you have ended it — once we have restored a government that cares about what its people care about first, and not just its funders — then let us get back to the hard and important work of convincing our fellow citizens of the right in everything that is left.

  • Brian

    Very cool… I do have a question that has hit me smack dab in the forehead and Im not done with the book. In Chapter Six you quote

    “Parliament rejected their requests. As one pamphleteer put it, in words that echo today,
    I see no Reason for granting a further Term now, which will not hold as well for granting it again and again, as often as the Old ones Expire; so that should this Bill pass, it will in Effect be establishing a perpetual Monopoly, a Thing deservedly odious in the Eye of the Law; it will be a great Cramp to Trade, a Discouragement to Learning, no Benefit to the Authors, but a general Tax on the Publick; and all this only to increase the private Gain of the Booksellers.5″

    Why has no one used this type of passage and changed it to the context of today? Does this not exactly state why copyrights should be left at a set term without continually being revisited and pushed out?

  • http://drdiegosanchez10.tripod diego sanchez

    Comparto la opini�n de Brian, la edici�n electr�nica del libro Cultura Libre es n�tida. Agradecemos al Profesor Lessig por su obra y en especial por poner a nuestra disposici�n su �ltimo libro de forma que podamos leerlo, discutirlo, comentarlo y exponerlo en Ecuador – Am�rica del Sur.

  • Brian

    The internet is such a nice place, even though I know very little spanish, I went to http://world.altavista.com/ and entered Diego’s text, it translated it for me to about what I thought it was. Just another example of how technology helps us all, or atleast me.

  • http://pobox.com/~joehall joe

    Diego says (my own Chicano translation)… “I share Brian’s opinion, the electronic edition of ‘Free Culture’ is crisp (sharp, clear). We thank Professor Lessig for his work and especially for making his latest book available, in a form that we can read, discuss, comment and expand upon en Ecuador – South America.”

  • Martin Norb�ck

    I sent an email before I realized I could post here. I’m just wondering if there are any plans on translating this book to Swedish.

    I would not mind buying a number of copies in Swedish as gifts.

    If there are no such plans, I could help, but translating the whole book by myself is too daunting a task for me right now.

  • http://unicast.org/ Guan Yang


    I’ve been toying with the idea of coordinating a collaborative wiki-based translation of the book to Danish. Maybe we could pool technical resources?


  • Les


    Several of the recent posts here have provoked me to respond.

    Why is it that you (and Stewart Baker, apparently) seem so surprised that it is the Republican Party that is likely to embrace your vision of Free Culture? It is, after all, simply the logical end that a truthful examination of what being a free-market, less-government, conservative brings about. Labels are so misleading. We should care little about whether this movement is called neo-conservatism, libertarianism, market-liberalism, or any other misleading tag chosen to describe it. Free Culture, like blogging itself, is about the exchange of ideas and the ability to create freely. It is the country in which we want to live.

    It is this common thread of what we can be and should be espoused by people like you, Randy Barnett, Glenn Reynolds, Lawrence Solum, Steve Antler, Eugene Volokh, and many others that drive this examination of where we are truly heading. The truth is that people don’t understand intellectual property. Just the name puts people off. People don’t care about copyright law. Not yet. But what is done today stands to shape what will be the most important area of property law in this century. That is why the fight for the de-monopolization of thise ideas is so important.

    Politicians will only talk about things that the electorate cares about. How many more lawsuits by the RIAA against college students will it take before enough people care about what it means to live in a corporately-owned culture? But Stewart Baker is right about which party will be most likely to rein in the abuse of copyrights and patents. It will not be a candidate who is, as you describe, “inside-the-beltway-tone-deaf.”

    It wasn’t going to be Howard Dean, either.


  • Martin Norb�ck

    To Guan, it would be a good idea to join infrastructure forces if we are to attempt translating this great work.

    I was thinking in the lines of contacting existing book translators for tips on things like automation tools.

    Don’t hesitate to contact me if you set something like this up.

  • mike

    After hearing you on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC (www.wnyc.org… look for archives… he was on in 2nd hour…)
    It seems that you now are dis-associating yourself from your previous effort to champion the UCITA laws.

    Please comment???

    Have you made a 180 degree turn around in your beliefs?
    It seems that the ideas proposed in free culture absolutely refute the “draconinan” ideas on ownership proposed in the overhaul of the UCC laws regarding software proposed in UCITA, and the original version of the UCC laws.

    THAT you PROPOSED, as the COMMITTEE reporter, if I recall correctly too!!!!

    Please discuss???
    thanks in advance

  • barcodegoeshere

    I’ve just quickly skim-read a couple of chapters and would be grateful if somebody could enlighten me on the “property” angle. GNU/Stallman who is namechecked several times in the preface has said that the term “intellectual property” is intentionally misleading, having only come into widespread usage since the ’70s formation of the WIPO. GNU/Stallman also maintains that refering to disparate areas of law under the “property” banner is a ploy to encourage simplistic thinking, indeed “property” is the angle taken by those who deliberately confuse copyright infringement and theft in an attempt to prejudice public inference.


    While �creative property� is certainly �property� in a nerdy and
    precise sense that lawyers are trained to understand

    There is no legal system I am aware of that has ever confused copyright and property, nor do I see it mentioned in the US constitution. Is “creative property” a term that existed prior to the formation of the WIPO? If you have to be “trained” to understand why retaining legal rights is some form of property then the argument is obviously somewhat contrived. So lets consider the arguments for this strange alchemy, this wonderous transmogrification, links anyone?

  • http://www.geocities.com/episodesusdbz/index.html episodesusdbz

    I hate to be a pooh bear but I am a little nonplussed that free culture is not “free.”

  • Josh Cogliati

    There is also a wiki version of Free Culture at http://blogspace.com/freeculture/Main_Page .

  • http://www.knowprose.com/mtentries/ Taran

    Also a linked HTML version is presently in the process of being ‘created’ (reborn?) here.

    As far as ‘intellectual property’, and for that matter, ‘piracy’, I do agree with RMS. In my reading of the book itself, ‘intellectual property’ has not been misrepresented in any way. It is, for better or worse (my opinion: Worse) a legal term which has to be addressed. As a human being, I find it’s use abhorrent, but as someone who lives in a society structured by laws (perhaps instead of being structured by the founding ethics?), laws need to come more in line with ethics – and technology has ever been where these two deviate. From Galileo to File sharing.

    Technology is not a student in this scenario. It’s a teacher. Humanity likes to think that humanity is the master of technology. We are as much masters as slaves; we have the potential to be as empowered as we are to be disempowered. As Richard Feynman liked to say of his trip to a Buddhist temple, humanity is given a key which can unlock both Heaven or Hell.

    Ask Oppenheimer.

    On the flip side, change scares, therefore technology scares, and it scares people who don’t understand. They just happen to be in authority, and pen the laws. Now. But in the future generations?

    I rambled. Sorry.

  • phr

    Prof Lessig,

    I think it’s very unfortunate that you chose not to use the Share-Alike condition in the CC license for this book. The book has only been out a few days and there’s already all kinds of really cool stuff being done–separately by N different people, and hardly anyone has announced an explicit license on what they’ve done. That makes it impossible to make a new version that combines and incorporates the best features of other ones that have already been done, like maybe making a Swedish translation or audio reading of the wiki-edited version. It’s not even clear if it’s ok to do something very basic, like unzip Blackmask’s html rendition and put it on one’s own web site.

    I think it’s in the spirit of the non-commercial clause to also include the share-alike clause in almost all cases.

  • http://www.knowprose.com/mtentries/ Taran

    phr, that’s what the Wikipedia is for. See the post above yours :)

  • http://unicast.org/ Guan Yang

    I’ve started the Danish translation on Aaron Swartz’s wiki.

  • phr

    Daran, AAron’s blog post announcing that wiki is brilliant:


    But there’s no explicit copyright on the wiki itself, which under the post-1977 copyright law, means there’s no permission for anyone else to copy it. Aaron might not even be able to fix that without getting everyone who’s already contributed to agree explicitly, or else throwing out all existing contributions and starting over from Larry’s text. There’s also that tree-structured HTML version, which seems to have been done mostly for the purpose of selling the structured-documentation software that generated it. If that’s the case, whoever did it might not be willing to permit anyone to make modified versions of the HTML file. The CC Share-Alike clause stops all of these problems and it really would make it easier and more rewarding for more people to improve the book.

  • http://www.firasd.org Firas

    phr: ShareAlike is irritating because, for instance, say Free Culture was a photograph. If you did a photoessay with it, besides giving attribution and providing the essay noncommercially, you’d have to release many of the rights you may reserve otherwise.

    By the way, all contributions to AaronSw’s wiki are under an attribution/noncommercial license (click ‘edit this page’ to see the note.)

    Anyway, about blackmask, it’s an interesting question. I mean, the AMKA-solicited recordings, and the blackmask and other conversions, are they copyrighted? I’d suppose so :S the only part of them not copyrighted is lessig’s content.

  • http://www.kreditkarten-tipp.de Kreditkarten

    Diego says (my own Chicano translation)� �I share Brian�s opinion, the electronic edition of �Free Culture� is crisp (sharp, clear). We thank Professor Lessig for his work and especially for making his latest book available, in a form that we can read, discuss, comment and expand upon en Ecuador – South America.�

  • http://www.npco.net/ طراحی سایت
  • seomed

    is very good website
    متخصص سئو
    یو پی اس

  • Finet co
  • Finet co