April 08, 2005

Lawrence Lessig, Jeff Tweedy and Steven Johnson @ the NY Public Library

This event took place yesterday as part of a revamped series called Live from the Public Library. Here are some of the highlights and my thoughts:

Lessig started out with a Keynote presentation on the history of “piracy”. It was a recap of his book Free Culture. He laid out player pianos, radio, cable and the VCR as the original “pirates”. They were all unwelcome innovations at the time because they reproduced material a creator had originally made. The distinction between these “pirates” and today’s filesharers is that the pirates of the past were corporate entities, today’s are individuals.

He made clear that he is against “piracy” and also against the rhetoric of anti-piracy advocates…that of war, saying that this war criminalizes “pirates” most of whom are kids. This criminalization is internalized by kids and makes them (in Lessig’s words), “think of the law as an ass”.

Lessig is a master of Keynote, the Powerpoint alternative and definitely wow-ed with the synchronicity of his lecture with graphics and audio/video embeds in his presentation. That said, his AV demos of funny “Read My Lips” and Bush montage definitely threw some smiley softballs at the NPR set gathered in the hall, while also demonstrating the internet culture of digital creativity and remixing as a crucial step in the creative process.

He outlined the dichotomy between a broadcast democracy and bottom up democracy and made a call to war vs. the war on piracy but did not provide details as to how to engage in this war, what organizations are making this happen etc…

Tweedy then spoke and I liked what he had to say. He was respectful, bordering on reverent of his listening audience, saying that his music does not exist except in the consciousness of his listener and remarking that he should even pay the audience, which I thought was a cool way of looking at it. He also made the case for the CD/record as an artifact and some part of people will always want to hold on to that.

Lessig cracked that his experience with his audience was a little different in that his interaction is mainly hate mail. He also talked a little about his book Code which has an edition on Wiki that is open source and people can update.

He also talked about Disney’s inversion of copyright mentality. When Walt was around, he took advantage of copyright expiration/public domain by building on works like Snow White etc…And now, Disney is pursuing extension of all of their copyrights which limits creativity among others to build on that work.

He led into an environmentalist argument. Essentially, our goal should be to convince people that our common interest is a vibrant culture. The environmentalist outlook is that 2 opposing interests can coexist for the common good.

Lessig was very worried about the repercussions of DRM content, saying that DRM is like burning down the library every five years in that you can’t guarantee access to content after a few years as sometimes the owner/creator disappears, goes out of business etc…

He told a great story about a few hundred person free software rally led by Gilberto Giil in Brazil during the World Social Forum. The rally wasn’t just attended by “pear shaped computer geeks” but more like a “Woodstock without the mud”. He said Brazil recognized the power of free software to change people, and make a culture of creators.

All panelists came back to the theme of the library as a great model for sharing content and for “free culture”, which was cool. One posed the hypothetical, “imagine if the library was invented 5 years ago…the idea of sharing books would make people crazy”. It was also cool that the guy in charge of booking the event had an expressed goal of livening up a great institution. Posted by Neil at April 8, 2005 02:56 PM | TrackBack
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