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Free Culture
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"If the law imposed the death penalty for parking tickets, we’d not only have fewer parking tickets, we’d also have much
less driving. The same principle applies to innovation. If innovation is constantly checked by this uncertain and unlimited liability, we will have much less vibrant innovation and much less creativity."

Lawrence Lessig's book, Free Culture makes the point, and argues is carefully and convincingly, that the current revolution in copyright protection driven by media companies is a direct threat to our culture's ability to reproduce and continue itself outside of their experiments in culture-breeding. Not only is culture restricted and stifled, but the point of copyright protection—to encourage and reward people and companies who create so that they will keep creating for the benefit of the People—is being turned around into a protectionist monopoly to reward people and companies who prevent others for creating.

This isn't just a concern that the Left should be bothered with. Once, about a century ago, anyone could muster the determination, business acumen, and quick intelligence to get into the business of entertaining people, producing, selling, or distributing media, and they would have the government's blessing and protection. Today, even the most free-market, capitalist, Right-thinking individual can try to get into the media business independently (i.e., for their own benefit as an individual), and the government will squash them if an existing media business so much as asks. Why should the freedom to compete not exist when it comes to cultural expression?

And when I say revolution, it really is. It's one that has happened at a time-scale imperceptible to individuals, at a scale that governments and companies operate on naturally. A century ago, the right of "copyright" only applied to book printers and no-one else, and was limited to a couple decades. Today, copyright applies to everything anyone tangibly produces (people have to successfully argue that physical products are not creative expression now in order to avoid having copyright law apply), and the limit is forever. This changed over the course of a mere handful of decades, when the tradition of free exchange of cultural objects after a mere 14 years had been established for centuries. The very life-breath of culture is being strangled, and the fingers belong to lobbyists and law-makers who extend the term of copyright every time Mickey Mouse is about to pass into the public domain.

If this state of affairs had existed for longer in our past, no Disney film would ever have been made, including the very first appearance of Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willy—that cartoon was a copy of a film made the year previous called Steamboat Bill, Jr. Imagine if The Little Mermaid had never been made because the copyright was owned in perpetuity by a company that had bought it from Hans Christian Andersen in 1872. Imagine if Mulan or Aladdin had never been made because Vivendi Universal had the exclusive rights and didn't think that they would be commercially viable. Now consider that every scrap of expression is today locked down by copyright, and imagine what the future will be like for our children. They'll have Mulan, but they'll never have their own generation's equivalent. Never will nearly-forgotten story of past generations (say, the once-popular-but-now-forgotten story of a boy-wizard with a distinctive lightning-bolt scar on his forehead) become the basis of a work in their culture's medium of choice.

I know you're laughing at the thought of Harry Potter being forgotten. But think: how many of you have actually read any of the Brothers Grimm fairytales? How many of you would never have even known of "The Billy Goats Gruff" or "Little Red Riding Hood" if someone hadn't come along and turned them into an illustrated book, play, TV show, or feature film because they were free for the taking? If those had been copyrighted at the time of the Brothers Grimm, nobody would ever get jokes about having such long teeth and so forth. Our culture would have been impoverished, and nobody would have known better.

Clearly, the media of today has value. But why? Does it have value because the copyright owner can sell access to it and thereby profit? Why do we buy any of it? Clearly, it has value beyond simply the holder being able to exchange access for money. Clearly, we value it intrinsically. We create our childhoods out of it, we build our nascent cultures around the TV we watch, the music we listen to, the movies we talk about. The next generation builds on the last.

The Brothers Grimm published a wildly successful book of fairytales that they didn't write. Disney published and continues to publish wildly successful movies of fairytales that not only did they not write, but they have the freedom of past generations to copy to thank for collecting them for Disney's eventual use. Now, Disney and other companies that together form the media lobbies want to change the law so that they are the last to benefit, and everyone else will have to pay them for the privilege of merely enjoying their works. All culture belongs to those who were quick enough to steal it when it was legal to do so. Now they want to make it illegal to do what they did, to replace them.

Go and read Free Culture. It's message is for everyone in this culture, left or right, American, European, Canadian. It's about small government, government for the people, punishment of real piracy, fostering progress in the arts, the freedom to speak critically of the status quo in the media of our generation, the freedom from frivolous lawsuits designed to (and enforced by law) squash fair use, and the freedom to post a rant about Indy Kids on YouTube even if you accidentally forgot to make sure that your Vash the Stampede action figure (intellectual property owned by Pioneer Entertainment in the US!) wasn't on the shelf behind your head before you started filming. (Yes, that's in-practice illegal right now.)

The book is free to download, distribute, change, and so forth, because the part it plays in cultural discourse is more important that protecting publishers behind sandbag fortifications full of $100 bills.