Larry Lessig admits “he’s an old Communist”

By , 23 November, 2008, 2 Comments

Four years ago, Lessig’s book Free Culture unleashed a movement to abolish copyright and bring down the evil corporate producers of “mainstream culture.” I have never believed in this movement. Tonight, Lessig told Charlie Rose he doesn’t believe it either.

He says he’s an “old Communist,” a la Gorbachev, trying to reform a system; the younger free culture radicals who quote him are Yelstins, who’ve taken his policies too far. Lessig says he doesn’t want to get rid of copyright because it still incentivizes some people to produce valuable content who wouldn’t do it for free. His hippie proteges think anyone who produces art for money is not worth society’s time. Now whenever I’ve read Lessig, I’ve always felt he falls on the radical side of the line. Either I was wrong, or he’s now changing tacks because he realizes the moderate approach has a better shot of reaching its goals.

He’s not alone. Over at BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis says he doesn’t have it out for print media and media corporations at all and outlines a business model for how established news organizations can coexist with a gift economy of citizen-journalists. It’s a good plan and it strikes me as a deviation from the things Jarvis has written in the past; again I wonder if (as he claims) this is what he meant all along, or if he’s just getting practical at last.

Either way, it’s good to have people of Lessig’s and Jarvis’s clout advocating a middle-ground. Then again, Gorbachev tried to remind people to take it slow too…and it didn’t work out so great for him.

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2 Responses {+}
  • Matt G. (mgcsinc)

    Please do keep dissing SLS faculty-geniuses so that I can keep claiming that choosing between there and HLS was easy 😛

    More seriously, though, I know relatively little (obviously less than you) about Lessig’s perspective, but I do know this: putting arguments about ‘new media’ and ‘Web 2.0’ and all the other jargon-ey crap aside, current copyright law really, really sucks.

  • Preppy McPrepperson

    Oh, undoubtedly. The question is whether we fix it by writing new IP legal codes or by getting rid of copyright altogether. The latter option is (in my opinion) impossible and undesirable, but it’s what Lessig’s fans have been talking up. It definitely made my day to have him come out and disown those people, but I’m not convinced by his argument that he was never one of them.

    On HLS vs. SLS, you’ll have Yochai Benkler, who makes the one argument on this issue I actually find compelling, because it’s pro-markets and accepts that creative people still need to profit from their work.

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