Book Reviews


Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity

Author: Lawrence Lessig
Publisher The Penguin Press
Publication Date: June, 2004

Reviewer:Andy Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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Free Culture and Stanford’s Law School professor, Lawrence Lessig, have gained a lot of attention and notoriety over the past few years and it doesn’t appear as though the noise level will subside any time soon.

What’s it all about? “Perhaps” you’ve heard that the Recording Industry Association (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association (MPA) are out to sue anyone and everyone who “steals” from their members. The RIAA has even taken12 year-old girls who rip music “illegally” to court and won.

On the one side you have the RIAA and MPA. On the other side you have the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) that takes the position that people should have the right to freely receive, exchange, use and enjoy digital content…freely.
In between you have Lessig who discusses the pros and cons of the situation and has put forward a series of objective, logical and convincing proposals on how to change today’s copyright laws to meet the content suppliers and users goals.

So why should you both becoming familiar with Lessig’s work and the entire discussion of intellectual property? In our opinion and we believe you’ll agree after reading the book everything is intellectual property. It’s not just about freeloaders who want to download movies and music. But it is the broader complete subject have how you think, reach a decision, make a recommendation, take an action.

And the fact is we live in a global, always-on world today. Tomorrow? Who knows?

Radio was going to be the death of the theater. TV was going to be the death of movies. Videotape was going to be the death of movies. Copy machines were going to be the death of books. The internet was going to be the death of newspapers. Web downloads are going to be the death of the music and motion picture industry.

Lessig is quick to note we in a transitional stage on how we use technology. The way we access and used content 10 years ago has changed dramatically. How we access that content 10 years from now is anyone’s guess. Lessig doesn’t profess to know but he does make a strong point for the fact that copyright laws that have been around for 100 years don’t work today and certainly won’t work tomorrow.

So Lessig (and like thinking individuals) have developed some ideas on how to change the laws. As the chair of the Creative Commons project ( he has tried to help both sides of the subject create guidelines and laws that will protect content developers and consumers.

It’s not an easy task as you’ll see when you read Free Culture because the recording and motion picture industries haven’t yet been able to determine how they will survive (make money) in the new environment. So the easiest solution for them? Stick with the laws we have and sue…everyone!

Under current regulations, everything printed or produced since 1923 is copyrighted whether a copyright request was formally made or not. That is one whale of a lot of content, information and ideas. It doesn’t matter if the book, movie, song, monograph or position paper is out of print or not…it is still “protected.”

Lessig proposes two solutions: require registration for copyrighted works and require a renewal after 50 years. Sounds pretty simple and logical but with all of the litigation that the RIAA and MPA is carrying on, no one would every accuse them of being logical.

Lessig’s Free Culture is an outstanding discussion of today’s copyright issues. He covers the history, the constitutional basis for copyright (which countries around the globe enforce in one way or another), the current issues (and how they effect and can limit new technologies) and proposes solutions to address the situation for everyone.

You may never download an MP3 file and put it on your iPod. You may never stream a movie from a web site. However, you may write a white paper or position paper or develop a management presentation that may consciously or unconsciously use information from copyrighted materials. How do you think your boss would react if the company was suddenly slapped with a copyright lawsuit from a publisher or content owner?

We doubt if you could count on your bonus this next year. And you probably would be dropped from his Christmas card list.

Lessig isn’t an extremist in his discussion. But the conclusions he draws from the instances he cites do make you pause and think. He spells out his case in a methodical, interesting and entertaining manner. He also shows the power of words because you seldom hear the RIAA or MPA discuss the issue of “fair use” but rather “piracy.” Making a backup copy of something you purchased sound like something logical and harmless. But the RIAA and MPA would rather say you stole the content and made a second, illegal copy.

Lessig’s book is an important piece of work (which is copyrighted under current law) that presents some very specific and detailed proposals on what all of us will have to consider if we are to have free use of ideas as well as written, sung or visual ideas.

If you’re involved in the content development/ownership industry Lessig’s book probably won’t change your official position regarding intellectual property and its protection. But for the rest of us perhaps it will help us understand how being entertained and informed needs to be changed.

After all for public relations people information is a major tool of our trade!!!