Free Culture
August 12, 2002 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Free Culture (8Mb flash). Lawrence Lessig's keynote speech at this year's OSCON conference is a stirring and effective explanation of how the entertainment industry, with the help of lawmakers, have undermined our fundamental right to create. Lessig asks, what have you personally done to stop them? This 30 minute long flash slideshow (mirror), compiled by Leonard Lin, tells you what happened and what you can do.
posted by waxpancake (45 comments total)
I helped get this together for Lessig, and after watching it the first time all the way through I felt terrible. I sent $100 off to the EFF via paypal (I'm already a member), and am hoping to outpace my monthly DSL costs (which run about $65/month) with EFF donations from here on out.
posted by mathowie at 3:37 PM on August 12, 2002

You know, Matt, I've been wondering what Lessig's deal is ever since I heard about you working for him. Now I understand, and I'm filled with even more Murderous Rage towards The Rat. Time for me to cut the EFF another check!
posted by RakDaddy at 3:41 PM on August 12, 2002

I noticed this sorta snuck onto daypop since last night (#2 w/ a bullet :). I figure we want to show this thing to as many people as possible for as long as possible. We're definitely at a crossroads here with regards to free culture. (nothing against it per se, but this has certainly got to be more important than Tales of the Plush Cthulhu)

Since Matt just got clearance to putting the thing on Creative Commons servers, I've put a 503 automagically redirect when my mod_throttle kicks in.

In regards to what Matt says. I have to admit, I felted a bit guilted too. I'm a member too but I do feel bad about paying more per year to Netflix than I contribute to the EFF. Will have to fix that...

Don't let the fear of the guilt trip stop you from watching this though. It's really important stuff™.
posted by lhl at 3:47 PM on August 12, 2002

Great stuff, and nice work Matt. I just started reading Code which should be required reading for anyone interested in public policy. I can't wait to read the new one by Lessig. Now if I can only get my senator to come up with some tickets to the show on October 9.
posted by anathema at 4:09 PM on August 12, 2002

Yeah, it's really an awesome work, both concise and emotional, which is rare for the topic. Thanks to all involved.

Slightly off-topic: what happened to the EFF's Canadian site? (, not responding) I'd love to get more involved, but not being a US resident would have to direct my efforts towards a different government.
posted by D at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2002

I listened to the whole thing last night, and having thought about it a little, it seems there's an interesting legal issue no-one has thought about with regards to the creation of a system that controls copyright; the end of the 70 year copyright period.

Surely any system that controls the copyright (via encryption, public keys, whatever) must also set the copyright free after the legal period for copyright holding is over; otherwise, the copyright control is in breach of copyright laws.

Now, as copyright laws seem to be ever changing, any system will eventually be in breach.

Does that make sense?
posted by Neale at 4:37 PM on August 12, 2002

To my mind, the future of our democracy depends on this fight and the fight to reform campaign finance laws.

What's really at stake here is more than just copyright or Disney profits. No, this is about fighting a power grab of profoundly greater significance. The issue here is nothing less than whether, in a time when virtually all meaningful speech has become digital speech, our Constitutional rights will continue to have any meaning.

The way I see it, this is not a conservative or progressive issue, it's a fight for human rights and the future of our nation.
posted by AlexSteffen at 4:51 PM on August 12, 2002

Neale, I think I understand what you are getting at. Here's the deal (I think): After the 95 year work-for-hire (or life plus-70 years for individuals) the work is no longer protected by Title 17 (Copyright Act), so if it is no longer protected by Title 17, then circumventing copy protection could not be stopped. At least by the current Copyright Act. I think you are actually making a common fundamental mistake in the interpretation though (correct me if I am wrong): Just because something is no longer protected does not mean the copyright owner has to make it easy to get to. Of course, if the work is registered, then the Library of Congress has two copies of the work also.
Okay, lets say the copyrights in a sound recording expire and said sound recording was copy protected. Technically, I think copy protection on that CD is also part of that "recording" (the whole disc is copyrighted) so nobody would have to remove it, although it could be removed after the work goes into the public domain but the copyright owner wouldn't have to do it. I hope I didn't confuse things even more.
posted by anathema at 5:08 PM on August 12, 2002

Just because something is no longer protected does not mean the copyright owner has to make it easy to get to

True: But at the same time they cannot prevent people getting to it once it falls into the public domain. So if you produce all your copyrighted material in a non-copiable form, you have failed to live up to the bargain (you get protection for 70/95 years so long as after that it's freely available).

nobody would have to remove it, although it could be removed

Exactly - if the copyright control cannot be removed it is fundamentally in breach of copyright law.

So whoever makes the control will have to make it fundamentally broken.
posted by Neale at 5:16 PM on August 12, 2002

I'm not sure of your source for the "fundamentally in breach," idea. I don't think that is true at all. Of course you could make a zillion analog copies and even sell them after the term expires. Digital copies are obviously more problematic, but still I don't think anyone would currently be in "breach" of the Copyright Act. There is surely a good argument that they would be in breach of copyright ideals though.
posted by anathema at 5:22 PM on August 12, 2002

Neale, I think we are both getting at similar things. Lessig points out in Code that the code is what makes all of this regulable and access to encryption and "de"-encryption technologies and algorithms is where the major battle will take place. Right now though (as far as I know), nothing in the Copyright Act says that copy protected works have to be "de"-encrypted when the term expires.
posted by anathema at 5:35 PM on August 12, 2002

anathema: FWIW, the successor to Code just isn't as good; he's tackling a fundamentally more complex topic and as a result doesn't frame it as clearly and as concisely as he does with Code. It's still definitely worth reading, just don't expect it to be a huge step forward from Code.
[proud EFF member for two years now who hopes to study under Lessig when this whole software thing gets old]
posted by louie at 5:36 PM on August 12, 2002

I have about 15 mins of battery power left so no links, but two other good reads:

Fast Forward by James Lardner--Not much law, but a good book about the seminal Sony Betamax case, lots of good history about Sony and MPAA/home copying.

Copyright's Highway by Paul Goldstein--Lots of law. Very readable history of copyright going back before the Statute of Anne. Good for the lay person and legal folks.

Jessica Litman has written some good articles but I found her book, Digital Copyright inaccurate and almost unreadable.
posted by anathema at 5:47 PM on August 12, 2002

What inaccuracies were there in Digital Copyright? I'm no expert in Copyright History but everything I do know jibed with what Litman wrote there.
posted by louie at 5:53 PM on August 12, 2002

Great stuff, but it would be really nice to have this story available in a more usable format. I'd like to get back the list of lawmakers on our side, but it's a pain to redo the download and then fast-forward through the presentation to find it.

On the subject of the "Digital Vigilante" bill (we need more slogans like that): the local newspaper from the district of Congressman Coble, the bill's sponsor, attacked the bill in a column last week, and combined with an e-mail campaign, managed to get a response. I'm not entirely sure I agree with the journalist's conciliatory approach, though.
posted by fuzz at 6:28 PM on August 12, 2002

Yes, is there a transcript somewhere? All I found were these notes from the conference by Dan Gillmor.
posted by azimuth at 6:38 PM on August 12, 2002

Doc Searls did a related presentation.
posted by holloway at 6:40 PM on August 12, 2002

we need more slogans like that

This is what I've been thinking about, especially given the part in the presentation where Lessig quotes the politician saying "if you're explaining, you're losing." It's too true - I found this a great piece of work, but I know even a lot of my weblog readers won't spend half an hour learning about something they'll probably assume to be an obscure tech issue. 'Free the mouse' is great - but maybe the eldred page it's meant to link to isn't really stirring enough? (If only the court case was could be 'rebranded' Mickey Mouse vs. America or something... Freedom Lovers vs. Disney's Culture-Hating Frozen Brain... no wait, too many words.)

Can we start calling the MPAA terrorists yet?
posted by D at 7:22 PM on August 12, 2002

that presentation made me give some too, and i was thinking, there is so much free (gratis) software out there, people should start making people give donations to EFF. movable type upgrade? $5 donation to EFF... not for everything, but maybe sometimes. especially if the software is open source.
posted by rhyax at 7:36 PM on August 12, 2002

Part of the problem with battling hollywood is that they are the spin kings, the masters of presentation, the leaders in branding and advertising. They've been doing it for so long they can just about sell anything - especially to politicians looking for corporate kudos.
posted by Neale at 7:41 PM on August 12, 2002

You can send a donation of $5 or more to the Eldred Legal Defense Fund and they'll send you a CD of the presentation. (Note: the Eldred Legal Defense Fund covers expenses of the case only. The lawyers (on the Eldred side at least) have donated their time for free. Left over funds will be donated to an appropriate charity.)
posted by kathryn at 7:44 PM on August 12, 2002

D: I think "Free the Mouse" is a terrible slogan. It portrays the issue as an anti-corporate, no-logo campaign, which basically guarantees that the majority of people won't listen.

"Freedom to Create" is much better. I actually don't care that much about whether I can use Mickey or not. But I care a lot about whether I can use music creation and distribution technologies freely without having to pay tribute to the RIAA, Microsoft, or anyone else who wants to control the flow of content. I don't want more freedom to consume Disney product, I just want to be able to route around them.

This is why Lessig's work with Creative Commons and his attempts to show non-infringing uses of file sharing technology are so important. The bad guys already control the terms of debate on "piracy" and "making sure artists get paid". We need to shift the debate to the chilling effects on new creation of both technology and content, and find slogans that frame them as threats to ordinary people.

We need simple ideas and concrete examples to explain the threats involved.
posted by fuzz at 7:46 PM on August 12, 2002

I'm so glad he slagged off websites in the "what have you done?" section. Running a weblog is the extent of political activism Jack Valenti would prefer you do, as it keeps you far away and completely disconnected from anyone with any power or the people that might agree with you.

Copyrights control creation.
posted by raaka at 7:56 PM on August 12, 2002

"Free the mouse" is an absolutely terrible slogan. It doesn't make a lick of sense to anyone outside the debate. It's like the protesters I see in front of the World Bank a block from my office carrying "Close the School of the Assassins!" signs.

Yeah, I get it, because I already understand the issue. For a generation soaked in advertising and marketing, we sure don't seem to understand how to use it.
posted by GriffX at 8:15 PM on August 12, 2002

Addendum to my earlier note:

I'd like to get back the list of lawmakers on our side

Boucher, Cannon, Hank Perritt.
posted by kathryn at 8:19 PM on August 12, 2002

I wonder how much money for the EFF this post on MeFi alone generated. I just threw in my $65, which is the biggest political contribution I've made in years.
posted by GriffX at 8:29 PM on August 12, 2002

Does anyone know what Lessig was talking about in the beginning of the presentation when he mentioned that this talk would be one of his last. Is he retiring? If so, it would be a shame since he is one of the most clear-thinking and articulate speakers that we have on this issue..
posted by rks404 at 9:35 PM on August 12, 2002

Professor Lessig has ended his speaking campaign to turn attention to the Eldred v. Ashcroft case. He will not be speaking again until sometime next year.
posted by raaka at 11:49 PM on August 12, 2002

"Free Mickey!" or "Mickey wants to be free!"
posted by raaka at 12:09 AM on August 13, 2002

I agree that "Free the Mouse" is a terrible slogan.

For a slogan to be effective, it needs to:

a) tell people why they should care;
b) stick in their memory.

Free the Mouse might meet b), but since no one not already familiar with the issue knows what it means, it miserably fails the first test.

So, why should "regular folks" care?
posted by AlexSteffen at 1:24 AM on August 13, 2002

"All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable."

- H D Thoreau
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:06 AM on August 13, 2002

I think one of the problems with freeing information is that people to a large degree aren't able to wrap their heads around the concept.

Sure, regulation of use isn't very old at all, but it's older than I am. How do we teach people that it's not the norm, or perhaps that it shouldn't be the norm, when it's all they know?
posted by cCranium at 7:07 AM on August 13, 2002

I don't suppose anyone has a link to a stand-alone MP3 rather than the annoying flash version?
posted by stevengarrity at 7:11 AM on August 13, 2002

For a slogan to be effective, it needs to:

a) tell people why they should care;
b) stick in their memory.

I agree with b), but a) is explaining. It doesn't have to do that, if it can incite curiousity. Or just stick in the head. This is the equivalent of "Do the Dew," it doesn't have to say anything, really. But you do have to take care as to how the slogan is positioned as part of an overall statement - this is the thing that goes at the end of an ad, which works well as a 'call to action', but what goes before it? (I have some ideas, but they're sort of half-baked at the moment.) On the web, I don't find that the main page is really welcoming or inviting or expository enough to retain the average visitor. "Free the mouse - what's that? Oh, it's just some court case."

Has the EFF done PSAs?
posted by D at 7:59 AM on August 13, 2002

The more I read Lessig the more he impresses me as one of the more thoughtful and reasonable people in this debate by recognizing that copyright can be a useful tool for encouraging innovation, while pointing out that taken to extremes, copyright can be an inhibiting factor. Honestly, I would like to see the return of copyright notices. Also I think that a fair compromise would be to require registration as a prerequisite for protection beyond a certain period of time.

However I'm also frustrated by all or nothing approaches to copyright issues. In many cases, copyright simply means "please let me know if you intend to use this" and I have very rarely had problems getting permission to use portions of a work. I suspect that a good portion of those 10,000 out of print books could be released into the public domain or made available through a liberal license with a little bit of elbow grease and a few nice words. Universities could lead the way on a by treating release of works as a form of sponsorship. The publisher gets name recognition for releasing works that were sitting in the vaults, the university gets name recognition for doing the work of digitizing and releasing the works, and the public gets liberal access to the works.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:10 AM on August 13, 2002

I don't suppose anyone has a link to a stand-alone MP3 rather than the annoying flash version?

I haven't found one yet, and I'd love to add it to my regular playlist.

I do find it awfully amusing that an anti-copyright presentation is only easily available in a proprietary format.
posted by cCranium at 8:15 AM on August 13, 2002

KJS: the problem w/ those out of print books is that since _every_ work is copyrighted, if you can't track down the owner of the copyright, even if it's abandoned, even if you're creating a derivative work, then you literally can't get your new work published. The publisher won't take the (very likely) chance of being litigated if your work hits the radar in any way. the Creative Commons is one such project that tries to help alleviate this problem for future works, and allows basically what you propose.

cCranium : Being easily amused is a definite plus. However, I'll have to burst your bubble a bit. SWF, although binary, is an open format. Now, on the flip side, the most popular player is proprietary, widely available. There is really no viable alternative for this type of presentation format right now. We should probably make MP3s or OGGs of this available somewhere... (and the PPTs/WMF/PNGs/FLA too I suppose).

BTW, stevengarrity, how is the flash is "annoying"? It's just Larry's slides timed to the audio?
posted by lhl at 10:38 AM on August 13, 2002

I have the mp3, but nowhere to serve it from.

You can extract it yourself by using SWF Extractor.

lhl: The SWF format is not open. It has been reverse engineered.
The player is widely available but the official authoring tool is not. Neither of them are open source.

Instead of using flash, anyone who cares about open standards should use SVG. The authoring and playback software is not on the same level yet, no, that's why you should help develop it :)
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:52 AM on August 13, 2002

I don't get the sense that Lessig is anti-copyright in the same way that RMS is. At least in The Future of Ideas he asserts that copyright can be useful for innovation. When they stop providing an incentive they become a problem. His claim is that congress is has lost track of the constitutional mandate for copyright.

KJS: the problem w/ those out of print books is that since _every_ work is copyrighted, if you can't track down the owner of the copyright, even if it's abandoned, even if you're creating a derivative work, then you literally can't get your new work published. The publisher won't take the (very likely) chance of being litigated if your work hits the radar in any way. the Creative Commons is one such project that tries to help alleviate this problem for future works, and allows basically what you propose.

That is a significant problem. However I think that frequently copyright reformers overstate the difficulty in getting permissions. Then again, I'm working in a culture where very few people make money through publication. Copyright primarily serves as a way to reduce the chances of your work being appropriated out of context.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:00 AM on August 13, 2002

sonofsamiam: The SWF format is not open. It has been reverse engineered.

According to, "Macromedia published the specifications for SWF in April 1998." That doesn't sound reverse engineered? (I am clueless on the subject though)

lhl, I'm actually very happy to hear that swf has been opened, be it by Macromedia or by reverse engineering. My only real beef with Flash itself has been that it's proprietary. I'd love to see IEEE or ISO or ANSI or some other standards organisation adopt and publish an official standard, and for third party creation and presentation tools to be viable alternatives.

I'll have to look deeper into SVG.
posted by cCranium at 11:56 AM on August 13, 2002

cCranium: they published an incomplete spec, with some things that were just plain wrong. Perhaps I'm being uncharitable, but it seemed to me at the time that they had no real interest in opening the spec.
That was the main reason it took so long for any independent SWF support to show up.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:09 PM on August 13, 2002

sonof, to clarify, I'm not a huge fan of Flash myself, but you, you seem to be holding a grudge. Despite what may happened in the past, SWF is now a very open format. You can say it's not as much as you want, but it won't change the fact that the tools and specs are there. No, it's not overseen by an international standards body, but that doesn't make it less useful.

Now, to part two of your silliness. Please, do tell me of all the open source authoring tools that I should have used for this project. Also, let me know about the open source players that I should personally distribute to people's browsers so they can see the presentation I want them to see.

But perhaps you're right. If I really care about open standards I should forget about actually getting anything I need to get done, and instead just bitch on Metafilter about it.

How's this. All the source files are up. You want an SVG presentation? Do it yourself or stfu.
posted by lhl at 5:16 PM on August 13, 2002

lhl: Well, I apologize if I've irritated you; I didn't mean to be bitchy. My criticism was intended to be constructive.

You may be right, I may be guilty of carrying a grudge against Macromedia. (of course, Adobe, the prime mover on SVG, is not exactly on the side of all that is good and true, either.)

Thank you for posting the sources.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:36 AM on August 14, 2002

No hard feelings. That probably came off harsher than was intended. Dealing w/ emails from all these OS cheerleaders telling you to use their religious format of choice (emphasis on you of course. they can't do it because they're much too busy sending out emails and posting on /. to actually *gasp* ...contribute), even if it's not realistic or possible, can get on the ol' nerves. I've asked them to feel free to make the SVG/SMIL presentations themselves, but I've gotten no takers yet.

I think most of them miss the whole point of Lessig's talk. The emphasis is: "What have you done?"
posted by lhl at 1:13 PM on August 14, 2002

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