Free Culture: Lawrence Lessig Keynote from OSCON 2002
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Here's my Adobe eBook Reader, right. Some of you have seen this before, I'm sure. Here's Middle March; this is a work in the public domain. Here are the "permissions" (a lawyer had something to do with this) that you can do with this work in the public domain: You are allowed to copy ten selections into the clipboard every ten days--like, who got these numbers, I don't know--but you can print ten pages of this 4 million page book every ten days, and you are allowed to feel free to use the read-aloud button to listen to this book, right?

Now, Aristotle's Politics, another book in the public domain [that was] never really protected by copyright, but with this book, you can't copy any text into the selection, you can't print any pages, but feel free to listen to this book aloud. And to my great embarrassment, here's my latest book, right? No copying, no printing, and don't you dare use the technology to read my book aloud. [Laughter] I'll have a sing button in the next version of Adobe. Read a book; read a book.

The point is that control is built into the technology. Book sellers in 1760 had no conception of the power that you coders would give them some day in the future, and that control adds to this expansion of law. Law and technology produce, together, a kind of regulation of creativity we've not seen before. Right? Because here, here's a simple copyright lesson: Law regulates copies. What's that mean? Well, before the Internet, think of this as a world of all possible uses of a copyrighted work. Most of them are unregulated. Talking about fair use, this is not fair use; this is unregulated use. To read is not a fair use; it's an unregulated use. To give it to someone is not a fair use; it's unregulated. To sell it, to sleep on top of it, to do any of these things with this text is unregulated. Now, in the center of this unregulated use, there is a small bit of stuff regulated by the copyright law; for example, publishing the book--that's regulated. And then within this small range of things regulated by copyright law, there's this tiny band before the Internet of stuff we call fair use: Uses that otherwise would be regulated but that the law says you can engage in without the permission of anybody else. For example, quoting a text in another text--that's a copy, but it's a still fair use. That means the world was divided into three camps, not two: Unregulated uses, regulated uses that were fair use, and the quintessential copyright world. Three categories.

Enter the Internet. Every act is a copy, which means all of these unregulated uses disappear. Presumptively, everything you do on your machine on the network is a regulated use. And now it forces us into this tiny little category of arguing about, "What about the fair uses? What about the fair uses?" I will say the word: To hell with the fair uses. What about the unregulated uses we had of culture before this massive expansion of control? Now, unregulated uses disappear, we argue about fair use, and they find a way to remove fair use, right? Here's a familiar creature to many of you, right? The wonderful Sony Aibo Pet, which you can teach to do all sorts of things. Somebody set up a wonderful site to teach people how to hack their dogs. Now remember, their dogs, right? And this site actually wanted to help you hack your dog to teach your dog to dance jazz. Remember (Europeans are sometimes confused about this), it's not a crime to dance jazz in the United States.

This is a completely permissible activity--even for a dog to dance jazz. In Georgia, there are a couple jurisdictions I'm not sure about [laughter], but mainly, dancing jazz is an OK activity. So said, "Here, here's how to hack your dog to make it dance jazz." If anything, it would be a fair use of this piece of plastic that costs over $1,500. You would think, "This is a fair use," right?

Letter to the site: Your site contains information providing the means to circumvent Aibo, where copy protection protocol constitutes a violation of the anticircumvention provisions of the DMCA. Even though the use is fair use, the use is not permitted under the law. Fair use, erased by this combination of technological control and laws that say "don't touch it," leaving one thing left in this field that had three, controls copyright, [thereby] controlling creativity.

Now, here's the thing you've got to remember. You've got to see this. This is the point. (And Jack Valenti misses this.) Here's the point: Never has it been more controlled ever. Take the addition, the changes, the copyrights turn, take the changes to copyrights scope, put it against the background of an extraordinarily concentrated structure of media, and you produce the fact that never in our history have fewer people controlled more of the evolution of our culture. Never.

Not even before the birth of free culture, not in 1773 when copyrights were perpetual, because again, they only controlled printing. How many people had printers? You could do what you wanted with these works. Ordinary uses were completely unregulated. But today, your life is perpetually regulated in the world that you live in. It is controlled by the law. Here is the refrain: Creativity depends on stopping that control. They will always try to impose it; we are free to the extent that we resist it, but we are increasingly not free.

You or the GNU, you can pick, build a world of transparent creativity--that's your job, this weird exception in the 21st century of an industry devoted to transparent creativity, the free sharing of knowledge. It was not a choice in 1790; it was nature in 1790. You are rebuilding nature. This is what you do. You build a common base that other people can build upon. You make money, not, well, not enough, but some of you make money off of this. This is your enterprise. Create like it's 1790. That's your way of being. And you remind the rest of the world of what it was like when creativity and innovation were a process where people added to common knowledge. In this battle between a proprietary structure and a free structure, you show the value of the free, and as announcements such as the RealNetworks announcement demonstrate, the free still captures the imagination of the most creative in this industry. But just for now. Just for now. Just for now, because free code threatens and the threats turn against free code.

Let's talk about software patents. There's a guy, Mr. Gates, who's brilliant, right? He's brilliant. A brilliant business man; he has some insights, he is even a brilliant policy maker. Here's what he wrote about software patents: "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today." Here's the first thing I'm sure you've read of Bill Gates that you all 100 percent agree with. Gates is right. He is absolutely right. Then we shift into the genius business man: "The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high. Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors." Excluding future competitors.

Now, it's been four years since this battle came onto your radar screens in a way that people were upset about. Four years. And there have been tiny changes in the space. There have been a bunch of "Tim" changes, right? Tim went out there and he set up something to attack bad patents. That was fine. There were a bunch of Q. Todd Dickinson changes. He was a former head of the patent commission--never saw a patent he didn't like. But he made some minor changes in how this process should work. But the field has been dominated by apologists for the status quo. Apologists who say, We've always patented everything, therefore we should continue to patent this. People like Greg Aharonian, who goes around and says every single patent out there is idiotic. But it turns out that the patent system's wonderful and we should never reform it at all. Right?

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