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Free Culture

For those of you who haven't had any contact with the Free Culture movement, I suggest you do some reading. Pioneered by Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford University, the Free Culture movement concentrates on a number of things, the most interesting of which (to me, of course) is the concept of proprietary culture.

But wait, you said this was about Free Culture! Well yes, it is, but only because of it's exclusive opposite, the proprietary culture. I've already discussed this to some degree, but proprietary culture involves a culture in which the products of culture (music, art, literature, etc.) are owned by commercial interests and may now be used in any other cultural production through the miracle of copyright.

In particular, Lessig cites Jazz as a cultural product that could never have existed if copyright continues as it has been over the last two decades or so. In one of the most memorable sequences, Lessig describes a scene in which a pioneering jazz great invents the blues scale, realizes it's very cool, and patents it. Thus ends the history of blues.

Lessig is very excited about remixes and/or mashups, and I think he's on to something in that he observes that our culture is moving farther and farther away from allowing cultural products to react against one another and incorporate form and content in satires and complementary productions. In another parallel situation, one can imagine how copyright laws could prevent anyone from every producing another work in the style of "House of Leaves" unless they pay the copyright licensing fee…

All in all, Lessig is a very bright and interesting guy. Like many pioneers, I think he's very idealistic and a bit unpractical, but regardless I think it's a viewpoint that is completely underrepresented in a modern society where the media is dominated by press releases from the RIAA and MPAA.