Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity

~by Lawrence Lessig

I read the first section of this book, "Piracy", for one of my foundation courses at the University of Michigan's School of Information. Later, I read the rest of the book on my own while taking a class on intellectual property and information law and found that it complemented the coursework very nicely.

Since the relatively straightforward first copyright act in implemented in 1790, United States copyright law has become increasingly complicated and makes fair use exceedingly more difficult. Constitutionally speaking, copyright was created for the public good; congress was granted the power--
To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive rights to their respective writings and discoveries.
But more recently, it seems that the "Big Media" is using its powerful lobby to lock down intellectual property. Lawrence Lessig argues that the United States was once based on a "free culture" (free as in free speech, not free beer) in which the rights of creators are in balance with the needs of society. But that balance has been thrown out of whack. Free Culture is written to oppose the extremism at both ends of the copyright spectrum--those who want to get rid of copyright entirely and those who want to extend its reach even further.

Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School, is anything but anti-copyright. Rather, he argues that the current system has gotten out of hand and needs to be reevaluated. He encourages a return to the balance between the rights and privileges of creators and the rights and privileges of those who would use their work. However, he doesn't just object to the current state of affairs; he offers concrete ideas and plausible solutions to the mess that is U. S. copyright law.

The book provides a fantastic overview of copyright in the United States, past and present; especially as it applies to the Internet and related technologies. Lessig's style is both approachable and understandable, even for readers unfamiliar with the subject. Some of his visual aides were a bit confusing, and therefore not very useful, while others got his point across clearly. Overall, I would highly recommend this to anyone who has even the slightest interest in intellectual property. Actually, I would probably recommend this book even to those who don't because it's such an important subject that will only become more so as the law struggles to keep up with technology.

Free Culture is available for free here on Lawrence Lessig's website, Free Culture.