3.01.2005

Utopian Infection

Well it couldn't last forever. Two of my favorite idea people have seemingly contradictory ideas. The good news? I get to harass both of them at the Emerging Technology Conference in two weeks. In fact, I'm going to email Lessig and see if he'll agree to sneak into Chris Anderson's presentation. I have a spare sombrero that might come in handy.




Here's the crux of the contradiction:
In Free Culture, Lessig writes (page 225):

Of all the creative work produced by humans anywhere, a tiny fraction has continuing commercial value. For that tiny fraction, the copyright is a crucially important legal device. For that tiny fraction, the copyright creates incentives to produce and distribute the creative work. For that tiny fraction, the copyright acts as an “engine of free expression.”

But even for that tiny fraction, the actual time during which the creative work has a commercial life is extremely short. As I’ve indicated, most books go out of print within one year. The same is true of music and film. Commercial culture is sharklike. It must keep moving. And when a creative work falls out of favor with the commercial distributors, the commercial life ends.

Contrast that with The Long Tail:

You can find everything out there on the Long Tail. There's the back catalog, older albums still fondly remembered by longtime fans or rediscovered by new ones. There are live tracks, B-sides, remixes, even (gasp) covers. There are niches by the thousands, genre within genre within genre: Imagine an entire Tower Records devoted to '80s hair bands or ambient dub. There are foreign bands, once priced out of reach in the Import aisle, and obscure bands on even more obscure labels, many of which don't have the distribution clout to get into Tower at all.

Part of the solution, Anderson argues, is a renouncement of copyright in favor of things like the Creative Commons license. I still haven't figured out the rest of his argument and even he admits "We don't yet know how the money will eventually flow through this collaborative network." I find these ideas more interesting than just about anything I've ever come across but they're horribly complicated. Maybe that's why I like computers.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jeff Martin said...

I'm not sure there is a contradiction. The original copyright term was 28 years for works explicitly registered. Elsewhere Lessig has argued that the current automatic term of "life of auther plus 70 years" is too long. Lessig's points in "Free Culture" would be adequately supported by the original 28 year term.

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And when a creative work falls out of favor with the commercial distributors, the commercial life ends.Until someone reissues it, and it's a hit. What planet is Lessig on?

10:09 AM  

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