Call#: Van Pelt Library KF2979 .M348 2005
Freedom of Expression is a very recent book in the tradition of Free Culture and The Future of Ideas. McLeod describes how the two main enemies of the creative public are the CTEA and the DMCA. He has a more optimistic view than we see in Lessig’s writings – he believes that individuals do have options when it comes to “overzealous copyright bozos”. Fair use is expensive, but should be used in court cases, following the principle of “use it or lose it”. And individuals should not back down when confronted with frivolous threats or lawsuits – they should do their research, educate themselves and others, and explore spaces and holes in the law. He also gives examples of free speech cases where the “copyright bozos” lost, including Nader v. MasterCard, “Victor’s Little Secret” v Victoria’s Secret, and Annie Liebowitz’s case against the Naked Gun franchise.
McLeod’s book is a veritable encyclopedia of examples from every aspect of modern life as to how the privatization of our culture is harming us irrevocably. He goes over sampling and music, collage art, book publishing and education, filmmaking, the internet and online content, the privatization of nature and public spaces, and electronic voting. He explains how in today’s world such innovators as Woody Guthrie, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muddy Waters would be copyright infringers of the highest order. He argues that “freedom of expression” (which he trademarked for the book as an example of the extreme to which private ownership has gone) needs to have greater meaning to public life. This ownership, branding, and franchising of life impedes innovation and creativity. It is better for business, but worse for creative people. Society as a whole needs the existence of “the commons”, because the alternative goes against our cultural traditions. In the discussion of folk and blues music, he stresses the importance of building on tradition, and states that “a rented future forgets the past”.
McLeod explains how compulsory licenses in music would help artists and the market, and how Creative Commons licenses are good for society because they increase the public domain. He advocates for moderation, and a balanced public policy that takes into account private and public interests. This book is Free Culture’s “hip” younger brother, and could educate younger generations and pop culture experts to the current state of copyright in the US.
Call#: Van Pelt Library KF2979 .L47 2004
Lessig illustrates a wide variety of specific examples, offers a thorough discussion of the important issues, and describes complex legal and economic issues in very easy-to-understand language. His mission seems to be to get this information about the current state of American copyright out to the public, since they are the ones being most harmed by the extremes of copyright control. The two main arguments are that over-extensive copyright goes against the tradition of developing new creative works from what has come before, and that the continuing extension of copyrights is unconstitutional (by ignoring the wording of the law that states a copyright will be for “limited times”). The lament is for the lack of a plentiful public domain, and how that negatively affects transformational and innovative expression. It also prevents important information from being disseminated to the public.
Much of the book centers on the Eldred v Ashcroft case which made it to the Supreme Court. The case focused on the two issues mentioned above. Lessig’s honesty about the arguments and outcome of the case are refreshing, but his overall view is pessimistic. The Supreme Court decision was against Eldred, stating that Congress can continue to extend older copyrights at their discretion, setting up a system of lobbying and corruption.
Lessig’s dislike and distrust of extremes is clear, and he does offer some ideas for a more moderate copyright culture in the US. One of the ideas expounded is Creative Commons, a way for content owners to license their own work, and start creating a richer public domain. It is now up to creators and artists themselves, since large corporations and Congress seem to be working together to restrict the public domain.
The goal of Creative Commons is to build a reasonable layer of copyright for the public to access. The licenses are simple, and easy to read - no need for a lawyer. There is a variety of licenses offered, so the creator can choose what they want; somewhere between “all” and “no rights reserved”. It gives copyright owners a wider realm of freedom, but also creates a world of content that others can use and build on.