March 29, 2004
Solum's Blogospheric Bookclub
by Nick Morgan
Although I'm woefully behind in class reading, I'll make an effort to keep up with Professor Solum's Bookclub reading of Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig (download it here for free). Maybe others will join the blogospheric discussion.
Lessig writes (as Solum quotes):
[W]e come from a tradition of “free culture”—not“free” as in “free beer” (to borrow a phrase from the founder of the freesoftware movement), but “free” as in “free speech,” “free markets,” “free trade,” “free enterprise,” “free will,” and “free elections.”
[t]he free culture that I defend in this book is a balance between anarchy and control.
If you are a frequent reader of Legal Theory Blog, you know that I have a certain intellectual style. I have a strong affinity for intellectually rigorous, carefully formulated arguments. Lessig is a brilliant guy. I am a great admirer of his work on the relationship between Code and law--but Lessign's style is much looser, more free flowing, and less linear than I usually admire. As I start to read to Free Culture, I begin to get must a bit antsy. I can see where Lessig is going, but I am worried about precision. "Free will" and "free markets" aren't really free in the same sense. "A balance between anarchy and control"--that's a nice phrase, but what does it really mean? Of course, we are very early in the book and patience is a virtue. So I press on.
I myself was a bit uneasy with these sweeping contrasts between "anarchy" and "control," but I find myself more tolerant of the ambiguity than Solum. The notions of freedom Lessig contrasts are certainly not (yet) rigorous, but I think they adequately pinpoint the basic concerns of the anti-IP movement. The freedom so far articulated is the freedom that makes progress possible--open and flowing speech, expression, self-determination, and invention. There's no need to bring down the barrier that makes this beer mine, and not yours, but Lessig is setting us up to be critical of barriers that we don't, in fact, generally want, and that haven't, in fact, been part of our cultural traditions of creativity. Barriers that his book has so far suggested arise from big money and corrupt politics are apparently barriers that interfere with freedom as we like it. We just don't yet understand the change that's in progress, but
If we understood this change, I believe we would resist it. Not “we” on the Left or “you” on the Right, but we who have no stake in the particular industries of culture that defined the twentieth century. Whether you are on the Left or the Right, if you are in this sense disinterested, then the story I tell here will trouble you. For the changes I describe affect values that both sides of our political culture deem fundamental.
So unlike Solum, my hope is not so much that Lessig's writing will prove formally rigorous, but that the story he tells will indeed make the case that intellectual property, today, betrays widely shared values of freedom and progress. We shall see.
March 29, 2004 05:44 PM
Am reading chapter 1 and 2 - thanks to both you and Solum for keeping the momentum of the review going.
What is a book?
Interesting: a source where language finds expression?