Lawrence Lessig

Web 2.0
21 minutes, 9.7mb, recorded 2004-10-07
Lawrence Lessig
The freedom to comment on, critique and reference other peoples words, thoughts and ideas has enabled traditional broadcast democracy where journalists, commentators and critics analyses the world we live in. Such freedom should not be taken for granted. As a "bottom up" model of democracy emerges anyone with access to a computer can express and share their views through media remixing. While a future where bloggers becomes the new broadcasters offers exciting possibilities it also poses new challenges and risks. Currently, under the existing "opt in" based copyright regime the sharing of remixed media is illegal without consent from the copyright owner - a restriction which threatens free expression.

In an engaging and often humorous presentation Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Stanford and a Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), presents the legal dangers faced by makers of new media and society in general. By presenting media remixing as the "creative writing" of the future he highlights the dangers of moving from a free culture where discussion and free speech are taken for granted, to a permission culture where permission to reproduce media messages will depend on the use of that media.

Arguing for a balanced approach to copyright law Professor Lessig uses a number of examples of remixed media where restricting permission to the original media threatened to restrict creativity. In a permission culture, access to copyrighted material is controlled by lawyers and permission is not being granted. Examples include the Cannes selected file Tarnation, created for US$218 dollars but requiring over US$400k for permission to distribute the music tracks used. Another example involved lawyers refusing permission for a parody video remix of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair because they did not see it as funny. He invites us imagine our current society if, in the late 19th century, courts had decided that permission was required to publish and share each image captured using the emerging technology of personal photography.

The presentation finishes with a haunting reminder that the freedom to remix text and express ourselves through free speech was earned should not be taken for granted - if we lose the freedom to remix media we ultimately lose the right to speak up and lose the power to express ourselves.

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Lawrence Lessig is a Professor of Law and John A. Wilson Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Stanford Law School. Professor Lessig is the chairman of the board of Creative Commons, founder of the school's Center for Internet and Society and a sits on the board of directors for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Public Library of Science. In 2002, Lessig was named one of Scientific American's Top 50 Innovators, and the American Bar Association recently awarded him the Cyberspace Law Excellence Award.

From 1991 to 1997, Lessig was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. He then became the Berkman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. In 1999-2000, he was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin before moving to Stanford in 2000.

Lessig teaches and writes in the areas of constitutional law, law and high technology, Internet regulation, comparative constitutional law, and the law of cyberspace. His book, Code, and Other Laws of Cyberspace, was published by Basic Books, and The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, is available from Random House. His most recent book, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity, is now available online at and from Penguin Press.


This is a presentation delivered at the Web 2.0 Conference held in San Francisco, CA, October 5-7, 2004. Our thanks go to MediaLive International and O'Reilly Media, the producers of Web 2.0, for permission to bring you this session, one of many from Web 2.0 here on IT Conversations.

For Team ITC:

  • Description editor: Paul Power
  • Post-production audio engineer: Tom Parish

This free podcast is from our Web 2.0 Conference series.