TERRY GROSS, host:
This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. The Internet has made it possible for us to have what's been described as a remix culture. You can take commercially released recordings and combine them into something new and put it on the Internet. You can make a video, use a popular recording for the soundtrack and put that on the Internet. But are these legal if you haven't paid royalties for the music? You can share your favorite recordings with anyone through to peer-to-peer networks on the Internet. But is that legal?
My guest, Lawrence Lessig, says that our copyright laws must be updated to fit the digital reality we live in or else teenagers will be seen as criminals and forms of creative expression will be trampled by outdated copyright laws. Lessig was described in the New Yorker as the most important thinker on intellectual property in the Internet era. He's a law professor at Stanford Law School and founder of the school's Center for Internet and Society. His new book is called "Remix."
Lawrence Lessig, welcome to Fresh Air. You said that the current copyright system was built for a different time, way pre-digital. So what are the parts - what are some of the parts of the copyright law that don't begin to address the digital age that we're living in?
Professor LAWRENCE LESSIG (Law, Stanford Law School; Founder, Center for Internet and Society; Author, "Remix"): Well, the most simple way in which copyright law is out of date is that copyright law was architected for a world where copies were the exception. Copies were a trigger that logically related to some event that we ought to be taxing somebody for. So for example, if you published a book, it was likely you were publishing a book in a commercial context, so it made perfect sense that the copyright owner got to control your ability to publish the book.
Well, in the digital age, every single thing we do with creative work on a digital network produces a copy, so that the act of reading in a digital network produces a copy. The act of sharing my book with my mother produces a copy. Any of these activities, which in real space would not be producing a copy, necessarily technically produce a copy in cyberspace or on the Internet.
Now, what that means is that the law presumptively, simply because the platform through which we get access to our culture has changed, radically expands its regulation over cultural activity so that now all these activities are technically within the scope of copyright law and we have to answer the question, do I have a license to do this? Do I have fair use right to do this? Do I have some other reason that I can do this particular use despite copyright that surrounds it?
So that - that's the core of the stake here, that a law that is architected around copies might make sense in the world of printing presses, but in a world where we live on the Internet and everything we do produces a copy, where copying is as common as breathing, it makes no sense to have this federal regulation triggered merely because a copy gets made.
GROSS: Part of your goal in wanting to change copyright law is to decriminalize the act of being a teenager in America. What do you mean by that?
Prof. LESSIG: Well, as anybody who has kids knows, kids take computers and the Internet as an opportunity to explore and to share and to get access to all sorts of material, much of which they do contrary to copyright law. And indeed, since the Internet really took off in this way about a decade ago, the amount of what's called peer-to-peer file sharing has going up dramatically, despite an extraordinary effort by copyright holders, administrators at schools, parents, teachers to stop kids from doing this.
Now my view, this is a kind of war of prohibition that we're waging to stop this sharing, and in my view, though I don't support kids violating other people's copyright laws, I think this war of prohibition, like the war of prohibition that ended 75 years ago this month, is a failure.
GROSS: If you would run through for us some of the things that you think teenagers typically do that would officially be criminal under current copyright law. You mentioned peer-to-peer file sharing, which is when you send, like, say, your music to your friend without anybody paying royalties or buying another copy of the record. What else?
Prof. LESSIG: Well, that actually might be a harder case because you know, sharing with your friends, one friend is probably not a problem. It's sharing with your 10,000 best friends, which is what people do when they use peer-to-peer file sharing services, where they - they go onto the service and they download songs which they have not purchased or they make their own songs available for others to download. They're sharing their music, and they're sharing with lots of people all around the world. And that activity is presumptively illegal in the United States.
Now, there's other activity which I actually would encourage people to do, which at least the copyrights industries thinks is criminal. For example, I tell a story in my book about a mother who captured a hilarious video of her son learning to dance, a 13-month-old learning to dance. And she shared this video with her mother by using YouTube, uploaded it to YouTube. Well, the music that Holden was dancing to was by Prince, and Universal Music contacted YouTube and told them that Stephanie Lenz was violating the laws of copyright and that piece of work had to be taken down.
Well, in my view, that activity and other activity - remixing people's work and being creative in the act or sharing this type of remix in a totally non-commercial way - ought to be fair and protected and unregulated by the law of copyright.
GROSS: Now, you're saying that there are models to change copyright law so that the law wouldn't criminalize teenagers for doing what they do now on the Internet and at the same time artists would get paid for their work. So let's look at, like, for instance, peer-to-peer file sharing, where you can take any music and send it to thousands of people with no money changing hands. What's a model of dealing with that so that artists gets some compensation and the people doing the file sharing aren't criminalized for it?
Prof. LESSIG: Well, one model is advanced by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It's called a voluntary collective license. And what it says is as long as you buy this license, you know, at some low fee a year, you're free to share that music without any further payment or fear of prosecution. And then the system samples...
GROSS: Would you do that per song or just like one fee for anything that - anything you wanted?
Prof. LESSIG: For anything.
GROSS: For anything you wanted.
Prof. LESSIG: For anything, that's right.
GROSS: So you'd be putting money in like a common pool.
Prof. LESSIG: Right, and then that money is used based on the frequency of exchange to compensate the artist for what's being exchanged. A second model, proposed by Neil Netanel, would impose on companies - like either peer-to-peer file sharing companies or ISPs, Internet Service Providers - a fee, a tax that would compensate for non-commercial sharing of music in the same way. So rather than the consumer paying, this would be a tax on entities that would paying it. And after that tax was paid, again, the same mechanism works. You take a sample to figure out who's more popular than whom, and based on that we compensate artists according to the amount that's been shared.
In both of these models, what's - the result is that people are doing what they're doing already, but they're not doing it in a way that's illegal, and they're guaranteeing that artists will be compensated for the consequence of this sharing.
GROSS: Well, here's one thing I sometimes wonder, and I'd love to hear your opinion on this. Do you think that some teenagers who grew up knowing nothing except a digital age are a little spoiled because they're used to getting things for free on the Internet and they think therefore it should be that way and they just don't really grasp what it means for artists to do work without compensation? And so at some point, like, do we need to say, instead of catering to that perspective and saying, yeah, things should be free, rather, you know, say, no, this isn't the way the world works. If you walk into a restaurant and pay for your food, then you have to pay for a record or a movie also, or an article or a book.
Prof. LESSIG: Well, I do think that we should worry if kids can't distinguish between creative work that ought to be compensated and people ought to be paid for and stuff that genuinely should be free. But when I look at it, even though I don't support kids violating these rights, you know, I think there's a real question who's responsible for producing this particular mix of attitudes because what we haven't seen is enormous eagerness by the copyright industries or by publishers in the industry to make things that ought to be free available for free and help kids see the difference between the things that ought to be free and the things that shouldn't be free.
So for example, I'm an academic. I write articles for a living and - as well as books, but write articles for a living in the sense that I write articles that get published. I don't get paid for those articles being published, but I want them to be published so people can read them. Now, law professors' articles aren't very important in the scheme of things, but you know, there are other people in my business, like doctors or researchers about malaria, who also publish those articles.
Now, we have inherited a copyright system where the vast majority of those articles are published under restrictive copyright terms that basically say, you can't share these articles at all. And even though the author, the scholar wants nothing more of than that these articles be shared as widely as possible. You're going to get paid every time somebody reads the article or distributes the article. All the scholar wants, the malaria researcher wants is that information about this subject be spread as broadly as it can.
GROSS: So do you think a writer should have the option of saying, I want this restricted or I don't want this restricted? I want everybody to have access to this or not?
Prof. LESSIG: Yes, I do. And one of the things that we started about six years ago, a project called Creative Comments, gives artists and creators and scholars and scientists simple ways to attach to their creative work a sign that signals the freedom that they want the work to carry. So you can say, you can share this work or you can remix this work or you can share it or remix it as long as it's for non-commercial purposes, or as long - you can share it but you can't make changes. A simple set of options that you can attach to the work and thereby authorize the kinds of creative activity that you believe people should be able to engage with with your work.
Now, there's probably a 150 million objects out there on the Web right now marked with these licenses, and they're marked in contexts where it makes sense for the artist. So sometimes it's commercial artists. For example, this year, Nine Inch Nails and Radio Head and Girl Talk, were all artists who released some of their work under Creative Comments licenses. Sometimes they're scholars, books that get published and are released under Creative Comments licenses because the author wants them to be shared broadly. Sometimes they're researchers producing data that they want other people to do all sorts of analysis with and so they signal it clearly with these licenses.
But the point is, these are lots people whose business model is different from the business model of Madonna, who - I understand why she wants to do this, wants to make sure that every single copy is compensated for through a copyright system. And what we need to recognize is this diversity of different ways in which people create and reasons for which they create means we need a simpler system of copyright that enables this wide diversity of choices.
GROSS: My guest is Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School and founder of the school's Center for Internet and Society. His new book is called "Remix." We'll talk more after a break. This is Fresh Air.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Lawrence Lessig, and he is the founder of Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society. His latest book is called "Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy."
YouTube has advertising, doesn't it?
Prof. LESSIG: Yes. In some of the videos there is advertising.
GROSS: So I mean, we have this kind of like strange culture that we're developing now where there is this, like, free ethic on the Internet and people would like distribute and get things for free. At the same time, some of the big venues for doing that are profit-making ventures that make money. YouTube an example, right? They're profit-making, aren't they?
Prof. LESSIG: That's right. But I think this is one of the most interesting developments that's happened in the last four years or since I wrote my last book. I call this in the book the hybrid - the hybrid economy, where you have commercial entities that are really leveraging sharing economies, and by a sharing economy I mean people who are engaging in some kind of creative activity or sharing information or sharing photos because they just want to do that. They're not making money from it. They're just sharing because they believe in the activity or they want to support the activity.
But a commercial entity comes in and it says, OK. We're going to find a way to leverage that and make profit out of that. So Flickr, fantastic photo-sharing Web site, it's born in its DNA, right at its core was the idea that this was a site where people were to share photos and to share information about photography. But when Yahoo bought Flickr, it was because Yahoo thought it could leverage that community of sharing into value for Yahoo shareholders. And I think this is an enormously good prospect for the future of the way the Internet economy works, but it raises all sorts of complicated questions about the relationship between the commercial entity and the sharing economy.
And the commercial entity needs to respect the creators of the sharing economy, needs to make sure that it's not being heavy handed or not trying to abuse the great value that these creators are offering to them, and there's a lot of cases of companies getting it right and companies getting it wrong.
But this is, I think, the interesting development that we can see, actually, every interesting Internet business is increasingly depending upon this free-sharing activity of its users to make the site and the company more valuable.
GROSS: You've been observing the copyright piracy battles, and I know one of your issues now, and we'll get into this a little later, is your opposition to lobbies and pack money, and certainly the entertainment industry has its share of really powerful lobbies. So I wonder what you've seen the entertainment industry do that you feel is problematic as you've observed the copyright wars.
Prof. LESSIG: Well, I don't think they've done anything evil or anything that we should consider unethical. They've used the system that we have to advance their interests, but because they have such enormous economic power - and in our culture also cultural power because they can bring movie stars in or musicians in to advance their cause - they have had the ability to distort the political process so that it's not really that members in Washington, members of Congress in Washington disagree with the other side of the issue. They didn't even see that there's another side to the issue.
Now, I got into this battle when the issue was a statute passed 10 years ago called the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the term for existing copyrights by 20 years. This was the 11th time Congress extended the term of existing copyrights in the last 40 years. And I looked at that and I said, wait a minute. The copyright clause in our Constitution gives Congress the power to create copyrights for a quote "limited time." And if you can extend the time every time it expires, that makes a joke of the concept of a limited time, and more importantly, it makes no sense from the perspective of copyright, which is to create an incentive for people to make something new.
Now what we know about incentives is that they're prospective. No matter what we do, George Gershwin will not produce anything more. So it can't possibly make sense to extend the term of copyright for George Gershwin or for Robert Frost or for the Walt Disney Corporation. It might make sense to make them longer going forward, although I don't think that makes sense either, but it certainly can't make sense to make them go longer backwards. Now...
GROSS: Wait. Can I stop here for a second? But their families, their estates will lose royalty money once the copyright ends.
Prof. LESSIG: Oh, of course. I'm not saying that it doesn't make economic sense to particular people to have a longer monopoly granted by the government, of course. But the question is whether the copyright is creating an incentive to produce something new. That's what copyright is about. It's about a monopoly granted by the government in exchange for the incentive to create something. So once it's already...
GROSS: I thought it was just about giving money to the people who made the work. I never saw it the way you were describing. I didn't know that.
Prof. LESSIG: Yeah. The framing idea behind copyright, and it was strongly resisted by, for example, Jefferson, who was very skeptical of the idea of these monopolies being granted by the government. But when Jefferson and Madison had a long exchange in letters about this, Jefferson accepted Madison's characterization, and Madison's characterization was we need to grant these monopolies to create incentives for people to produce these inventions. That was his real focus but also the same justification applies to copyright.
So we create the incentive, and once we create the incentive, people produce work, and once they produce work, they ought to be compensated for it. But once the work is created, it can't make any sense to extend the term if what you're trying to do is create an incentive as opposed to just pay off rich contributors who have made lots of very prominent contributions to your campaign, and that's the point. What was clear in this battle was that it wasn't that there was good reason on both sides. Indeed, when we took this case to the Supreme Court, there was a brief filed by a bunch of economists, including five Nobel Prize-winning economists, including Milton Friedman, Ronald Coase, James Buchanan, a bunch of conservative economists. And Milton Friedman said he wouldn't sign the brief unless the word "no-brainer" was in the brief somewhere, so clear was it to him that there could be no public benefit from extending the term of an existing copyright that he wanted that point made as plainly as possible to the court.
Well, then, why is Congress doing it? Congress is doing it because of the enormous political influence that money in this system has. And what I recognized a little bit more slowly than it should have taken, but what I recognized about a year ago was that obviously, this was not the only area of public policy where money was having that distorting influence. It hit me when I was, you know, paying attention to Al Gore's film and Al Gore's speeches about global warming, and it struck that if it's not just some esoteric area of public policy like copyright where the affect of money was distorting the outcome, but the most important public policy question we're facing, questions of global warming where money was distorting the public policy response to this problem, then it was time to focus on what is the underlying first problem here, which is the problem of money and its influence on how politics gets done.
And so that's the focus that I shifted to but certainly it was recognizing that in the context of copyright that got me onto this problem.
GROSS: Lawrence Lessig will be back in the second half of the show. He's the founder of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society. His new book is called "Remix." Here's a track from Radioheads CD, "In Rainbows," which the band initially released on the Internet using a pay-as-you-want model. I'm Terry Gross, and this is Fresh Air.
(Soundbite of song "15 Step")
RADIOHEADS: (Singing) How come I end up where I started How come I end up where I went wrong Won't take my eyes off the ball again You cut me in and reel the string You used to be all right What happened? Did the cat get your tongue Did your string come undone One by one One by one It comes to us all It's as soft as your pillow...
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross, back with Lawrence Lessig, a leader of the movement to update copyright laws and bring them into the digital age. He's a professor at Stanford Law School and the founder of the school's Center for Internet and Society. His new book is called "Remix." But as we'll hear in a few minutes, he's about to start a new chapter in his life and work.
In your book, "Remix," you give some examples of very successful Web sites - Google, Amazon, Netflix - and in thinking of those three sites, I mean, what I thought about was that none of them produces anything original. I mean in the sense that, you know, Google is links; Amazon sells books; Netflix distributes DVDs. They're not creating the content. They're just distributing and selling it or they're not selling it but they're delivering your eyeballs to their advertisers. And - I mean, do you know of a lot of examples on the Internet that are actually profitable that are also originating material?
Prof. LESSIG: Well, you're right that these sites are not creating the underlying material which people are getting access to because of their sites. But I think it's a mistake to move so quickly to the implication that therefore these sites are not producing enormous value to society.
GROSS: Oh, I didn't mean that. No, no. I certainly didn't mean that. I guess here is what I'm thinking, that there are so many - so many people feel like burned in a way by everything that's like free on the Internet because it means they're not getting paid for it. And I'm not sure that the Internet has come up with a model yet where content production is profitable as opposed to just selling things that are already produced.
Mr. CARTER: Well, there are some people who feel burned, I guess. I guess I'm - I'm not convinced it's actually the majority of people who have been affected by what the Internet makes possible. There's an enormous number of people who make money, for example, in the context of blogging. Not a lot of money, and maybe not hundreds of thousands of people. There are actually more musicians today who are making money from music from creating and distributing music as well as performing than there were at the birth of what we think of the modern Internet, 1995. And that's because of the explosion of opportunities for different ways to produce and to make money off of content on the Internet.
Now, those are examples, and I think that if you think about, for example, sites like Lulu Press, which is a site because it's so good at marketing what's really niche, kind of long - what's called long-tail content, the content that, you know, maybe a hundred, maybe a thousand people in the world would want to read, but still, there are a thousand people in the world that want to read it. So, I think that if you added up the number of people who are actually able to make money today because of the activity of creating versus the number of people who are losing, I think the number of people gaining vastly outweighs the number of people losing. ..TEXT: Now, the people who are losing are the sexiest, you know, most interesting people in the world to talk to, obviously, on shows like yours, Terry. So you know, you're going to get artists on that - who are talking about the fact they're no longer making how many millions of dollars, they're making some smaller number of millions of dollars because of this. And I, again, don't support any activity that takes money away from them. But I do think that when we think about this overall, the Internet has enabled a much wider ranger of creators, first. And a much larger number of creators who are actually able to profit off of their creativity while acknowledging that there are some people who used to profit who are profiting less, and some people, like newspapers, who may ultimately be driven out.
GROSS: I'm glad - that's exactly where I was going to head is to the subject of newspapers. I'd love to hear your thoughts about what's happening in newspapers. Now, I know part of the reason why newspapers are suffering is that advertising has dried up. Part of the reason newspapers are suffering is that so many of them were bought by parent companies that demanded profits bigger than newspapers can actually deliver so they started, you know, cutting staff and cuttting resources and basically killing off the papers.
But part of the reason why newspapers are suffering is competition from the Internet and also the fact that they feel in order to remain competitive they have to put their content on the Internet for free. And a lot of what you can read in a newspaper, you can find on other people's Web sites. Just like, here's an interesting an article, and not necessarily linked but often just copied on somebody else's Web site.
So how do you feel about what's happening to newspapers now and the impact of the Internet on newspapers?
Prof. LESSIG: Well, I think it's an extraordinarily serious public problem. I think that the problem, though, is not that, you know, companies like the Tribune can't make as much money as they did in the past. The problem is we don't have a good model for investigative journalism today. And we did for a good period of time, maybe in 1968 through 1980 was a great period for institutions that could encourage the kind of investigative journalism that a society needs, and it's not clear where those people are right now or how they can survive in the commercial marketplace.
Now, this has been produced by an enormous rising competition, and the competition that was most destructive for newspapers was the competition that came from a clever, really good-spirited but absolutely devastating Web site called Craigslist, which much more efficiently than anything newspapers did, made it possible for people to exchange stuff, ideas, whatever. That's what Craigslist enabled. And it sucked the revenues for the classified ads part of many newspapers, and that made it so they can no longer survive.
So they cut back because of this competition, and then the thing they can't afford to do is to pay people to go out and spend two or three months or a year looking into something serious and reporting on it in a way that the public needs. Now, you know, does that mean we should break the Internet and go back to the days when the New York Times, the Washington Post or the Chicago Tribune could do that? You know, whether you want to or not, that's not going to happen. So what we need to do is to figure out other models, other ways to support this crucial part of democracy.
Now, you know, I think surprising to many people and frankly surprising to me, but surprising to many people has been the role that has been played by this amateur media of blogs, which you know, again, the vast majority of them just terrible, just not worth the electrons that they're printed on. But some of it is quite extraordinarily good. You know, we all have our favorites. But these blogs provide a kind of independent critical analysis of issues and stories that, frankly, some of the mainstream, you know, newspapers and media outlets were just not able to do, especially when the ownership of these entities became so intermixed. And I think that's a good thing these blogs emerging to play this role. The other thing about this is, you know...
GROSS: I just want to say, I very much respect what you're saying here, and I don't want to be unfair to the bloggers who are out there who are really doing investigative work and holding people's feet to the fire, so I don't mean to be unfair to them. I just think that, you know, I just happen to really believe in newspapers and their importance and I worry about them.
Prof LESSIG: Right. But I think that we need to, you know, keep some historical perspective here. Right? The First Amendment was enacted to protect bloggers. Right? The freedom of the press that's spoken of in the First Amendment, the framers had no conception of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. That was not in their head. When they protected the freedom of the press, they were protecting the pamphlet press. The pamphlet press, if you read Jefferson and you read all these people about what pamphlets were like, the pamphlet press was awful. It was biased. It was ill-informed. It was screed(ph). It was irresponsible. It was everywhere. Anybody could get access to a printer to print the pamphlet press. But that's exactly the press they were protecting with a clause that explicitly says freedom of the press is not just freedom of speech. Though they did that because they believed that that dynamic of free access and free opportunity to speak is the only way we got to the truth.
My number one new source right now is Google News. And why is that? It's because Google News organizes all these stories from different sources in a simple way for me to go read multiple sources on. So I triangulate on the story. I read my trusted sources, things I believe in or people whose reputation I have some reason to trust, but I look at other sources. I look at foreign sources. And by doing that, I think I get a better understanding on the news than I did in the 1980s when all I did was open the New York Times in the morning or the Philadelphia Inquirer in the morning and read what the newspaper said.
Now, so the point is these technologies change, the businesses that they support change, and while we're going to regret some of the things we lose, we also have to be open to the opportunities of the things we're gaining because they will, in many cases in the Internet, be opportunities that we have never dreamed of and will be extraordinarily powerful and important to what our culture will become.
My guest is Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School and founder of the school's Center for Internet and Society. His new book is called "Remix." We'll talk more after a break. And this is Fresh Air.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Lawrence Lessig, and he is an expert in digital media and copyright law. He is the founder of the Stanford University Center for Internet and Society, and his latest book is called "Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy."
Now, after devoting ten years to analyzing and trying to reform copyright law in the digital age, you're now about to shift course. You're moving from Stanford to Harvard, where you're going to head a new center there, and your focus is going to be corruption. Exactly what do you hope to do?
Prof. LESSIG: Right. So by corruption, what I'm thinking about is cases where institutions that depend upon trust create dependencies that make us doubt their trust. So think about a doctor who recommends a certain drug that your child should take or recommends that the FDA approve a certain drug, and then it's discovered that that doctor has received a million dollars from that drug company. It's not that the doctor's recommendation is wrong, but we have reasons to be mistrustful of the recommendation.
And I want to focus research and focus the work of the center on the wide range of contexts within which this same problem occurs. And of course, one of the most dramatic contexts is in the context of Congress, where so many people fear that the drive to raise money to get into Congress steers Congress away from the right answer and instead steers them to the answer that actually gets them the most money in their re-election campaigns. And that produces mistrust and skepticism that undermines the ability of these institutions to do what they're designed to do.
GROSS: Does this connect with your work in copyright law and digital technology? Did that lead you to the issue of corruption?
Prof. LESSIG: It absolutely did. What happened was I - after ten years of fighting issues around copyright, what struck me was that these were not hard issues, yet Congress was constantly getting them wrong. And it wasn't because Congress was stupid. It was because there were such an enormous amount of money on one side of the issue that was driving Congress in a way that didn't make sense from a question of what is good public policy but made sense from the question of how do you raise the most money to get back into office.
And obviously, copyright's not the only place where this happens. You know, listen to Al Gore talk about it in global warming. It's enormous influence of money in the political process that has left Congress, even to this day, not dealing with the problem of global warming. So as I began to see that in the most important and even the most esoteric - even if important to me - areas of public policy, this improper influence of money was corrupting the public policymaking. It seemed to me this was the most important problem to focus on, so I decided to shift and start something brand new and committed to at least ten years on this project, and we'll see where we are after that's done.
GROSS: I think one of the morals of the story in your book, "Remix," is that when a new technology comes along and it changes the culture, you can't just try to fight it. You have to recognize its existence and figure out how to deal with it in a productive way. An example of what not to do, I guess, is the John Philip Sousa story that you tell in your book. And for anybody who is too young to know who Sousa was, he was, like, a marching band composer and leader at the turn of the century. And tell us your story.
Prof. LESSIG: Well, Sousa is, in some ways, a hero to the book because Sousa in 1906 testifies in Congress against what he calls the quote "talking machines." And he says, when I was a young man, in front of every house in the summer evenings you would find the young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs. Today, you hear these infernal machines going night and day.
Prof. LESSIG: We will not...
GROSS: Record players.
Prof. LESSIG: Right. He says, we will not have a vocal chord left. The vocal chords will be eliminated by a process of evolution as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.
So here's this professional musician singing the virtues of the amateur. And it's the amateur that's critical to his conception of what culture should be. And what he's worried about is that we'll move into a time when people don't play the piano or don't play the violin or don't know how to get together and sing. We'll come into, in fact, exactly the culture the 20th century was. We'll come into the couch-potato culture where our relationship to culture is not as a creator but as a consumer. So his fear was machines would do this, and he was right. That's exactly what happened. It was the talking machines, it was all of these machines that increasingly alienated us from this way of creating culture.
Now, what's exciting to me is that the 21st century is reviving the picture of culture that Sousa celebrated, and indeed, the picture of culture that defined culture for every generation before the 20th century and I hope every generation after the 20th century. A culture where - it's not that we want to give up professionals, Sousa wasn't trying to talk himself out of a job - but it's a culture that has both professionals and amateurs, and it's a culture where amateurs feel just as entitled to create in all the common ways of creativity that the professional does.
GROSS: But briefly, I have to say here, you're applauding him for resisting change. And now you're saying, no, we have to accept change.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. LESSIG: Yeah, well, you know. I like to applaud and criticize everybody, including myself here. So I don't think anybody has got a clear vision of everything here. But he's resisting a certain kind of change, and the thing he's resisting is a change that makes us passive. I would support him in resisting that change. Now, he wasn't going to stop the technology. That wasn't going to happen, and the 20th century just had to happen. We had to get over it, and we have gotten over it. What I'm criticizing now are people who are just as vigorously as he opposed the 20th century, trying to cling to the 20th century and make sure the rest of time looks just like the 20th century where, you know, we have these bits of plastic that get distributed and that's our only relationship to culture.
I think you're right. The lesson of this book - the lesson that I've gotten after 10 years of thinking about this is that how do we take advantage of these new technologies, the new activity and excitement they're creating, new markets that might be out there and make it work? How do we make it work given this new mix? Not how do we sue people out of existence so that we can stay with our old mix. And that's a lesson, I think, that it's time for our public policymakers, our Congress to recognize, as well.
GROSS: Well, Lawrence Lessig, good luck with your new program and your new project. I thank you very much for talking with us.
Prof. LESSIG: Thank you for having me, Terry.
GROSS: Lawrence Lessig's new book is called "Remix." He is the founder of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society. He gives his last lecture at Stanford January 31st. He moves to Harvard this summer to head the Safra Center, where he will work on his new project fighting corruption.
Coming up, Lloyd Schwartz reviews three new CDs of compositions by Elliot Carter, who celebrated his 100th birthday this year and is still composing. This is Fresh Air.
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