Nearly a decade after the surge in popularity of peer to peer sharing services Lawrence Lessig wrote Remix. Remix explored the issues surrounding the crackdown on such platforms by asking questions such as what are we willing to sacrifice to win a “war” on piracy. What if adaptation could sidestep a “war” altogether? The law is notoriously slow to adapt to new technology. But art and creator based content is growing and changing at an increasing pace. Lessig uses Remix to explore where the war on piracy is failing new and exciting art forms that he labels collateral damage.
The challenge to strike a balance between protecting the artist and encourage innovation is not new. The book relates the anecdote of John Phillip Sousa (of Stars and Stripes Forever fame) lobbying Congress to stop what he called a form of piracy. The new technology of the phonograph had not yet been accounted for in the copyright law and while he was able to control the reproduction and public performances of his work, the new technology stymied his ability to profit from his work. Sousa also worried about the decline of the amateur and the consolidation of artistic influence to the elites. Ironically the protection he lobbied for has morphed into a consolidation of that artistic influence and potentially the loss of the connection to the art form. By remixing and playing with our cultural influences can we can strengthen our connection to these art forms? Copyright law is so powerful in the United States, that it literally shapes the cultural landscape.
Remix continues the discussion with a wonderful discussion on regulation and overregulation, criminalization and what the purpose of copyright should be in our legal-cultural framework. Lessig concludes with a call to reform copyright law in ways that accommodate changes in how we interact with creative expression.