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“Copyright laws are turning kids into criminals”.

This claim is made by Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford law professor and an advocate of Creative Commons.

His argument is simple: Generation-Y is not going to change, so the laws will have to:

“57% of teenagers have created and shared content on the internet, that’s not people peer-to-peer file sharing… this is people actually creating material and making it available. To us, the couch potato generation, this is bizarre, we can’t imagine doing that, but to them it’s the natural way to understand the world and create. Now you can either call them criminals or call them pirates and use all the tools of the law and technology to block them from this creativity or we can encourage them by making a wide range of material available that give them a much better understanding of their past and a much better opportunity to say something about the future” (from Good Copy, Bad Copy: 54:00)

He is very clear to note that this does not mean he advocates piracy. What he advocates is “mix culture”- the using of other people’s material to create something new.

Creative Commons
The best way of understanding Creative Commons is as a library book. You’re welcome to read it for free, you can lend it to friends, you can take extracts and quote them (as long as you reference them) but you may not sell the book. Creative Commons does not mean you own the rights to someone else’s work in any way. It is best looked at as “borrowing”. You’re free to share it and you’re free to remix it and create something new, but you’re not allowed to sell it.

But if anyone is allowed to consume and alter the material for free, then how do the creators make money? What keeps them creating?

The hybrid economy
Lessig conceptualizes a different kind of economy that combines the “sharing economy” of the Internet and the traditional “commercial economy”. They can work together to produce a “hybrid economy”.

In his book, Remix, he interviews Mark Shuttleworth, a South African businessman who advocates open source – part of the sharing economy. Shuttleworth points to wikis, particularly Wikipedia where people are willing to contribute for free because they’re creating something together, becoming a part of something. The idea of this kind of sharing is not new to Africa – it is how oral culture has always functioned.

However, in order to survive in the modern world such sites have found ways of making money. Wikipedia, wanting to remain free of commercial influence, relies on donations. Wikia, another wiki, uses advertising. In this way it is very similar to the “catch and release” method – you get for free, and if you want to, you can give too.

So what does this mean for the future of the “corporate dogs”? It means increasingly involving audiences in their production and distribution in creative ways that are now possible in the digital age. Whereas, for example, Star Trek fan sites have been pulled down for copyright infringement, they could instead be used for promotion.

If Hollywood allows the freedom of remix, this can function as part of a hybrid economy where people create and share – for free – promotional material that Hollywood would have had to spend money on creating before.

The same can be said for the music industry. A few years ago some Rhodes University students created a music video to the spice girls. It got over 15 000 views. Not bad for free advertising.

Further Info
Creative Commons legal summary
Creative Commons legal detail
Download Lessig’s book “Remix”
Lessig’s interview with Colbert
Lessig’s TED talk
Lessig’s website

Tallulah's expert blog can be found at Cyberlens