Remix Dialogue: Spencer Responds to Larry, Take 2

I was happy and somewhat frightened to see that Larry Lessig took me up on my offer to comment on my review of his book. Happy because this is the first time I’ve entered into a public dialogue with an author of a book I’ve reviewed. Frightened since I was not sure how Lessig was going to respond.

After reading Lessig’s post, though, my main reaction is phew! I am relieved that the professor did not tear me to shreds in public, instead posting a thoughtful response to one of my criticisms. In fact, I was even pleasantly surprised to find that Larry called me a “good soul” who has “written well for BusinessWeek.”

The icing on the cake: he is actually reading MY BOOK, and says he is sure “to have nicer things to say about his than he about mine.” Thank you Larry!!! I can’t wait to read your review–hopefully one that is published in a well-respected national publication!!!

Now, on to his comments, in which he takes issue with my claim that the work is “a derivative essay that rehashes a lot of his older work.”

I totally agree with Larry that REMIX does have a new framing question that is different than his other works. It is the provocative and important question: “What does it mean to a society when a whole generation is raised as criminals?”

In fact, in an earlier version of the review I used this question in the lede of the review to explain why he revisited the topic of copyright one more time. But as often happens with these things, editors wanted me to rewrite the lede to make it more engaging and make the reader care why the copyright debate is critical in the Age of Napster.

So I went back to the book and decided to focus on the story of Stephanie Lenz, which really drives home the absurdity of this war to people who might not be familiar with Larry’s work or the issues at hand.

Larry cites the second new frame as the idea of “remix.”

“REMIX, unlike Free Culture, is focused on a particular kind of creativity,” writes Larry. “I hadn’t recognized, or even thought carefully, about this creativity when I wrote Free Culture.”

I understand what he’s trying to say here–that the Net enables a kind of “democratic creativity”–meaning a kind of creativity that ordinary people engage just like the professionals. And it’s a point worth making. But I don’t think it’s that new or surprising. People have always took back creativity into their own hands. They didn’t need the Internet to do it. Think of fan zines. They were like proto blogs. Or hip hop music. All you needed, as Beck said, was two turntables and a microphone to create a totally new form of music out of some dusty old records.

Even Larry admits in the book that the remix phenomenon is not entirely new. It’s just that the Net makes it easier more than ever for people to talk back. Moreover, since I am a technology journalist who writes often about these subjects, the part about the Net doesn’t seem fresh. But that’s my own bias. If you don’t follow these issues on a regular basis (or have read Lipstick Traces), then Remix will probably open your eyes.

As to his last point in which he says: “I’m not sure I get what’s “annoying” about the 35 pages.” Maybe that wasn’t the best word in hindsight. I guess since the book was framed as a sort of peace plan, I wanted to be blown away by the plan itself. But I wasn’t. Of course, if Larry had gotten the two sides of the war to agree to a peace plan, that would have been mind-blowing. But the two sides still seem pretty far apart.

Which is why I came back to the Creative Commons. Given that a chasm still seems to exist between copyright holders and consumers over what constitutes moral behavior in the Digital Age, I find the rise of the Creative Commons to be an inspiring tale, one that gives some reason for optimism. For the digital economy to truly take off, we need a peace plan to handle copyright. And the Creative Commons seems like it will be one significant part of the treaty. I still hope someone tells that story, even if it is not Larry.

My intention was not to kick around Larry! I see my review more in the spirit of the smart ass student challenging the brilliant teacher in class. (Yes, it’s true, I was one of those guys.)

In fact, I am really excited to see what Larry does about political corruption. I couldn’t agree with him more that America’s money-driven political system is at the root of many of our problems and policy mistakes. And I anticipate that he’ll shake up Capitol Hill as much as Hollywood. So be careful Washington. A real maverick is watching you.


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One Response to “Remix Dialogue: Spencer Responds to Larry, Take 2”

  1. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    Not that I’m impressed a lot, but this is more than I expected when I stumpled upon a link on Digg telling that the info here is quite decent. Thanks.

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