Free Culture – Lawrence Lessig

This is a completely permissible activity--even for a dog to dance jazz. In Georgia, there are a couple jurisdictions I'm not sure about [laughter], but mainly, dancing jazz is an OK activity. So said, "Here, here's how to hack your dog to make it dance jazz." If anything, it would be a fair use of this piece of plastic that costs over $1,500. You would think, "This is a fair use," right?

Letter to the site: Your site contains information providing the means to circumvent Aibo, where copy protection protocol constitutes a violation of the anticircumvention provisions of the DMCA. Even though the use is fair use, the use is not permitted under the law. Fair use, erased by this combination of technological control and laws that say "don't touch it," leaving one thing left in this field that had three, controls copyright, [thereby] controlling creativity.

Now, here's the thing you've got to remember. You've got to see this. This is the point. (And Jack Valenti misses this.) Here's the point: Never has it been more controlled ever. Take the addition, the changes, the copyrights turn, take the changes to copyrights scope, put it against the background of an extraordinarily concentrated structure of media, and you produce the fact that never in our history have fewer people controlled more of the evolution of our culture. Never.

Not even before the birth of free culture, not in 1773 when copyrights were perpetual, because again, they only controlled printing. How many people had printers? You could do what you wanted with these works. Ordinary uses were completely unregulated. But today, your life is perpetually regulated in the world that you live in. It is controlled by the law. Here is the refrain: Creativity depends on stopping that control. They will always try to impose it; we are free to the extent that we resist it, but we are increasingly not free.

You or the GNU, you can pick, build a world of transparent creativity--that's your job, this weird exception in the 21st century of an industry devoted to transparent creativity, the free sharing of knowledge. It was not a choice in 1790; it was nature in 1790. You are rebuilding nature. This is what you do. You build a common base that other people can build upon. You make money, not, well, not enough, but some of you make money off of this. This is your enterprise. Create like it's 1790. That's your way of being. And you remind the rest of the world of what it was like when creativity and innovation were a process where people added to common knowledge. In this battle between a proprietary structure and a free structure, you show the value of the free, and as announcements such as the RealNetworks announcement demonstrate, the free still captures the imagination of the most creative in this industry. But just for now. Just for now. Just for now, because free code threatens and the threats turn against free code.

Let's talk about software patents. There's a guy, Mr. Gates, who's brilliant, right? He's brilliant. A brilliant business man; he has some insights, he is even a brilliant policy maker. Here's what he wrote about software patents: "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today." Here's the first thing I'm sure you've read of Bill Gates that you all 100 percent agree with. Gates is right. He is absolutely right. Then we shift into the genius business man: "The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high. Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors." Excluding future competitors.

Now, it's been four years since this battle came onto your radar screens in a way that people were upset about. Four years. And there have been tiny changes in the space. There have been a bunch of "Tim" changes, right? Tim went out there and he set up something to attack bad patents. That was fine. There were a bunch of Q. Todd Dickinson changes. He was a former head of the patent commission--never saw a patent he didn't like. But he made some minor changes in how this process should work. But the field has been dominated by apologists for the status quo. Apologists who say, We've always patented everything, therefore we should continue to patent this. People like Greg Aharonian, who goes around and says every single patent out there is idiotic. But it turns out that the patent system's wonderful and we should never reform it at all. Right?

This is the world we live in now, which produces this continued growth of software patents. And here's the question: What have we done about it? What have you done about it? Excluding future competitors--that's the slogan, right? And that company that gave birth to the slogan that I just cited has only ever used patents in a defensive way. But as Dan Gillmor has quoted, "They've also said, look, the Open Source Movement out there has got to realize that there are a lot of patents at stake, and don't imagine we won't use them when we must."

Now, the thing about patents is, they're not nuclear weapons. It's not physics that makes them powerful, it's lawyers and lawmakers and Congress. And the thing is, you can fight all you want against the physics that make a nuclear weapon destroy all of mankind, but you can not succeed at all. Yet you could do something about this. You could fuel a revolution that fights these legal threats to you. But what have you done about it? What have you done about it?

(Audience Applauds.)

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