Free Culture

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The book cover

Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (2004) is a book by law professor Lawrence Lessig that was released on the Internet under the Creative Commons Attribution/Non-commercial license (by-nc 1.0 ( on March 25, 2004. The printed version of the book was published by Penguin Books, thus becoming the first CC-licensed book released by a major mainstream publisher.

There has never been a time in history when more of our "culture" was as "owned" as it is now. And yet there has never been a time when the concentration of power to control the uses of culture has been as unquestioningly accepted as it is now. (pg. 28)


In the preface of Free Culture, Lessig compares the book with a previous book of his, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, which propounded that software has the effect of law. Free Culture's message is different, Lessig writes, because it is "about the consequence of the Internet to a part of our tradition that is much more fundamental, and, as hard as this is for a geek-wanna-be to admit, much more important." (pg. xiv)

Professor Lessig analyzes the tension that exists between the concepts of piracy and property in the intellectual property realm in the context of what he calls the present "depressingly compromised process of making law" that has been captured in most nations by multinational corporations that are interested in the accumulation of capital and not the free exchange of ideas.

The book also chronicles his prosecution of the Eldred v. Ashcroft case and his attempt to develop the Eldred Act also known as the Public Domain Enhancement Act or the Copyright Deregulation Act.

Lessig concludes his book by suggestion that as society evolves into an information society there is a choice to be made to decide if that society is to be free (like Wikipedia) or feudal in nature. In his afterword he suggests that free software pioneer Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation model of making content available is not against the capitalist approach that has allowed such corporate models as Westlaw and LexisNexis to have subscribers to pay for materials that are essentially in the public domain but with underlying licenses like those created by his organization Creative Commons.

He also argues for the creation of shorter renewable periods of copyright and a limitation on derivative rights, such as limiting a publisher's ability to stop the publication of copies of an author's book on the internet for non-commercial purposes or create a compulsory licensing scheme to insure that creators obtain direct royalities for their works based upon their usage statistics and some kind of taxation scheme such as suggested by professor William Fisher of Harvard Law School [1] ( that is similar to a longstanding proposal of Richard Stallman.

Derivative Works

A day after the book was released online, AKMA, the author of a popular blog [2] (, suggested that people pick a chapter and make a voice recording of it [3] (, in part just because they could under its license. Two days later, most of the book had been skillfully narrated by people who loved the idea. Compiled playlists can be found on AKMA's site, among others [4] (

Besides audio production, this book is also in the process of being translated into Chinese, in a wiki system[5] ( This is a collaboration that involves many bloggers from mainland China and Taiwan, and was first proposed by Isaac Mao[6] (, a famous Chinese blogger and advocate of Creative Commons.

Another wiki [7] ( allows visitors to annotate the book with additional information opposing viewpoints (using MediaWiki). The wiki is also being used for further translations.

Another remix [8] ( utilizes Drupal [9] ( and links almost exclusively to the Wikipedia. This remix also allows registered users to comment as well as assist in editing the constantly evolving remix [10] (



Some of the organisations working to a common goal of promoting free culture.

  • Creative Commons ( is a nonprofit that offers a flexible copyright for creative work.
  • ( is an international student movement promoting free culture.
  • CNUK Media Foundation ( is an organisation dedicated to the promotion of free culture and provides a workspace to the free culture community.
  • ( is a project of building a free culture community online

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