Lecture 4 – Power, Policy and Governance

In the lecture this week we began discussing issues surrounding copyright and the governance of the internet. Since we also needed to chat about some problems in relation to the assignments on the module and watch the 20 minute video I’ll be talking about in this post, we didn’t actually cover a huge amount of material or do much thinking in the lecture, however, we did have a 2 hour seminar right after where we could further explore case studies and arguments relating to how the internet is governed and what constitutes copyright etc. You’ll find my thoughts on the seminar discussions here.

So, our main focus for the lecture was a particular speech made my Lawrence Lessig where he considers the absence of common sense in relation to copyright laws and calls for the revival of our creative culture. Lessig has long criticised strict copyright laws as a restriction on creativity, which effects and will effect the younger generations especially.

In his amazing speech he passionately and creatively gets across his ideas and thoughts about re-write culture and copyright issues. Lessig notes that the law does not consider digital information and technology as ‘free’ but rather goes with the idea that every use of culture is ‘copying’. For Lessig, the only option is to fight this apparent lack of common sense with, common sense.

John Philip Sousa

Near the beginning of his speech, Lessig talks about a chap named Sousa, an American composer. In a letter to congress in 1906, Sousa argued that the latest technology to emerge in the music industry – a device that allowed the user to record music and apply it to an version of the record, was going to “ruin the artistic development of music in this country.” He believed that the recording technology would spell the end of the vocal cord. Sousa romanticized about his childhood, where children would spend time singing songs on their front porches as a means of keeping themselves entertained.

Lessig warmly refers to Sousa’s protests against the new “talking machines” in relation to his views of the power of user-generated content. This new technology displaced creativity in the 20th century, people would rather listen than create. Lessig believes that the internet can revive the re-write culture and bring the focus back to amateur, user-generated content – in a similar way that Sousa romanticized the passion and creativity of his youth.

So what do we need to do?

As well as discussing his disillusionment with the world of copyright and freedom of information legislation, Lessig outlined a number of steps he believes we as a society should take in order to protect our creativity and passion.

  1. Campaign to the courts – policy makers need to be made to understand the importance of available copyright-free content online and change the relevant legislation
  2. Think of the economy – those in charge need to realise the potential boost to the economy that could come from the increase in creativity if legislation is adapted
  3. Content availability – content creators need to make their work more available so that other creators can access it and adapt it
  4. Get businesses involved – businesses need to express interest in re-write technology. The more free content there is, the more it can compete with content that is not free
  5. New technology – new advances and technologies need to be open for business


As well as outlining certain steps that society can take in order to change and influence policy on copyright infringement and legislation on freedom of information, Lessig concludes by reiterating that user-generated re-write content is NOT piracy. And that we need to pass this message onto our children and create a technological system whereby they have the opportunity to be creative, innovative and do something different, using whatever content they can get their hands on, regardless of where it is stored and who created it to begin with.

He concluded by emphasising that our children are different. You cannot stop children from using new technology creatively, that’s what it’s there for and creative thinking is what being a child is all about. You cannot stop children being creative with new technologies, you can only criminalise it. And if this is what the powers that be are focused on doing, we need to be focused on stopping them because at the end of the day, who will lose out? The children. By creating legislation that will thwart creativity, our government is giving children the message that they live against the law by being creative with technology, and this is what we need to stop.

The ideas conveyed by Lessig in this TED speech are ground-breaking and, they cannot be ignored. By you. By me. By those in influential and powerful positions. By businesses. And especially not be government. It’s just up to us to put the message across and protect our creativity, innovative technologies and OUR internet.


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