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interviews

Lawrence Lessig

Next up, Jim and Greg play a bit of The Grey Album, a mashup of The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album made by DJ Danger Mouse. This album received a lot of critical praise in 2004 (it even topped both Jim and Greg's year-end lists). It's a completely modern work that could not be made without recent digital technologies. The rub? It cannot be purchased anywhere, and most people who have heard it don't own a hard copy. This is because according to current copyright law, what DJ Danger Mouse did was completely illegal. To discuss how laws like this are stifling art, and how music in the digital age is changing, Jim and Greg welcome the definitive expert on this issue: Lawrence Lessig. Professor Lessig, a faculty member of Stanford Law School and founder of its Center for Internet and Society, has authored three books on cyber law and free culture, tried cases before the Supreme Court and founded Creative Commons, an organization trying to expand the range of creative work legally available to share.

While copyright laws have existed for over 200 years, music was not protected for a long time. Early in the 20th century, protections for musicians and songwriters were put in place, but these laws did not necessarily hinder creativity. Once a song was recorded, anyone had the right to record it. This encouraged artists and was fundamental to the growth of the music industry — so much so that even the RIAA defended this right. The 21st century version of this kind of conversation between artists is sampling — but under current law, Professor Lessig explains, sampling is considered piracy. Therefore, creative expression and evolution are not fostered the way they were in the last century.

Digital copyright laws also affect the consumer. In fact, Lessig suggests that“creator”might be a more appropriate name. In the last century, fans would buy music or make mixtapes, but current technology allows listeners to take part in the creative process. The law currently treats these creative consumers, many of whom are kids, as thieves. While our guest doesn't condone illegal behavior, he hopes to see existing laws change, rather than prosecute fans who are hardly criminals.

In addition to changing laws, Professor Lessig recommends that record companies use the Web rather than fight it. If he ran a label, he says, he would encourage people to participate in the creative process and remix an artist's work. Lessig would also allow and encourage artists to release their music on the internet. A small number of bands including Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Wilco have been able to do this with really positive results. Finally, if he ran a label, he would not bite the hand that feeds him, backing away from the harmful DRM technologies that labels are bundling into their content.

Go to episode 12