Storytelling, HD-DVDs and the future of culture

published May 26, 2007, last modified Jun 26, 2013

Lessig, in his book Free culture, makes an amazing point:

Technology has thus given us an opportunity to do something with culture that has only ever been possible for individuals in small groups, isolated from others. Think about an old man telling a story to a collection of neighbors in a small town. Now imagine that same storytelling extended across the globe.

Yet all this is possible only if the activity is presumptively legal. In the current regime of legal regulation, it is not.

The way his words, back in 2005, meld into today's cultural climate is astonishingly premonitory; I just read them, and it's like he had written them expressly for me to read. Excuse me, for us to read.

Keep in mind that this book has been available for a couple of years now. If Lessig weren't a famous lawyer, he could very well be a famous psychic.

A tip for you: read the book. It's a fantastic read, peppered with fascinating, true tales. And it's premonitory book -- if you need to know what the cultural climate will be in five years, you absolutely must read it.

Now, back to our concerns. Lessig makes one point very clear: there's reason to be alarmed:

The four students who were threatened by the RIAA ( Jesse Jordan of chapter 3 was just one) were threatened with a $98 billion lawsuit for building search engines that permitted songs to be copied. Yet WorldCom—which defrauded investors of $11 billion, resulting in a loss to investors in market capitalization of over $200 billion—received a fine of a mere $750 million.1 And under legislation being pushed in Congress right now, a doctor who negligently removes the wrong leg in an operation would be liable for no more than $250,000 in damages for pain and suffering.2 Can common sense recognize the absurdity in a world where the maximum fine for downloading two songs off the Internet is more than the fine for a doctor’s negligently butchering a patient?

To make a long story short: Jesse Jordan was flat-out extorted into giving all his money to the record companies. This is not news. Remember, this happened a couple of years ago. Have we completely forgotten about it by now? Because we shouldn't have.

And because we forgot, things keep getting worse. There's a new crime looming over the horizon: attempted copyright infringement.

All things notwithstanding, the message of the book is clear: do you want to live in a world where you'd go to jail and be perpetually broke, without even a shot at a decent future, for sharing a couple of songs, while murderers are simultaneously serving their couple of years and going free? Is this just and balanced punishment? Is doing what everyone has always done (namely, sharing songs, movies, books, culture) meritory of such outrageously draconian measures?

I say no. But I'm only one voice among the monumentally huge mass of "daily lawbreakers". What are you doing to spare yourself and your children? Let your voice be heard too!