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the Complete Review
the complete review - law



Remix

by
Lawrence Lessig


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Remix



Title: Remix
Author: Lawrence Lessig
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2008
Length: 304 pages
Availability: Remix - US
Remix - UK
Remix - Canada
  • Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

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Our Assessment:

B : heavy on the anecdote-examples, but an interesting discussion

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Commentary . 10/2008 L. Gordon Crovitz
Financial Times . 13/10/2008 Lewis Jones
The New Yorker . 17/11/2008 .
San Francisco Chronicle . 12/11/2008 Michael O'Donnell
TLS . 20/3/2009 Keith Ashby


  From the Reviews:
  • "Commerce should realise that hybrid is the way to go, and copyright law should reflect the new realities. Lessig is a human embodiment of the hybrid principle, and has written a splendidly combative manifesto -- pungent, witty and persuasive." - Lewis Jones, Financial Times

  • "Lessig’s proposals for revising copyright are compelling, because they rethink intellectual-property rights without abandoning them." - The New Yorker

  • "There is more at stake in this debate than artistic creativity. At the heart of Remix is an exploration of what Lessig calls the hybrid economy, which blends traditional commercial enterprise with the Internet-friendly ethos of sharing and community. (...) In arguing this point, Lessig demonstrates his great strength as a reformer: He is politically ambidextrous." - Michael O'Donnell, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Remix is not an authoritative statement on copyright in the twenty-first century, as the publishers suggest, but it is a readable account of the development of the accessibility of content on the internet and of the issues which increasingly face copyright owners and content providers in the digital age." - Keith Ashby, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In Remix Lawrence Lessig finds copyright (in the US, the focus of the book -- international issues are almost entirely ignored) has gone hopelessly wrong as new technology has led to such fundamental changes that it must be entirely reconsidered. He's particularly concerned with the 'war' waged against 'the kids', meaning the fight against (illegal) downloading and peer-to-peer (p2p) file sharing. As he notes, the crackdown on this activity has had only very limited success, and he believes the harm caused -- including by forcing kids into this murky moral ground where they're told what they're doing is wrong, but they see everyone does it (and for the most part can't really see much harm in it) -- is considerable.
       Lessig notes that 'culture' and how we consume it has changed: for one, from the relatively passive RO (read-only) technology and its 'analog tokens' -- physical books, LPs, etc. -- to one where making copies is relatively easy (first by recording on tape cassettes, now burning on CDs, etc.). In particular, the World Wide Web now allows for the sharing of these cultural tokens very easily. Moreover, it allows for the spread of a RW (read/write) culture, where material is remixed in new and creative ways, from fan-fiction continuations and variations on books and TV shows to sampled music.
       Lessig thinks RW culture is something to embrace and foster. That's where so much creativity begins and is found; unfortunately, current copyright law stifles RW culture, in some cases completely. The stranglehold copyright protection can afford the owners of some cultural property can have bizarre effects from which no one (other than the lawyers) benefit. Lessig provides numerous colourful examples, and notes that some corporations do get it, seeing that at some point it's worth their while to permit the non-commercial use of their cultural property, since this can help tie the fan base even more closely to the product (and also extend the fan base), meaning everyone wins.
       Lessig devotes considerable space to an interesting discussion of the confusing economics of the issue, specifically the two types of economies that overlap here, the commercial and the sharing economy. As he notes, much of what we do involves a type of exchange that is without direct or obvious economic benefit (and cash does not change hands) -- and there are many cases where putting a dollar amount on such an exchange would likely not be appreciated (a favourite example is offering one's lover a couple of hundred bucks after a particularly good roll in the hay). On the World Wide Web economies of sharing are somewhat surprisingly widespread, from open source programming to Wikipedia to what people make freely available on their sites and elsewhere (the reviews and links at the complete review !). Lessig is understandably impressed by the potential here, and thinks it is well worth fostering. But so often copyright law gets in the way.
       His basic point behind all this, that the American copyright system is in need of a major overhaul, is sensible and even obvious; his suggestions as to a middle ground that offers adequate protections (and remuneration) to creators while not inhibiting creative activity seem a good starting point for deliberations too. His proposals regarding file-sharing -- decriminalization, with copyright-holders remunerated (which he argues is certainly feasible) -- will probably meet the most resistance, even though his points -- legal crack-downs have barely made a dent, and copyright holders aren't being compensated at all under the current system -- strongly suggest something different has to be tried.
       Lessig is a bit unfortunate in his timing in the argument he tacked on to the end, the one he calls: "perhaps the most important". His call is that: "We must recognize the limits in regulation." As the world's banks and stock-markets (and a few economies) collapse around us in the days the book hits the shelves (October, 2008), his doubts about: "the potential of government to do good" look quaintly anti-paternalistic as everyone clamours for a strong regulatory hand. These failures are also a consequence of the limits of regulation -- financial services professionals have, more or less, stuck within the vaguer boundaries of existing regulation, yet completely missed the bigger picture (the "background of basic morality" Lessig invokes -- ha !). The fault, surely, is in bad regulation and governmental oversight (and typical jr. Bush administration-type non- and under-enforcement of existing laws); in any case, here the government needs to be a stronger and stricter presence, as at least this aspect of laissez-faire capitalism (i.e. trust the professionals to proceed with due caution and civic responsibility) has gone out the window for at least a generation.
       Copyright laws are, of course, a different kettle of fish entirely, and Lessig is right that there needs to be a radical reform. Pointing out the 'costs' of the war against file-sharing (as well as the lobbying-dollars spent to make sure politicians continue to support it), is helpful, but the moral argument he uses isn't entirely persuasive. (For one, he barely mentions the other area of regulation that Americans are most likely to ignore (and, for the most part, escape unpunished for), traffic violations -- law-breaking that has a toll of tens of thousands of deaths a year, with generally only the most egregious violations (driving while under the influence) receiving more than a token punishment; surely, this criminalization of so many Americans (and we don't seem to be able walk five blocks without someone running a red light in front of us) has morally compromised them all (and leads to considerable social breakdown) as well, to far more damaging effect .....)
       Remix is a very approachable read, Lessing laying out the legal and economic issues in most basic style, heavy on the real-life examples. The simplification can get a bit annoying -- though it's good enough as a starting point for discussion -- and the anecdotes tiresome, and Lessig's parenthetical asides, while amusing, make it all seem a bit glib, but the basic point is an important one, and if this makes the books more accessible to a greater number of readers and gets them to think about (or pressure their government representatives !) to reform copyright it's worth it.

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Links:

Remix: Reviews: Lawrence Lessig: Other books by Lawrence Lessig under review: Other books of Interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Lawrence Lessig teaches at Stanford Law School.

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© 2008-2009 the complete review

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