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Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity [Paperback]

Lawrence Lessig
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 22 2005

Lawrence Lessig, “the most important thinker on intellectual property in the Internet era” (The New Yorker), masterfully argues that never before in human history has the power to control creative progress been so concentrated in the hands of the powerful few, the so-called Big Media. Never before have the cultural powers- that-be been able to exert such control over what we can and can’t do with the culture around us. Our society defends free markets and free speech; why then does it permit such top-down control? To lose our long tradition of free culture, Lawrence Lessig shows us, is to lose our freedom to create, our freedom to build, and, ultimately, our freedom to imagine.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

From Stanford law professor Lessig (Code; The Future of Ideas) comes this expertly argued, alarming and surprisingly entertaining look at the current copyright wars. Copyright law in the digital age has become a hot topic, thanks to millions of music downloaders and the controversial, high-profile legal efforts of the music industry to stop them. Here Lessig argues that copyright as designed by the Framers has become dangerously unbalanced, favoring the interests of corporate giants over the interests of citizens and would-be innovators. In clear, well-paced prose, Lessig illustrates how corporations attempt to stifle innovations, from FM radio and the instant camera to peer-to-peer technology. He debunks the myth that draconian new copyright enforcement is needed to combat the entertainment industry's expanded definition of piracy, and chillingly assesses the direct and collateral damage of the copyright war. Information technology student Jesse Jordan, for example, was forced to hand over his life savings to settle a lawsuit brought by the music industry—for merely fixing a glitch in an Internet search engine. Lessig also offers a very personal look into his failed Supreme Court bid to overturn the Copyright Term Extension Act, a law that added 20 years to copyright protections largely to protect Mickey Mouse from the public domain. In addition to offering a brilliant argument, Lessig also suggests a few solutions, including the Creative Commons licensing venture (an online licensing venture that streamlines the rights process for creators), as well as legislative solutions. This is an important book. "Free Cultures are cultures that leave a great deal open for others to build upon," he writes. "Ours was a free culture. It is becoming less so."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Lessig looks at the disturbing legal and commercial trends that threaten to curb the incredible creative potential of the Internet. All innovations are derived from a certain amount of "piracy" of preceding innovations, Lessig argues, and he presents a catalog of technological breakthroughs in film, music, and television as illustrations. Drawing on distinctions between piracy that benefits a single user and harms the owner and piracy that is useful in advancing new content or new ways of doing business, Lessig strongly argues for a balance between the interests of the owner and broader society so that we can continue a "free culture" that encourages innovation rather than a "permission culture" that does not. He reviews an array of legal actions, including the restrictions on peer-to-peer sharing made famous by Napster, and the threat they represent to the kind of openness the law has traditionally allowed and from which the marketplace has benefited. This is a highly accessible and enlightening look at the intersection of commerce, the law, and cyberspace. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Since the inception of the law regulating creative property, there has been a war against "piracy." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
A free culture supports and protects creators. The internet has established the ability for thousands to participate in the building and cultivation of culture. Laws regulating intellectual property have been laws against piracy. Copyright law regulates both republishing and transforming the work of another.
Disney's great creativity was built on the work of others. In 1928 the average term of copyright was thirty years. Today public domain is presumptive only for work created before the Great Depression. In the world free culture has been broadly exploited. Japan has a huge market of knock off comics and does not have many lawyers.
We celebrate property but there is plenty of value not subject to the strictures of property law. George Eastman created roll film and the upshot was the era of mass photography. The real significance was not economic but social. Now the internet allows creations to be shared, web logs, blogs, have grown dramatically. Blogs are a virtual public meeting. They are unchoreographed public discourse. Bloggers are amateur journalists.
John Seely Brown of Xerox believes we learn by tinkering. Recording music, radio, cable TV all were technologies involving forms of piracy. The piracy problems were solved by legislation. Peer to peer sharing was made famous by Napster. It is not clear that the file sharing has caused the decline in the sale of CDs.
In 1710 the British parliament adopted the first copyright act. In the last three hundred years the concept of copyright has been applied ever more broadly. The copyright law was a limitation on the power of book sellers. A decision in 1774 in the House of Lords held the limitation in the Copyright Act set forth the notion of a Public Domain.
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Format:Hardcover
About halfway through "Free Culture" author Lawrence Lessig offers his most arresting example among many to illustrate his main arguments. That example - or set of examples - comes from Adobe's eBook Reader. When using this particular piece of software to read a downloaded electronic book, you are given a set of "permissions". These include how many times you can copy from the book to the clipboard, how many times you are allowed to print selections from the book, and how many times, if any, you can have your device "Read Aloud" the book. (Other eBook readers have similar characteristics, and Lessig is quick to absolve Adobe of fault.)
This represents one case of how technology allows content providers to introduce new restrictions that have no basis in copyright law or practice as it existed until recently. The Adobe eBook Reader allows such providers to limit even "fair use", or any use, even for books that are not in fact copyrighted. Congress and the courts have however been quick to provide shelter for this increasing control garnered and enforced by content owners. These and other trends lead to Lessig's main point: "the Internet should at least force us to rethink the conditions under which the law of copyright automatically applies, because it is clear that the current reach of copyright was never contemplated, much less chosen, by the legislators who enacted copyright law."
As evidenced by the preceding quote, Lessig's language is seldom extreme, although the instances he cites and the conclusions he draws are truly alarming. He lays out his case in a methodical, always interesting, and frequently entertaining approach.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening May 22 2004
Format:Hardcover
In a world dominated by "ideas" (images, sounds, text, drugs, algorithms, etc.), it is (perhaps) surprising that the ongoing struggle over the control of "intellectual property" has essentially no presence in the public consciousness. Knowing perhaps a little more about copyright than the average newspaper reader, I found Free Culture eye-opening and occasionally shocking.
Lessig provides a very readable overview of the issues and history surrounding copyright, including an inside look at his efforts to have the Supreme Court rule Congress' continual copyright extensions unconstitutional (Eldred v. Ashcroft). The strength of Free Culture is the anecdotes it presents, from 18th century publishers trying to keep Shakespeare out of the public domain to a modern corporation trying to keep Mickey Mouse out of the public domain, with minimal bias but the clear message that things are going wrong.

Lessig falters when proposing solutions to the current crisis, which are weak and/or underdeveloped. He also occasionally displays his loony-left politics with misplaced analogies; I found his references to gun control and the war on drugs especially out of place, even misleading.
While Free Culture is weak in spots, it may well change the way you think about intellectual property.
You can even download the book for free!
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Format:Hardcover
Lawrence Lessig's "Free Culture" is nothing short of brilliant. It outlines an incredibly important modern problem that is lost under the noise of more pressing concerns like the war in Iraq or corporate scandals. That problem is the loss of our culture at the hands of intellectual property law. And what that problem lacks in immediacy and prime-time-worthy sex appeal, it makes up in long-term consequences.
Lessig does a formidable job of making the issue come alive for both experts and laymen with his use of anecdotes that clearly illustrate how the ever-growing term and scope of copyright have stifled creativity and shrunken the portion of our culture in the public domain. He shows how the content industry is trying to redefine IP as the equivalent of tangible property, when it is not and has never been, and how that industry has manipulated Congress and the Courts to get closer to its goal.
If you followed the Eldred v. Ashcroft case (like I did; I was lucky to be at oral argument before the Supremes), you'll want to pick up this book for Lessig's inside account. Most of it is a mea culpa for not realizing that the Court didn't want a constitutional argument, but a consequentialist one. I'm not sure this would have made a difference. The Court's right, who, like Lessig, I thought would chime in for a strict reading of what is clear language of "limited times" in the Copyright Clause, must have had some special reason for turning their backs on their originalist rhetoric and I doubt that a political argument would have changed their minds. I still can't understand what that reason might be, and I refuse to believe it's just the dead hand of stare decisis that gave Scalia pause.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The single most important boook you will read this year
This book details the implementation of "one of the most regressive pieces of legislation ever enacted by the U.S. government" (Moncton Times and Transcript). Read more
Published on Jan. 8 2008 by Lorne Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Important Book
If you care that your rights as creators and comsumers of art are being taken away by multinational corporations this is the book to read
Published on June 22 2004 by Stephen Kraisler
1.0 out of 5 stars Pay money for this book? Please. Don't insult me.
I don't know how anyone can take Lessig seriously. He's leading the counter-culture movement with books like this, but if you buy that ideology then he's selling you out by... Read more
Published on May 9 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Lessig Part 3
There are few new ideas or concepts in this book; I would recommend getting the paperback versions (or using your library) to get his earlier books. Read more
Published on May 5 2004 by Dana
4.0 out of 5 stars Take Back Your Creative Rights
"Free Culture" is an amazing look at the battle over both creativity and culture in America today. Read more
Published on April 11 2004 by missed
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic -- a real eye-opener
Crearly and engagingly written, this book not only illustrates how existing media companies fight innovation to keep themselves in control, but also inspires with the possibilities... Read more
Published on April 8 2004 by V. Volkov
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Book
This book is very very good, laying out where our rights to media in the internet age are jepoardized by media conglomerates and corrupt government. Read more
Published on March 29 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book
I have read the introduction and the first four chapters of this book. If it were not 2 a.m. in the morning I would continue to read. Read more
Published on March 25 2004 by Bibliofuture
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