Emerging Protections in the Digital Landscape

What is Free Culture?

Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig describes the need for emerging protections in the new digital landscape of the internet. How can individuals copyright or take ownership of something intangible, something that exists as series of code, or as images strung together on lit-up monitor screens? The same way people used to copyright the land below the Earth and the air above it. “American law held that a property owner presumptively owned not just the surface of his land, but all the land below, down to the center of the earth, and all the space above, to ‘an indefinite extent, upwards.'” (Lessig 1). The intangible has long been subject to ownership and copyright laws, so long as they make sense to the judge. When they don’t, then they’re thrown out. Common sense serves as an indicator for much of the complexities of copyright laws. “‘Common sense revolts at the idea.’ This is how the law usually works” (Lessig 2).

Usually common sense is the determining factor for applying legal protections to inventions, spaces, and objects–however, money can also serve as an influence. Armstrong invented the first frequency modulated radio in which sound was clearer and could reach further distances. Although his invention made sense, it threatened the success of the AM radio business–which was previously the monopoly in providing modulation. “Armstrong’s invention threatened RCA’s AM empire, so the company launched a campaign to smother FM radio. While FM may have been a superior technology, Sarnoff was a superior tactician.” (Lessig 4). Although FM radio was eventually released, its hindrance was largely due to deals with government agencies.

What does this say about the Internet?

The internet, another intangible, is tied up in several copyright licenses and protections. Although these legal measures intend to prevent plagiarism and promote originality, they can often hinder creativity. “For the first time in our tradition, the ordinary ways in which individuals create and share culture fall within the reach of the regulation of the law, which has expanded to draw within its control a vast amount of culture and creativity that it never reached before” (Lessig 8). These new tools for rights management, rights, and copyright have created, “less a free culture, more and more a permission culture. This change gets justified as necessary to protect commercial creativity” (Lessig 8). Unfortunately, I am not guilty of copyright criminalization. This is my first time creating a journalistic writing-focused blog, and I have sometimes utilized others’ creative resources to supplement my work. I have included pictures of sports writers, embedded audio, and screenshots of web pages to make my blogs more interesting. Alas, this creativity has come at a cost–I have broken laws in the process to create better content.


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