Lawrence Lessig on the new rules of innovation

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Remix cover
Yesterday we discussed Lawrence Lessig’s work. For some of you, that short summary will be enough. But for those who want to learn more about Lessig’s provocative work, today we discuss his work with him, focusing on his new book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.

MIT: What can we learn about the current and upcoming copyright and innovation wars from how they’ve gone in the past?

Lessig: What we learn is there’s a lot of crying and screaming at any moment of significant technical change. Those who are flourishing and prospering from the current technology are the loudest screamers. But the market quickly figures out how to profit in the context of the new technology, and pretty soon into the battle, the competitive system drives people to focus on how to make money rather than how to try to stop progress. That’s what’s beginning to happen right now. And that’s what really makes Remix optimistic.

MIT: How does this hybrid economy that you posit in the book change the definition of the word “original”?

Lessig: In a hybrid world where lots of people are developing and spreading remixes, the question of originality is very important. But in fact it becomes harder to demonstrate your talent or your creativity in this context because your creativity comes from your ability to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the material that you’re working with. People who’ve never done remixes, or have never gotten close to people doing remixes, think it’s easy. They think it’s all about just copying. But to do it well requires some pretty significant talent. It’s different from writing a song from scratch but it still is a talent that’s going to be creating a significant amount of competition among people trying to do it well.

MIT: There have always been cover versions in which the performer totally re-imagines the original. How is what’s happening now different from that?

Lessig: In one sense it’s exactly like that, in one sense it’s about how do you re-use or remake an earlier bit of creativity. But rather than it being one bit of creativity, like one song, or one album, it’s mixing together a whole bunch of different bits of creativity and creating something new out of it.

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