Copyleft guru Lawrence Lessig was on “The Colbert Report” last night to talk about the excesses of today’s copyright regime and a possible future where “hybrid” economies will leverage the best of open-source and sharing culture while remaining profitable for rights holders. Lessig is at his most effective when he compares current copyright battles — such as a mom being sued over a hommade clip of her toddler dancing to a barely-audible Prince ditty — to the equally useless War on Drugs. Score one for the professor.
It’s all in Lessig’s new book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, which I found highly compelling but ultimately frustrating. Although Lessig’s analysis of the failings of America’s copyright system are valid, his solutions leave you with more questions than answers. Perhaps he wants to inspire others to build on his theories, in effect “crowdsourcing” the entire debate. Or maybe it’s intellectual laziness. Or something else entirely.
Lessig was pretty cranky on last night’s show, but he did manage to get in a few zingers. Actually, the entire segment can be seen as a microcosm of the tensions between the culture-jammers who are redefining our digital lives and the old-guard content producers whose long-running businesses were built on the concept of scarcity. Plus it’s funny!