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Open_Ed assignments for week 9: Elective Reading Synopses

28 Ottobre 2007

For this week’s assignments I have read "Free Culture", by Lawrence Lessig. The reason why I decided to choose this book among David Wiley‘s recommended books was because Alberto, a member of my professional community of practice, advised it in one of his posts, and also because it is available in Italian, my mother tongue language, not bad after eight weeks of readings in English! J

I am happy of this choice, as I have realized that Free Culture is a sort of must for those who want to learn and understand more about the open education movement.

First of all, Lessig shows how the development of the new technologies and the Internet in particular require a drastic revision of the copyright laws. That revision of copyright rules is absolutely necessary if we want to defend the freedom of creativity and the rights of culture.

Second, he shows that extremisms are negative: both the extremes of "all rights reserved" and "no rights reserved" are disruptive of creativity, even though Lessig claims that an excessive reservation of rights in creative works is even more dangerous because it has a paralysing effect, a return to a feudal society where all rights are concentrated in the hands of few powerful lobbies.

Third, he proposes an intermediate position between these two extremes of property on the one hand and anarchy or piracy on the other, a "some rights reserved" alternative that is represented by his idea of the Creative Commons, where both the rights of authors and users are safeguarded.

In order to persuade his readers of the validity of his principles, Lessig articulates his theory through the illustration of many examples drawn from the laws, court cases, and the constitutional history of the United States.

Now, at last, I understand the reason why foreign language books are so trivial and boring in their contents, they can’t publish for example even an extract of a song or a film or the photo of a famous actor with some useful information about him because of the copyright duties! :-(

In Italy, the situation is not at all better than it is in the States. I will talk of the case of Beppe Grillo, a popular Italian actor and comedian. After the great impact on the public opinion of Beppe Grillo’s ideas about political and corporate corruption in Italy published in his blog, ranked the ninth most visited in the world, some government members have proposed a bill that claims that anyone with a blog or a website has to register it with the ROC, a register of the Communications Authority, produce certificates, pay a tax, even if they provide information without any intention to make money. If you want to know more about this, click here. It seems that the bill will be modified, but this example suggests how, once again, as Lessig shows in Free Culture, the copyright law is used to check the access to the mass media and the critical positions and going up stream ideas of people.

"Think about your favorite amazing sites on the Net.Web sites that offer plot summaries from forgotten television shows; sites that catalog cartoons from the 1960s; sites that mix images and sound to criticize politicians or businesses; sites that gather newspaper articles on remote topics of science or culture. There is a vast amount of creative work spread across the Internet. But as the law is currently crafted, this work is presumptively illegal. That presumption will increasingly chill creativity, as the examples of extreme penalties for vague infringements continue to proliferate." (page 185)

It is still possible to sign a petition against this bill.

The idea that I find hardest to believe in the book is that in the States "a doctor who negligently removes the wrong leg in an operation would be liable for no more than $250,000 in damages for pain and suffering. Can common sense recognize the absurdity in a world where the maximum fine for downloading two songs off the Internet is more than the fine for a doctor’s negligently butchering a patient?" (page 185). It was also very hard to know that the States allow a policy to be pursued whose direct cost would be to speed the death of 15 to 30 million Africans, and whose only real benefit would be to uphold the patents of drug companies."What possible justification could there ever be for a policy that results in so many deaths? What exactly is the insanity that would allow so many to die for such an abstraction?" (page 260)

I have very much liked Lessig‘s comparison between VCRs and handguns (Architecture and Law: Force – page 159), where instead of condemning a negative use of technology, it is the technology itself that is utterly condemned by the law.

At the celebration of the Italian Linux Day yesterday on October 27th, Mirko Margiocco, an Italian magistrate, drew an interesting distinction between what is done for gain with respect to what is done for profit talking about the legal protection of free software. He implied that there is a different degree of responsibility, as profit is more censurable than just gain. I wonder if this distinction could be taken into consideration in the discussion about the rights of the open education movement.

  1. 5 Novembre 2007 a 0:03 | #1

    Elisa, thank you for commenting on this interesting issue in Italy (bill to register blogs). I must be honest and say that I had not heard of it. I hope that the bill fails and that you, for instance, do not have to register your blog. :-)
    I share your ideas about foreign language books…
    And certainly knowledge in free culture is of utmost importance for us interested in open education.

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