free culture

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A few weeks ago John Maeda, the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), made one of the most useful, helpful posts on free culture that I've read. He aimed it at the students of RISD, to help give them the insight he thought they may need as they prepare for careers in the visual and tactile arts. Actually, he didn't write much: he pointed a link to a Chris Anderson article on Wired: Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business. If there's anything more important for a school than helping students prepare for their future, I can't picture it. I admire Maeda, respect RISD, and this sort of thing gives me joy. What I don't hear enough is that businesses that are giving things away are also bringing in money. As creatives, you can give things away but do consider how you will make money so that you won't be a burden on society.

Refreshing. Larry Lessig and the folks at Google and flickr certainly have that lesson down.

The post and the Wired article point out some of the facts that I think are missing from most discussions I hear about free culture. What I usually hear is that current copyright law places an unfair burden on creativity; music is our right and should be free; and you're a self centered capitalist if you charge people to use the art you create. Whines like these are fine; everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Often those opinions are based on factors certainly not limited to socio-economic status, employment status, peer pressure, and whether they are creators or create-ees.

I have to wonder who is advising young writers that putting their books on the web for free could actually be a good thing. It can bring the all important street cred and lead to $10,000 speaking engagements. Or it can lead to an enriched society while they continue stocking shelves at Wegman's.


dave said:

I just caught Lessig's brilliant presentation at UPENN. It called to my mind an article in the Stanford Law School News- Google Inc. Pledges $2M to Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. I agree with so much of what Lessig says. I'm sure that's his very practiced intent. I can't make the leap, though, to believe everything he says. The lack of discussion, in an open environment, of these disagreeable little bits is exactly what raises my concern.

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