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Lessig: Free Culture Needs Free Software

SAN FRANCISCO -- The fight for free culture will be more difficult than the fight for free software, said Lawrence Lessig, founder of the Creative Commons and Professor of Law at Stanford.

Lessig took the podium at LinuxWorld here for the opening keynote with an impassioned plea to the audience about free culture and the need for free software to support it.

The Stanford professor began his talk by noting that the core feature of the network and TCP/IP  is that it ensures freedom.

"The network doesn't care what you used it for it follows the protocols and anyone can use it," Lessig told the audience. "It's a neutral set of pipes or, as our leaders call it 'tubes'."

Surrounding TCP/IP are layers that challenge control. The control extends to multiple layers of the network, including content application, logical, physical.

Lessig cited the success of free software against the monopolistic efforts of Microsoft as proof that freedom can prevail against proprietary interests.

Ten years ago Lessig posited the idea that something as complex as an operating system required commercial propriety control to build. Those who thought it was possible were branded as "crazies."

"Today any sane person knows that it is not impossible to build a free OS," Lessig said. "It is not just possible but likely superior and without the need for centralized control assumed a decade ago."

"Can we imagine the same transformation at the content layer?"

That transformation is the transformation from a read-only culture to a read/write culture where people participate in the creation and re-creation of software.

"The most exciting explosion of the Internet for culture is the opportunity to revive read/write culture, not by eliminating read-only, but by complementing it."

Lessig argued that copyright offers a perfect control over read-only culture. In his view, it hasn't always granted this level of control.

"In the old world, most uses of culture were unregulated copyright for commercial uses," Lessig said. "In the digital world every single use produces copy. So every use needs permission."

The law as currently architected smothers read/write culture with the view that control is necessary, Lessig said.

"You have demonstrated that at the app layer we can have freedom," Lessig said. "On the content layer, we're not quite there yet. We're not at the place where the free and propriety co-exist securely and fairly under the law."

"The fight for free culture will be harder than the fight for free software," Lessig added. "There are no laws against free software."

Lessing provided the audience with three steps that they could do to help the fight for free culture.

The first is to understand that free culture is not piracy and that piracy should not be defended. The second item is to actually practice free culture and to participate in it.

The third step, and the one most important for the LinuxWorld audience, is to enable free culture with a free platform to make it possible for free culture to flourish.

"Free software is necessary to create free culture."