You’ve got to love Lawrence Lessig. Academic, activist and founding member of Creative Commons, Lessig’s book - “Remix. Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy” – speaks to how copyright law and lawyers are killing professional and amateur art. It’s about how antiquated legalese that has no appreciation of social networks, is threatening to destroy the cultural wave driven by the digital tsunami.
Lessig calls for copyright law to be updated given the birth and rise of the remix culture. In remix culture music, movies, photographs and other arts form the spark for creativity, collaboration, integration and sharing. A term coined by copyright activists ‘remix culture’ is the concept used to describe a community that encourages derivative work. According to Lessig remix drives growth, his mantra being that the assimilation and transformation of thoughts and ideas drive progress and wealth creation in societies.
The proof of this lives in China’s massive economy. A thriving example of remix culture in action, the Chinese government has aggressively promoted the ideology of ‘harmony’ in recent years. This in stark contrast to Japan, a country that is staunchly nationalist and insular. Leveraging an old Confucius teaching, valuing harmony speaks to a respect and acceptance of other’s differences, and the promotion of diversity. Professor Sun Shijin from Fudan University Mentality Research Centre explains this notion of ‘harmony’ by saying: “Chinese culture is soft and resilient, we absorb and digest what is good from other countries and yet we synthesize it with Chinese fundamentals…. Harmony is how we enhance ourselves by synthesizing one another’s differences.”
Magdalena Wong, CEO of Added Value, China says the reason why China is more successful than Korea or Japan is because the Chinese are very receptive to the outside world. The marketing insight specialist maintains that because of this sense of ‘harmony’ the Chinese are not protectionist. They feel that many products, services and ideas from the West are better than those found in China. As a nation they try to get what is good from other countries, and better it. Wong says China has a culture of ‘copy and learn’. “If you are not good at something, you throw it away,” says Wong. “We have a copy mentality. We don’t see taking ideas and bettering them as fake. We just see it as copying and improving. We don’t feel a shame in copying, or feel that we are not creating or innovating.”
China holds many lessons for the West, and a copying or remix culture is just one of them. This as the West declares war on younger generations because they sample or take, remake and share. Western capitalism has created a ‘read-only’ culture where media monoliths sell in a one way stream to an audience they think are passive consumers. The digital revolution has turned this on its head and spawned a new bread of creative consumer activists that download and manipulate, giving birth to viral sensations.
Lessig contends that the lawyers and the artists can make peace in a hybrid economy, the likes of which is being pioneered by Youtube. However this means that lawyers may make less money from huge corporations that threaten teenagers who mash up the latest manga sensation or post a picture of Harry Potter on their Web site. The fact that lawyers will be earning less - I’m sure that’s something we’ll all learn to live with.