Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Clawback of @lessig's "Remix"

Lawrence Lessig, a professor at the Harvard School of Law and a prominent scholar of intellectual property law in the age of the internet, has written several books about "Free Culture". He argues that today's copyright laws are poorly suited to copyright's original purpose of advancing the creative arts. Today's digital culture increasingly blurs the line between creator and consumer and remixes strands of media to create new works in ways that were inconceivable when copyright was invented.

To provide ways for copyright holders to participate more fully in today's digital culture, Lessig co-founded Creative Commons (CC). The licenses offered by Creative Commons will be used by  for "unglued e-books". "Unglueing books" is what we call the process of gathering together people and institutions willing to contribute to the cost of relicensing books they love under CC licenses. (Specifically, we'll use CC BY-NC-ND) Since Lessig has made many of his books available under CC licenses, you could say they're already unglued. By checking on the availability of these books, we can get a feel for the readiness of readers and institutions for ebooks that can be free to all readers, everywhere.

Lessig's groundbreaking first book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, was published before Creative Commons existed, it's out of print, and not available as an ebook. But a second edition, Code, Version 2.0 was released with a CC (Attribution, Share-Alike) License. You can download it for free from Google Books. But it's not available on the Nook store or on Internet Archive. Amazon wants $2.99 to put it on your Kindle. Kobo books wants $13.69. Worldcat reports that it's available in 462 libraries around the world, but only 11 of these libraries report holding the electronic version. Worldcat has a URL for the ebook, but it's dead. If you don't like the idea of downloading from Google, you can get it from a site owned by Lessig, or you can download it from my personal website. The non-unglued, earlier (and out of date!) edition is much more available in libraries, with 1103 libraries listing it in Worldcat.

If you think that Code 2.0 is an important book, and you want your friends to read it, you can not only download and distribute it from your website, you can print up a bunch of copies and sell them, or give them away. Code 2.0 doesn't restrict its redistribution to non-commercial uses or prevent you from making derivative works, as long as you use the same license on the copies and derivative works that you sell or distribute. The Creative Commons licenses are media-neutral and aren't restricted to digital works. Licensees (the users) may migrate the licensed works to other formats, so a CC-licensed pdf file can be printed to make a CC-licensed print volume.

The fact that only 11 libraries list the digital version of Code 2.0 in Worldcat says a lot about the chasm that the library world needs to traverse if it is to effectively support unglued books. Most libraries don't yet have the workflow to select and manage ebooks that aren't offered by their accustomed vendors, even if the price is zero. There is a huge amount of stuff available "for free", and individual libraries don't have the resources to seek out the material that's of value to their communities. But now's a great time to start. Code 2.0 is a good book to start with. There's no reason it shouldn't be available digitally to every user in every library in the world!

In 2004, in the wake of his failed challenge in the Supreme Court to the Copyright Term Extension Act, Lessig published Free Culture, How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity with Penguin Books. At about the same time, Lessig published the book as a PDF on his website using a Creative Commons Non-Commercial, Attribution License.

For readers looking to read Free Culture, the CC license has resulted in availability from many sources, which dominate a Google search for the book. But although Lessig is a lawyer, his free-culture intent for Free Culture is undermined a bit by some legal flamethrowing on the book's title page:
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
This mixed message may be what's keeping Google Books and other institutions from making the book available in some ways that Code 2.0 is available.

Obviously, Penguin (the publisher) wants you to buy a copy of Free Culture instead of downloading it for free. The non-commercial CC license permits Lessig to license commercial rights separately to Penguin. Many people who read the book for free digitally will still want to buy a bound copy while many others will prefer print to digital from the start. At Amazon, you can have Free Culture on your Kindle for $12.99, which is actually a premium to the new hardcover price of $10.94. If you want the French translation, Culture libre (French Edition), it's a free download via whispernet (incorrectly described as a public domain work). If you want it from a library, the situation is similar to Code. It's in the catalogs of 1601 libraries, but only 20 of these list the ebook. If I want to read it on an iPad, I'm best off going to Internet Archive, which has it in many different formats, including EPUB. (Just drag an EPUB to iTunes, and it loads automagically into iBooks on your iPad.) I can also get it direct from Goodreads.

By contrast, Lessig's 2008 book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy appears to be a poster child for everything that could go wrong for an unglued ebook in today's environment. Remix was published in the US by Penguin and in the UK by Bloomsbury Academic. In 2009, Lessig announced on his blog that Remix (the Bloomsbury version, at least) was available as a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC) download. He even went on the Colbert Report and challenged viewers to remix his interview with Stephen Colbert:

The Colbert people even made a joke on their website about Penguin requesting a takedown of Remix.
Today, it seems as though the free version of Remix has been clawed back from the internet, but not as a joke, more likely it's just a bunch of unrelated mistakes. I challenge you to find it by googling. Only Scribd still has a copy (in a Bloomsbury Academic account). A month ago, Internet Archive offered it in several formats, but their page is currently dead. I'm told it's some sort of database problem. Links to the Scribd page have vanished from the Bloomsbury Academic site, which was totally revamped a few months ago. Google Books wants you to buy the Penguin ebook. Amazon wants $4.99 for the Kindle edition. Same story for ebooks from Feedbooks.

At least libraries can buy the ebook of Remix from their preferred ebook providers. Here's the description at Ebook Library. But perhaps most depressing is the entry from Overdrive:
Adobe PDF eBook Rights:
  Copying not allowed
  Printing not allowed
  Lending not allowed
  Reading aloud not allowed
It's a bit scary. Imagine if it was not just a couple of mistakes. What if a commercial licensee wanted to wipe a CC-licensed free version of Remix from the Internet, to enhance their profits. A sleazy take-down notice or two, and CC Remix would be gone, despite the best intentions of its author.

Remix comes with this description:
Remix is an urgent, eloquent plea to end a war that harms every intrepid, creative user of new technologies. It also offers an inspiring vision of the postwar world where enormous opportunities await those who view art as a resource to be shared openly rather than a commodity to be hoarded.
Let's do what we can to make that vision a reality.

Update 10/13/2011 9PM EDT: The Internet Archive page for Remix is back up; the Worldcat link for Code 2.0 is fixed. Nothing is unfixable, if we pay attention!
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  1. "Today's digital culture increasingly blurs the line between creator and consumer and remixes strands of media to create new works in ways that were inconceivable when copyright was invented. [...] The licenses offered by Creative Commons will be used by for "unglued e-books". "Unglueing books" is what we call the process of gathering together people and institutions willing to contribute to the cost of relicensing books they love under CC licenses. (Specifically, we'll use CC BY-NC-ND)"

    Why the ND clause? That seems to directly contradict the remix-and-reuse scenario you outlined in the opening paragraph.

  2. Mike- I'll write another post on that, but we'll be open to rights holders offering non-ND licenses as well.

  3. Eric, what most libraries need is a MARC record they can add to their catalogs for the book, and a service that detects available digital books based on the library's collection. I've been trying to get a feed of MARC records for the Open Library open ebooks but haven't been able to convince them that there is a demand, and that it could increase use of the books. A service to do the kind of selection that book jobbers do for hard copies would greatly increase the availability of open access books in libraries. Most libraries have few selectors and little time to select individual titles.

  4. Why are you choosing the NC license? It seems to me that if Lessig had not chosen NC then many small distributors would have picked up the book and it would be widely available for a few dollars. Plus companies like my own might have aggregated it and made it available for free as part of some freemium offering. NC isn't compatible with the Open Definition which I take to be the gold standard of open knowledge.

  5. Ian, You guys are writing my next post for me! NC is messy, but we think it can be cleaned up to make it clear that commercial companies can distribute an NC work as long as they don't charge for it.

    Glenn, the longest journey starts with a single step.

    Karen, wouldn't it be great if the needs of libraries were considered as part of the release of works into the creative commons?


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