March 10, 2005

Rethinking "Writing"

When I was gathering some extra readings on Creative Commons for my Mass Media class, I found this O'Reilly interview with Lawrence Lessig I hadn't seen yet. Aside from other great thoughts about IP and culture, Lessig offered this question about how our culture is redefining "writing" (a topic I've been thinking about for four or five years, both in terms of IP and more broadly as it "writing" applies to things like sampling, databases, and collage.

One way I've begun to think about this is to question whether within our culture, writing is allowed. Now when you say the word writing, for those of us over the age of 15, our conception of writing is writing with text, and in fact our tradition protects the right to write with text and to draw upon other people's writings with text quite substantially. People can review my book and quote my words in reviewing my book, criticize me, do whatever they want, and that's protected by a tradition of fair use that has taken hundreds of years to develop but is now pretty strong.

But if you think about the ways kids under 15 using digital technology think about writing--you know, writing with text is just one way to write, and not even the most interesting way to write. The more interesting ways are increasingly to use images and sound and video to express ideas. Well, all of those ways of writing under the law as it's understood right now are basically illegal unless you secure permission from the author up front. So the same act of creativity in some sense, you know, taking, creating, mixing out of what other people do, is legal in the text world and illegal in the digital media world. And the struggle is to get people to recognize that there's no good reason for the rules to be so radically different between the two contexts, and that we ought to be encouraging a wider range of creativity using digital media--both because there are many people who would be extraordinarily talented in exploiting those types of creativity, and also because it would really spur growth in collective literacy about how media itself functions and how it has its effect.

More about this in the "read" section of my website, including the Datacloud manuscript, the "Subject Lines" talk I gave at a couple of places last year, and "Understanding Composition as Architecture".

Posted by johndan at March 10, 2005 05:05 PM | TrackBack