Age of Creativity or Revival of Prohibition Times?

In thinking about the topic of open education and the culture of sharing we live in today, I watched the TedTalk by Larry Lessig, founder of the Creative Commons, called “Laws that choke creativity”.   It really brought home the foundations of why we have a ‘culture of sharing’. He started his talk by relating a story about a man named, John Phillips Sousa.  Sousa was protesting the 1877 invention of ‘talking machines’ in 1906, and stated, “These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country.  When I was a boy… in front of every house in the summer evenings you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs.  Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day.”  He was concerned that people would lose the ability to use their vocal chords. 

Image result for talking machine

Lessig goes on to describe today’s culture as a ‘read-write culture’ because people participate in the creation and re-creation of their culture. Sousa was concerned that future culture would evolve into a ‘read only’ culture.  A culture where creativity is consumed, but the consumer is not the creator. 

Lessig’s 2nd story is about a trespass law that protects the land below and as far as can be seen, above in the sky.  This law changed with the invention of airplanes.  In 1945, it was decided that doctrines protecting the air space had no place in the modern world, otherwise every transcontinental flight would be trespassers.  “Common sense revolts at the idea”.

Image result for trespass law sky

With the invention of drones comes the creation of laws to ensure public safety. According to CBC News, Canada recently updated drone regulations which apply to any drone weighing over 250 grams. Any drones more than or equal to 300g have the capability to damage an aircraft. Drone operators must be over 14 years old and are required to hold a ‘drone pilot’s license’.

In the 1920s, broadcasting was a new way to spread cultural content, and the battle began between the businesses that spread that content and controlled the performance rights.  The company, “Broadcast Music Incorporated”, or BMI, was born. BMI changed the face of art, and gave away broadcasting as public domain works for free to subscribers.  The majority of broadcasters switched to BMI because the other leading company, ASCAP raised rates ridiculously high; the competition was enough to break the cartel over music.

Image result for read write culture

Lessig believes that the present-day internet is resulting in a revival of the “read-write culture” that Sousa romanticized and predicted we would lose.  Digital technology is the present-day opportunity to revive our vocal chords through ‘User Generated Content’.  Social media companies like YouTube and flickr celebrate amateur culture – where people produce for the love of what they are doing, not for the money. 

When Sousa talked about young people getting together to sing songs of the old days, this describes exactly what the kids are doing today, through remixing old songs, or creating unique videos.  Possibilities are endless to foster creativity in kids… it’s how they understand access to our culture.  It is using existing content to ‘say things differently’.  Lessig points out that the technology to do these things has been around for the past 50 years, but it is only now that these creative techniques have been, ‘democratized’ so that anyone with access to a computer can extract original content from the culture around us and use various programs to say things differently. 

Image result for technology clipart free

Present-day creative tools which use programs like, ‘TikTok’ have now become tools of speech, and therefore literacy for this generation, or in other words, how our kids speak and think.  Unfortunately, current law has not kept up with the technological changes.  If copyright laws are supposed to restrict making ‘copies’ of content, then every single use of culture produces a copy, therefore making almost every single person, or kid, a ‘trespasser’, about the same way as those first airplanes invaded airspace in the early days.  Common sense has not yet revolted to the laws controlling the creativity.  There is a growing thought among the younger generation which rejects the very notion of copyright laws and instead believes that law is to be ignored, because it is antiquated.

Over 30 million YouTube views of their cover of the song, “Call Your Girlfriend”, helped these sisters land roles on the TV show, “Nashville”.

Lessig believes the solution is to legalize the ability to be young again, such as what BMI did for broadcasting.  Firstly, artists and creators should choose to make their works freely available for non-commercial use.  Secondly, businesses which are building the read-write culture need to embrace creative opportunities, to enable it, so this ecology of free content can grow on neutral grounds.  Lessig implies that the creation of, “creative commons” is one way that works to achieve this goal.

In comparing our generation to our kids generation, Lessig states;

  1. We made mixed tapes, they remix music

2. We watched TV; they make TV

3. It is technology that has made them different

In my youth I remember recording songs from the radio on my ghetto blaster, or taping shows using my VCR.  In our last class we were discussing downloading music from Napsters – I did that as well!  As I think about it, I realize that most likely every single person today could be considered a criminal if following the law to the letter in regards to copyright.    

Lessig goes on to point out that creative instincts which are produced by technology cannot be repressed, but only criminalized.  He states, “We can’t stop our kids from using it (technology), we can only drive our kids underground.  We can’t make our kids passive again, we can only make them, “pirates”.   I think this could also apply to my generation but especially to the next generation.  I don’t think that technology has been criminalized, but rather that the laws have not kept up with the times. 

Who can keep up with all the streaming TV and movie programs out there; figure out which ones are free (Eg. CTV online), which ones are a paid user service (Eg. Amazon Prime), or which ones may be considered illegal (android TV box)?  With so many programs and services popping up all the time, and laws constantly changing, one has a very hard time of keeping up with what is and isn’t legal. 

Image result for copyright laws meme

Lessig states, “We live in a strange time of prohibition, where in many areas of our life, we live life constantly against the law.  Our kids are living life knowingly against the law which is very corrosive, and corrupting.  In a democracy we ought to do better…”.  Just as in liquor prohibition times, or even most recently, the legalization of marijuana, movements are not repressed, but forced underground if common sense does not prevail.  We need to keep creativity in the open and available for everyone to enjoy. 

Related image

Thank goodness for the, ‘Fair Dealing’ copyright law, allowing the use of resource materials for education purposes.  I can relate to Daniel’s dilemma of having to look to outside sources for class material.  In the Practical Nursing program, we are required to annually create and revise student course manuals for each course.  I sometimes have to find outside sources of information due to textbook revisions or updated nursing skills.  I can add outside content into student course manuals through the creation of an, ‘instruction sheet’ which can include information not found in course textbooks.  I am allowed this through a copyright regulation called ‘fair dealing’.  Anything I use to compliment in class teaching, such as a YouTube video, that is not listed as a resource in the course manual cannot be testable material. 

LBD Dressing Change Program in early stages.

I was a co-creator, alongside two other Practical Nursing faculty, of an open source nursing education program which will be available very soon, called, “LBD Dressing change program” (LBD stands for Learning By Doing).  It has been a very exciting process over the last few years to work with a local media company and to have the opportunity to contribute my experiential knowledge and creativity.  I fully support the idea of creating an accessible program so that it may help promote learning in some way, to future student nurses.   

I created the following picture, by combining pictures from 3 different website sources, to visualize the idea of criminalization of youth creativity.  Would you agree or disagree, that through the process of combining the 3 pictures together, that now this ‘new’ picture should be considered my creation? Or… would I be in violation of copyright laws?

4 thoughts on “Age of Creativity or Revival of Prohibition Times?

  1. I really enjoyed your summary and highlights of Lessig’s Ted Talk. I liked how you brought in your own experiences and drew a parallel to bring forth an interesting discussion. As to the question you posted, I believe that by bringing all 3 of those images together, you are creating your own piece of work to say something different than what was originally depicted by the individual images themselves. Therefore, I do not believe that you are infringing on any copyright laws.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the interesting post. Responding to your question, as you stated your sources of the original art, I would argue your creation is original in that in conveys new meaning and new intent. Although I’m all for the idea of remixing and using other people’s work, I have come to believe it’s important to acknowledge your sources of inspiration for your work. I have seen so many cases of people stealing art and calling it their own without any respect for the original authors. As system of keeping track of attribution is, I believe, important. Thanks again for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much for your thoughts, Daniel. Would you agree then that as long as I credit original sources, that it is ok to borrow from other’s work? Should I then consider it to be against copyright laws if I don’t list the sources? Even for non-profit reasons?


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