When I was growing up, there were two methods of getting new music. First, we could buy it legally from the iTunes Store, which was launched in 2003, when I was in third grade. Of course, if you’re a third grader, you have to ask your parents for permission to buy music, and if the album was explicit, you had to basically beg for it. The second option was torrenting. Using websites like Napster, Limewire or Frostwire, we could download all the music we wanted for free. Naturally, this is what we all ended up doing.
When I moved away to Costa Rica, I discovered a whole new level of piracy. I remember the first time I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” was in my living room, from a bootleg DVD my uncle had rented from the video store. The film was shaky, the lighting was crappy, but at least we could watch the movie. I also remember all the movies I streamed online for free; the gigabytes on gigabytes of music and movies my classmates freely shared among each other; hell, I remember when my roommate at the time burned old PS2 games to CDs so he could play them without having to actually buy any games.
Did I ever feel bad about it? Not usually. When I was in high school, I went through a prog metal phase. Many of the musicians or bands that I liked were indie as all hell; so indie, in fact, that most of their music was sold on Bandcamp based on a “pay what you can” model. I could never pay, so I downloaded their music for free. If I could find their material on iTunes, though, I’d buy it in order to support them. But as for streaming and downloading movies, I never felt bad about that. Studios pour millions of dollars into movies, but they really only care about two markets: the US, and Asia. So whenever I streamed a movie in Costa Rica, I felt like I was sticking it to the Man.
The point is, Lessig is right. Culture is free, but not as free as we would think it is. And it may be a good thing, and it may be a bad thing. The law has always danced on the knife’s edge when it comes to serving the people, and serving vested interests. Nobody should be deprived of the right to experience new worlds and new ideas, which is what multimedia like music and movies and games accomplish. Should content creators be compensated? Absolutely. But they should also accept that sometimes, when your content is that popular, you lose control over its distribution after a certain point. There are ways around this, of course. I know a few metal artists that release free music in order to build the fanbase that eventually pays for their work. Maybe if movies did the same thing, we’d have a much better environment for copyrighting.
Also, Lessig can suck it. I loved Treasure Planet.