Rhea Myers

Is That It?

Free Culture is just freedom of speech. Is that it?

As Lessig so eloquently explains in “Free Culture”, we have been facing a perfect storm of factors that act to limit, among other things, free speech. Since “Free Culture” was written we have faced further governmental and economic reductions in the possibility of pluralism in the US and the UK (where I am). Protecting freedom of speech is vital to protecting pluralism and to keeping our societies open. This is hardly a side issue.

Negative free speech can be aided by lobbying for legal reform and by activism against state, corporate and community closure and capture of public debate.

Positive free speech can be aided by economic, technological and social innovation and organization.

So freedom of speech doesn’t reduce the challenges or limit the options, it clarifies and underwrites them for both activists and entrepeneurs.

And “speech” isn’t just speech.

A journalist once chided Lessig for an example from “Free Culture”. A group of kids were given access to video production equipment, allowing them to document and communicate their situation in a way that was, for them, unprecedented. The journalist asked why they couldn’t just pick up guitars, accusing Lessig of technological reification.

Even assuming they could afford guitars the answer would be no different: because the public conversation that shapes our society today is formed in the media. A democracy cannot and must not have a media underclass. Freedom of speech means the freedom to participate in the discussion of society as peers in whatever form that discussion takes. That form is changing faster today than ever, and keeping that conversation open is vital.

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