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Can there be open source music?

Aug 21, 2013, 14:00 (0 Talkback[s])

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We have seen this happen in the world of creative content with Creative Commons. Larry Lessig, following a straightforward reading of the US Constitution and building on many of the insights published years earlier by Lewis Hyde in the book The Gift, realized that while there was nothing wrong with commercializing content per se, there was something very wrong about treating cultural resources as private, alienable property forever. Lessig believed, and I agree, that there is a benefit to giving the public some agency over the content that defines their culture, just as open source gives other developers—even users—agency over the software they have. Look at how the public has used that agency to create Wikipedia, a phenomenal collection of one of our most valuable cultural artifacts: human knowledge.

But there have been limits to the reach of Wikipedia, in part because many cultural artifacts that could be part of the commons are instead enclosed by seemingly perpetual copyrights. Music is a cultural cornerstone, with nations, peoples, eras, and idealistic, artistic, and political movements all reaching for it to define themselves, much the way that individuals also define themselves based on their musical tastes. Given the importance of music to cultural identity, how much agency should we have over it, and in particular, over the portions that are supposed to belong to the public domain?

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