By Lawrence Lessig
Public Domain Books
So here’s the picture: You’re standing at the side of the road. Your car is on fire. You are angry and upset because in part you helped start the fire. Now you don’t know how to put it out. Next to you is a bucket, filled with gasoline. Obviously, gasoline won’t put the fire out.
As you ponder the mess, someone else comes along. In a panic, she grabs the bucket. Before you have a chance to tell her to stop—or before she understands just why she should stop—the bucket is in the air. The gasoline is about to hit the blazing car. And the fire that gasoline will ignite is about to ignite everything around.
A war about copyright rages all around—and we’re all focusing on the wrong thing. No doubt, current technologies threaten existing businesses. No doubt they may threaten artists. But technologies change. The industry and technologists have plenty of ways to use technology to protect themselves against the current threats of the Internet. This is a fire that if let alone would burn itself out.
Yet policy makers are not willing to leave this fire to itself. Primed with plenty of lobbyists’ money, they are keen to intervene to eliminate the problem they perceive. But the problem they perceive is not the real threat this culture faces. For while we watch this small fire in the corner, there is a massive change in the way culture is made that is happening all around.
Somehow we have to find a way to turn attention to this more important and fundamental issue. Somehow we have to find a way to avoid pouring gasoline onto this fire.
We have not found that way yet. Instead, we seem trapped in a simpler, binary view. However much many people push to frame this debate more broadly, it is the simple, binary view that remains. We rubberneck to look at the fire when we should be keeping our eyes on the road.
This challenge has been my life these last few years. It has also been my failure. In the two chapters that follow, I describe one small brace of efforts, so far failed, to find a way to refocus this debate. We must understand these failures if we’re to understand what success will require.