Professor Lawrence Lessig to Keynote at SES Chicago

Lawrence Lessig, a Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, will be giving the opening keynote at Search Engine Strategies Chicago on Monday, Dec. 8, 2008. The title of his keynote is “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.”

Lawrence LessigAnd, if you read the description of Professor Lessig’s keynote in the conference agenda, it says: “The content industry has convinced industry in general that extremism in copyright regulation is good for business and economic growth. That’s false. In this talk, Professor Lessig describes the creative and profitable future that culture and industry could realize, if only we gave up IP extremism.”

What is he getting at?

Well, “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy” also happens to be the title of Professor Lessig’s new book, which just went on sale on

And, according to the editorial reviews on, “The author of Free Culture shows how we harm our children — and almost anyone who creates, enjoys, or sells any art form — with a restrictive copyright system driven by corporate interests. Lessig reveals the solutions to this impasse offered by a collaborative yet profitable ‘hybrid economy’.”

It goes on to say that Professor Lessig, who is the reigning authority on intellectual property in the Internet age, “spotlights the newest and possibly the most harmful culture war — a war waged against our kids and others who create and consume art.” It adds, “America’s copyright laws have ceased to perform their original, beneficial role: protecting artists’ creations while allowing them to build on previous creative works. In fact, our system now criminalizes those very actions.”

How does it do that? Well, Professor Lessig argues that “biting” riffs from films, videos, or songs shouldn’t be crimes. Why? It makes felons out of some of today’s most talented artists.

Professor Lessig argues that the way to end this war is to embrace what he calls the “read-write culture,” which allows its users to create art as readily as they consume it. And he can already see glimmers of a new hybrid economy that combines the profit motives of traditional business with the “sharing economy” evident in such websites as Wikipedia and YouTube.

Wow. That’s strong stuff. And, if we play buzzword bingo at SES Chicago 2008, then there are a couple arcane business concepts that we can use on our bingo cards.

But, this short blurb may not do justice to Professor Lessig. So, I emailed him some questions about the topic of his opening keynote. And he emailed me his answers — quickly, I might add.

Here is our Q&A:

Q: Who benefits and who is harmed by extremism in copyright regulation?

A: Benefits: Lawyers (certainly). The record companies (maybe). Harmed: Artists, businesses, consumers — and a generation of (criminalized) kids.

Q: What are the “read-write culture” and the “hybrid economy”?

A: A RW culture is one where ordinary people are empowered to participate in the creation and recreation of their culture. Every culture in human history has been RW, save for a few dark years in the 20th century.

A hybrid is a commercial entity that tries to leverage value out of a sharing economy, or a sharing economy that tries to use a commercial entity to support it. Either way, two radically different cultures need to learn how to work together with each other.

Q: When will this war on our kids stop, the “read-write culture” be reborn, and the “hybrid economy” start to flourish?

A: When policy makers are woken up to the extraordinary cost this war is imposing.

Q: Where can we already see glimmers of a new “hybrid economy” that combines the profit motives of traditional business with the “sharing economy”?

A: I think everywhere around us. All of the interesting Internet businesses today are hybrid: Flickr, Second Life, Yelp!, even Amazon builds much of its business from the sharing activity of its customers.

Q: Why is IP extremism bad for business and economic growth?

A: Practice moderation. When the lawyers in the room start insisting that the licenses you create must impose perfect control over everything you have, ask them to prove it. Ask them to demonstrate that the business return from that relationship of antagonism is higher than its cost. Don’t give over your business’ future to those who don’t think like a business man or woman. Keep focused on the only undeniable truth: IP is an asset. Like any business asset, it should be deployed to maximize the value of the corporation.

Let me add that I’ve watched the 19-minute-long video of Professor Lessig speaking at last year’s TED Conference as well as the 4-minute 35 second video from OpenSourceCinema which is embedded below. So, I am confident that he will rock the house at Search Engine Strategies Chicago.

Lessig Remix

Professor Lessig was also named one of Scientific American’s Top 50 Visionaries, for arguing “against interpretations of copyright that could stifle innovation and discourse online.” He’s on the board of the Creative Commons project has served on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He was also a columnist for Wired, Red Herring, and the Industry Standard.

In other words, he’s a speaker worth coming to SES Chicago to hear. And, yes, I do think I’ll put some of his arcane business concepts on a buzzword bingo card.

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