Free Culture, by Lawrence Lessig

June 30, 2013 at 15:01 (Book Reviews, Crime and Law Enforcement, Literature, Mediocre Books, Music, Philosophy, Science and Technology) (, , )




There is a sort of schizophrenic veering between Lessig’s historical contextualising of the evolution and development of copyright law, and his impassioned denouncement of so-called ‘Big Media’. His attempts to draw a straight line between the two are not always entirely successful, and hostile readers might well suspect him of permitting his motives to lead him on an unwarranted crusade. Where he is successful, he is often convincing and guileless, and speaks with a great deal of conviction. His forays into historical documentation are amateur sketches of dogeared case-studies that have held his own attention for years, but are nevertheless interesting with only a few exceptions. His contemporary hectoring tends to be a lot more vibrant, and the autobiographical sections detailing his own Supreme Court case manages to be at the same time exciting and frustrating, bearing the fault that it has been trimmed down to a bare summary of the facts.

“The hard question is therefore not whether a culture is free. All cultures are free to some degree. The hard question instead is “How free is this culture?” How much, and how broadly, is the culture free for others to take and build upon? Is that freedom limited to party members? To members of the royal family? …To artists generally, whether affiliated with the Met or not? To musicians generally, whether white or not? To filmmakers generally, whether affiliated with a studio or not?”

-Free Culture

Lessig has the flaw of being needlessly paternalistic and pedagogical, particularly when describing the absolute worst-case scenarios that he anticipates. In spite of his flaws he is deeply passionate about his subject, and although it is this passion which often leads him astray it also breaks up the monotony of his drier material and lays his biases and motives fairly plainly out for all to see.

This is neither great literature nor a particularly cunning or sophisticated piece of work, but it is the work of a true believer with a strong argument to make. Doubtless there are more informative texts on the battle for copyright protection; also doubtless there are books written by men and women whose expertise on copyright history is a little more solidly defined. This is therefore a difficult book to recommend. It is a good book, but not a great book. It is a good entry-level text, but has faults that might deter further inquiry into the subject. It is easy to read, but it might have been both easier to read and less repetitive, with a more comprehensive exposition.

Read it, enjoy it, but don’t expect it to be the best or most scholarly piece of work available.

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Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited, by Colin Irwin

April 1, 2012 at 19:50 (Biography, Book Reviews, Mediocre Books, Music) (, , , , )


A good solid look at a classic album, although it is questionable as to whether or not this book was really necessary. There isn’t much here that one couldn’t find in a good biography of Dylan, save for a very in-depth treatment of the session musicians (who might be given their own sentence or paragraph in a full-fledged biography) and producers  (who are certainly covered in detail in most biographies) involved in the album, and maybe a little more record company politics than you’d otherwise expect to find. Colin Irwin obviously likes the album a great deal, and is a little embarrassing in the praise he slathers all over the pages of his book, but it’s not his job to make value judgements, and he tells the story he’s here to tell very well.

“Dylan once claimed he wrote ‘Desolation Row’ in the back of a cab on the way to the studio, but as the song clocks in at over 11 minutes and contains 659 words, that must have been one hell of a cab ride.”

-Highway 61 Revisited (Colin Irwin)

There is a great deal of commentary on Dylan’s lyrics, and Irwin is also smart enough to stick to the facts and not use this book as a pulpit for his own ideas. Rather than use this book to tell his own theories about what certain songs mean, he finds some excellent soundbytes from interviews with Bob, and allows himself just a little educated guesswork, more often than not ending in a shrug. The book is written like a review in a music magazine (coherently, but packed with journalese), and provides few surprises, pleasant or otherwise.

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