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Lawrence Lessig & Shepard Fairey on Art, Commerce and Corruption

02/27/2009 05:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This article originally appeared on PSFK.com.

Thursday night, we were treated to an insightful and inspiring production at the New York Public Library as part of their Live from the NYPL series and sponsored by Wired. Titled "Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy", the event featured Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons among other things, and Shepard Fairey, whom you may have heard of recently. Moderated by cultural historian Steven Johnson, it intended to focus on the future of art and ideas in an age when practically anything can be copied, pasted, downloaded, sampled, and re-imagined. Less about commerce and more about moral and congressional corruption crippling artistic expression, the panel was self-admittedly pretty one-sided about the whole debate.

Johnson, the 35th most popular man on Twitter, according to Live from the NYPL Director Paul Holdengräber, opened the evening with the famously reclipped Charlie Rose video by Andrew Fillipone, Jr, in which Rose appears to be interviewing himself with little success about the future of the internet. Johnson laid the groundwork for the evening in his assessment that, though these issues were timely due to the widespread and accessible nature of technology and information, they were also timeless - old values that we have been wrestling with for centuries. He invoked the original 'remix' by Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin's insistence that ideas get better as they flow and circulate, attracting "the attentions of the ingenious." To his panelists, he posed the question: "Where do we think innovation and creativity come from? From building walls and protecting them, or from sharing and expressing them?"

Lessig picked up the idea that the now-famous Fairey was not the first to base his art on others work, and drove it further home with images of Warhol's Marilyn, Will.i.am's Yes We Can, and music by Girl Talk. "Remixing with new voices," he argued, "is creative practice." What is different now from when Jefferson or Warhol were working isn't this idea - it's the law. He presented an exploration of what the law could and should do. It's intention being to produce motivation for creatives to create, the law protects artwork and creates ways for an artist to be compensated. However, as when record labels pull YouTube videos of babies dancing along to the radio, the cost often outweighs the benefit. In favor of copyright deregulation, Lessig argued that the presumption should be that permission is free (rather that the presumption that it is not), protecting the Remix artwork in question. Instead, current regulation and public policy is fueled by corruption and campaign dollars to make money for Congressmen and lawyers. This regulation is not going to stop the remixing anyway, only criminalize it. To read the rest of this article, please visit PSFK.com.

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