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May 08, 2004
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Posted by Donna Wentworth

How bizarre to see Edward Rothstein characterize both Siva Vaidhyanathan's Anarchist in the Library and Larry Lessig's Free Culture as exercises in "countercultural romance," arguing that the two give short shrift to "the hard-won solitary labors of the artist who doesn't pirate or sample."

There is no such artist. And Rothstein himself is the romantic.

The surface problem here is clashing definitions, with the roots in clashing ideologies. What is "piracy" and "sampling"? Rothstein's definition appears to derive from the discursive tradition of the courts -- a tradition that has enshrined in law (and our culture) the artist/author as romantic hero: the solitary genius who, mini-God-like, creates something new under the sun.

Except that there isn't anything new under the sun, and neither creativity nor authorship happens in a vacuum. It's the modern/post-modern conception of the author that recognizes this (though the truth is ancient). So it's all the more bizarre to see Rothstein call Vaidhyanathan and Lessig "anti-modernist," asserting that they "yearn for a preindustrial world in which an unbounded terrain of entertainment and folk art is somehow made freely available." You can almost hear the sneer in that sentence. Yet he goes on to praise the "real accomplishments" of the open source software movement -- profoundly derivative, collaborative authorship at its finest.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the review as a whole. But I would advise those of you who agree with Rothstein about authorship to take a good, hard look at the works you admire, and challenge yourself to identify progenitors in voice, style, substance, form, etc. I'd be tremendously surprised if you did not come away with a more nuanced definition of "piracy," "sampling" and creativity than you may have had before.

Via Siva.

Category: Big Thoughts

Brian Flemming on May 8, 2004 09:55 PM writes...

Did Lessig change the title of his book?

My copy is called, ""Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity"

But in Rothstein's piece at nytimes.com it's called, ""Free Culture: How BAD Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity" (emphasis added).

And Rothstein sure does a lot of quoting for someone who doesn't believe in piracy and sampling. Couldn't he make his point without all that thievery?

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Donna Wentworth on May 8, 2004 10:01 PM writes...

Hilarious. Evidently Rothstein was thinking, "bad, bad, bad, oh so very bad" as he wrote, and the end result is his own unique authorial stanp on Larry's title.

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Timothy Phillips on May 10, 2004 09:04 AM writes...

This isn's the first time Rothstein has sneeringly denounced creative copying. See my comment on his column of January 2003. Here is Steven Wu's comment on the same column.

More on the creative freedom that Rothstein so despises can be found here and here

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Copyright and Postmodernism from joegratz.net
Donna Wentworth has some great comments on Edward Rothstein's review of Siva Vaidhyanathan's new book. She points out that though Rothstein accuses Siva of romanticism, it is he who is the Romantic, holding fast to the 19th-century notion of the... [Read More]

Tracked on May 8, 2004 07:51 PM





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