Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Very Cool Idea

Lawrence Lessig teaches law at Stanford and writes on intellectual property issues; he's one of the most prominent advocates of the importance of a freely-available commons in our cultural life. (Full disclosure: Lessig is a friend of my dad, but (to the best of my recollection) I've never met him.) If you're interested in these things, his most recent book, Free Culture, has been released online under a creative commons license; it's well worth reading.

He's had an idea which is, frankly, awesome. He has set up a wiki specifically devoted to criticisms of his own work: the Anti-Lessig Reader. Ironically, it would be hard to think of a better tribute to the spirit of his work: opening creative endeavor to free, voluntary contribution. And of course it shows his genuine dedication to the issues. W. V. Quine wrote that "Unscientific man is beset by a deplorable desire to have been right. The scientist is distinguished by a desire to be right." (Quiddities, "Rhetoric"). Setting up a forum for the critique of one's own work strongly demonstrates a desire to be right rather than a desire to have been right.

And, of course, it's ultimately very smart, because good critiques improve good work -- whether by allowing the creator to better rebut them, or to partially incorporate them, or to adopt them wholesale. Which feeds back into the importance of collaboration in intellectual life -- and, through that, to the importance of the creative commons. Culture and ideas are too important to be owned by corporations.

The big drawback to this idea? There's nothing there yet! I don't know if this is because no one's heard about it, or because Lessig's critics are purposely avoiding it as a forum, or something else, but my (quick) search found precisely one comment. Thus the idea is, so far, better than the reality. Still, bully for Lessig for throwing this up there. May many more follow his example!

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