Lawrence Lessig could be called a cultural environmentalist. One of America's most original and influential public intellectuals, his focus is the social dimension of creativity: how creative work builds on the past and how society encourages or inhibits that building with laws and technologies. In his two previous books, Code and The Future Of Ideas, Lessig concentrated on the destruction of much of the original promise of the Internet. Now, in Free Culture, he widens his focus to consider the diminishment of the larger public domain of ideas. In this powerful wake-up call he shows how short-sighted interests blind to the long-term damage they're inflicting are poisoning the ecosystem that fosters innovation.
This "borrowing" was nothing unique, either for Disney or for the industry. Disney was always parroting the feature-length mainstream films of his day.3 So did many others. Early cartoons are filled with knockoffs--slight variations on winning themes; retellings of ancient stories. The key to success was the brilliance of the differences. With Disney, it was sound that gave his animation its spark. Later, it was the quality of his work relative to the production-line cartoons with which he competed. Yet these additions were built upon a base that was borrowed. Disney added to the work of others before him, creating something new out of something just barely old.
Sometimes this borrowing was slight. Sometimes it was significant. Think about the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. If you're as oblivious as I was, you're likely to think that these tales are happy, sweet stories, appropriate for any child at bedtime. In fact, the Grimm fairy tales are, well, for us, grim. It is a rare and perhaps overly ambitious parent who would dare to read these bloody,