Old Man Sarkozy

Sarkozy, France’s new President, was hailed, upon arriving into Le Palais de L’Elysee (the French White House), as the first French President born after World War II, the one who would bring a sense of youth and innovation back into French Politics. Because I think France can use a bit of a shift away from the asinine extremes of the Socialist Party (the recent strike being a prime example), I voted for him. But yesterday, Sarkozy proved that, while he may be younger than his predecessor, his thinking is not exactly modern and youthful on all fronts.

You can tell someone is getting old when they start telling you about how “young people have no culture.” And that’s just about what Sarkozy said when endorsing a Big-Brother like plan to monitor all Internet connections and cut off users who share copyrighted materials:

“We run the risk of witnessing a genuine destruction of culture,” French president Nicolas Sarkozy said in a speech endorsing the deal.

“The Internet must not become a high-tech Far West, a lawless zone where outlaws can pillage works with abandon or, worse, trade in them in total impunity. And on whose backs? On artists’ backs,” he added.

Artists should get compensated for what they do. But the way in which they are compensated, and the laws we enact to protect them, should be balanced against what we stand to lose.

As Lessig so crisply shows in his talks, we live in a remix culture, where everyone can become, not just a consumer of culture, but also a producer. A couple of kids in a dorm room lip-sync a Backstreet Boys song, and old friends a continent apart share a laugh by way of a YouTube link. A citizen wishes to make a political statement on the odd relationship between Bush and Blair, and his love song montage is more powerful than any essay. An Apple fan in England composes his own ad for the iPod touch, mixing in a song from his favorite Brazilian band. Overnight, it becomes an Internet sensation, and Apple flies him out to California, licenses the song from the Brazilian band, and produces a “professional” version of the ad for TV (although, frankly, they could have aired the original, it was that good.)

These are not flukes. These are legitimate evolutions in how the human race has come to express itself. Yet under Sarkozy’s plan, all of these would be illegal and, if they had all been done by one person, that one person would no longer have Internet Access.

We should not blindly enforce draconian copyright protection laws that would too easily make this kind of speech go away. Because, whether or not the dinosaurs of the music and movie industries accept it, this speech, this remixing, this “pillaging of works with abandon”, is culture.