Read-Write Culture

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Concept used by Lawrence Lessig, who contrasts it with a Read-Only Culture.


From a review of a Lessig lecture by Dmytri Kleiner, at

"In his key-note address Lessig presented a history of culture framed in the idea of a "Read-Write" culture, a culture of free sharing and collaborative authorship, having been the norm for the majority of history and having been, over the course of the last century, thwarted and exterminated by Intellectual Property legislation and converted to "Read-Only" culture dominated by a regime of Producer-Control.

In his presentation Lessig bemoans a number of recent travesties where the work of artists was censored by copyright law, mentioning DJ Dangermouse and his "Grey Album" and "Jesus Christ: The Musical" by Javier Prato, both projects torpedoed by the legal owners of the music used in the production of the works, similar to the experiences of Negativland and John Oswald before them.

It is important to note here that in all of these cases the wishes of the artists, consumers in the eyes of the law of the music in question, was subordinated to the control of the legal representatives of the producers, The Beatles and Gloria Gaynor respectively.

The specific problem expressed, then, is that Producer-control of culture, by creating a Read-Only culture, is a hindrance to culture; destroying the vibrancy and diversity of popular cultural on behalf of the narrow interest of a few privileged "producers" at the expense of everybody else.

The idea of producer-control is presented in contrast to the idea of a cultural "Commons" a common stock of value that all can draw from and contribute to. The "commons," then, denies the right of producer-control and instead insists on the freedom of consumers. Thus, the "free" in "free culture" specifically refers to naturally unhindered freedom of "consumers" to make use of the cultural common stock and not the state-enforced "freedom" of "producers" to control the use of "their" work. Or, more to the point, the idea of a cultural commons does away with the distinction of producers and consumers of culture — seeing them as being in fact the same actors in an ongoing iterative cultural discourse.

Lessig argues that now, as a result of the Creative Commons and commons-based peer-production, Read-Write culture is reborn anew; the beneficiary of a rich-commons and a wealthy network." (