permission culture

I’m not sure if people are able to comment yet. I’m working on that bug, which I believe has something to do with Edublogs’ need to counter a recent deluge of comment spam.

However, I am aware that I need to talk more about what “permission culture” is and why it matters.

It hinges on a discursive shift that has recently taken place in relation to copyright. Originally copyright was enacted to encourage the publication of creative works. However, copyright term has been repeatedly extended, and there is a real prospect that it may become effectively permanent. The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 has criminalised much of what once was cultural dialogue (this is one of the reasons I write this blog). So-called “Free Trade Agreements” are extending US intellectual property (IP) law to many other jurisdictions throughout the world – sometimes even without the protections the USA itself has (e.g. South Korea was recently forced to give up fair use).

The sum of these things has led to stifling of innovation, creating situations where for example “the lawyers decide what’s allowed in a film” (Lessig, 2001, p4) and “creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators of the past” (Lessig, 2004). I believe that it was in one of Lessig’s works that I first saw the term “permission culture”, describing this situation.

This is reminiscent of Derrida’s satirically imagined world (Striphas and McLeod, 2006, p128):

where every idea or nuanced turn of phrase is private property, where ownership of a cultural text is divided up and assigned to various stockholders.

The opposite of permission culture is free culture. Lessig has written a book about that. As in a free market, a free culture does not mean that nothing has a price, or that people shouldn’t get paid. As Richard Stallman famously said in relation to the development of the Free Software Foundation, “it is free as in freedom, not free as in beer”.

My hope is that the paranoid bureacratic resposes to The War Against Terror (TWAT) as described in the two previous posts will, by their bizarre impracticality and institutionalised absurdism, actually end up helping to counter permission culture rather than adding to it. But then again, they might not…


Lessig, L. 2001. The Future of Ideas. New York: Random House.

Lessig, L. 2004. Free Culture – How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. Penguin Press.

Striphas, T. and McLeod, K. 2006. Strategic Improprieties: Cultural Studies, The Everyday, and the Politics of Intellectual properties. Cultural Studies Vol. 20, Nos 2/3 March/May 2006, pp. 119/144. can be downloaded via


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