The Globe and Mail has covered the recent launch of Lawrence Lessig’s new book Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and The Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. The book is available free for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons license. Since the online book launch, volunteers have already created audio versions of each chapter, also available for free non-commercial use.
This story follows on the heals of a Canadian federal court ruling that making files available for sharing on the Internet does not constitute copyright infringement. However, big media would have you believe that making content available for free has a detrimental affect on sales. This assumption has been proven incorrect by a recent Harvard Business School study, showing that the number of music file downloads has no relation to in-store CD sales.
The real story here is that the Internet has turned traditional business assumptions upside down. According to McLuhan’s laws of media, every technology has unexpected, and unintended, effects on its users (Extend, Obsolesce, Retrieve, Reverse). Lessig will sell more copies of his book because it is available online for free. This is especially true in his case, because the book is about digital copyright issues. Lessig has not given up his commercial rights, but he has created a legion of potential book buyers, without an expensive marketing campaign.
The lesson for businesses is that you had better understand the medium, and especially its effects, before it flips your business model around. The open source model, applied to open content, can actually be a financially solid business model. Think of it as the whistle-blow of the cluetrain 😉