We Started Something

Last night I saw the “This Day in blogging History” post on Boing Boing, reminding us that ten years ago yesterday, Larry Lessig turned loose his book Free Culture on a drowsy world. Lessig’s vision of the riptide where digital communication and copyright law converge clarified a great deal of what we saw going on around us, and predicted even more of what we’ve leapt/stumbled/been pushed into — between his book and his famous lecture-presentation of this and related topics, he redefined the terms for informed public discourse on copyright and digital media. Thank you, Larry!

Cover of Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture

The day after his book was released under a Creative Commons license, I mused to myself and my blog, “What if a bunch of ordinary people just read the chapters aloud into whatever digital recording device they have, and shared the results as an open, Common, audiobook?” Over the next few days, readers and supporters from around the world cheered, contributed time, effort, recordings, storage, bandwidth, editing and remastering skills, and in very short order a crowd-sourced (I don’t think we had that word yet) audiobook was freely available on the Web. Bingo. (Here’s the archive.org version of the audiobook.)

I retrieved the original post, as I say, and reposted it on this blog, added in the comments one by one; I’ll fix up links and names and so on eventually. Some of the original files are still hosted where the original page linked to them; others are gone. Some of the people involved are still in contact with us day on day; others I’ve lost track of.

When I read the “ten years ago” entry at Boing Boing, I looked back at my original post (retrieved from archive.org) for the first time in ages. There’s so much I didn’t remember from those days, so many people who got involved, even if only to cheer us on. And Doug Kaye and Eric Rice and Scott Matthews pitched in their capacities, Dave Winer put his energies behind it, and my dear pals from olden blogging days got aboard. In the aftermath, Hugh McGuire founded Librivox on the same principle. I teared up a little when I read through everything and remembered.

I’ll put out word on the social networks, and invite more prominent names to amplify the signal — it would be great if anyone who was associated with that effort, anyone who downloaded those first crude files or who has benefited from the smoothed-out versions that you can find now at archive.org, or anyone who participated in Librivox, or anyone who remembered those wild days, cold just stop by and leave a comment. Greater things than these we are now doing, indeed; but for a few days in 2004, making a crowd-sourced audiobook of Free Culture seemed like about the greatest.

4 thoughts on “We Started Something

  1. A while back – maybe a year ago, I happened upon the pre-librivox files, bitorrented them, and listened to voices I’d either never heard, or not heard in a long time. It seemed an artifact from longer ago than a mere 10 years. A prized one.

  2. What I remember most is how very quickly it all happened. You’re right — I don’t think anyone had yet heard of “crowdsourcing”. It just seemed like such an obvious thing to do at the time. Glad to have been a part of it and still to be in touch with many other contributors.

  3. I hope, similarly, ten years from now, you can look back at current projects underway and say, perhaps with a tear but at least with satisfaction, “We started something.”

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