Monday, January 05, 2009

the master's voice

For those at all interested in the intersection of digital technology and traditional creativity, this video on Lawrence Lessig's website goes a long way toward explaining the current copyright dilemma.

Lawrence Lessig is, of course, the name in the copyright fight, but so many of his followers fail to hear how often he stresses the importance of professional creativity and the need to continue viable business models for it. For instance, at around 8:51 in the presentation, Lessig muses about why we teach writing. His answer, in part -- to teach (and learn) respect for how hard this kind of creativity is to do. At around the 13:30 mark, he discusses the "essentiality" of copyright. At around the 30:00 mark, he declares that he does not condone piracy, and near the 49:00 mark he makes it known he is not a copyright abolitionist.

Lessig can be a bit dismissive and flippant in this talk (not all strong copyright advocates are control freaks), and I don’t agree with everything he says (I wish, for instance, he would counsel "practicing respect" for all creators, not just the new digital remixers) but this is an excellent overview of the situation, with a fascinating discussion of the hybrid economies sprouting online. The idea of a controlled "deregulation" of certain practices under copyright should, I think, give us all pause considering the recent global economic effect of too much deregulation in the financial sector.

Side note: I think I may have coined the idea of "declaring peace" in the copyright wars in an op-ed I did for the Globe last May, but since there is no copyright on ideas I understand why Dr. Lessig did not call me to seek permission to use that phrase.


Anonymous said...

Lessig has always had much of interest to say on the topic. It is interesting as I thought he had switched his focus from copyright reform to corruption.

It is interesting also, that you call him a strong copyright advocate as he makes quite clear around 39:00 that he wants to significantly weaken current copyright laws.

What I find most interesting however, is what is missing. While Lessig believes that copyright is absolutely necessary for free speech and creativity, he made a name for himself in his unsuccessful attempt to prevent the term of American copyright from being extended.

As well as limiting copyright from controlling "remixes", what does he think the proper term of copyright should be? (presumably less than it currently is) and why does he never mention that? I suspect that is a political choice as advocating for shorter terms at the same time would likely label him a radical in many lawmakers eyes, and perhaps a few allies.

John said...

To be clear, I did not call Lessig a "strong copyright advocate." Rather I suggested his labeling of strong copyright advocates as "control freaks" was unfortunate and inaccurate.

Lessig leaving stuff out of his talk might not be as mysterious as you suggest. Perhaps Lessig has softened his view and/or changed his mind a bit on terms and controls, having seen the recent rise of abolitionism.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification. That is certainly not how I read it.

I've never heard him state what his preferred maximum copyright term is, but he has said it should initially be short (5-10 years) though renewable multiple times, and that one should have to register it.

Nothing I've ever heard him say contradicts this. In fact the desire he expresses in this video, to have more works pass to new creators in as timely a fashion as possible, and everything he has done with CC, would suggest he still thinks that shorter is better. At least compared to the current 95 years in the US.

So, no. I still think he has some political motivations for not saying anything about copyright terms.