Thursday, 5 November 2009

Criminalising our children in the copyright war

There's not many people can make an hour long keynote presentation on copyright both interesting and informative, but Larry Lessig can. To a packed auditorium Professor Lessig spoke passionately about his belief that the copyright laws are wrong. They were put together at a time when it was never envisaged that they would impinge so much on our daily life, and were designed to cope with printed material. Copyright law regulates copies, and with a book you can buy it, sell it, read it, give it to someone, lend it - all of these actions come under the fair use principle and do not involve "making a copy". But, and this is a really big but, technology has changed - enter the net - where every single use of a digital object involves making a copy.

Lessig talked about the ecology of creativity - the concept of different ecologies for different sort of content creators. The business model that Britney Spears operates under for example where she depends on the exclusive rights to distribute her work, is very different to that of a scientist producing an academic journal, or an amateur content creator. The use of our current copyright laws is harmful to the dissemination of knowledge, and his advice to us was - stop it! he even gave us a certificate of entitlement to question the current copyright laws, signed by a Harvard Professor of Law (himself).

He used some interesting examples of where things are not working - the preservation of documentary films for example, where in order to put these onto DVD and make them available requires that the copyright holder of every single snippet of film has to give their approval - this can take years and his fear is that the vast majority of twentieth century documentaries will turn to dust before copyright clearance has been obtained to distribute them in a different medium.

So - how to sort out this problem. There are 3 options. First is change the law which he opined was hopeless (and he should know - he's a lawyer).
Or change the way we operate - he was a founder of creative commons licences where content creators can assign rights of use to their content without the intervention of a lawyer.
Or change fate - learn from our mistakes.

He finished with the fear that in the war on copyright that is being fought, the terrorists are our own children - we are criminalising them. There is no way to stop technology, and our kids may eventually rebel against the laws - which may not be the best outcome.

The talk is on line here at the moment (you need silverlight installed and he starts at about 27 minutes into it) and I would strongly recommend that you watch it - it has been the highlight of the conference for me.

1 comment:

Pablo said...

Interesting talk. Lessig tackles the problems with copyright very well. I'd be interested in his arguments against the radicals such as Sweden's Pirate Party who argue for an end to patents and a much more radical slashing of commercial copyright than Lessig seems to accept here. There is a touch of the 'Things must change so they can remain the same' about his conclusions. Just a touch!