Sunday, December 02, 2007

Larry Lessig on Copyright

Copyright has turned into a double edged sword. Its purpose is to protect people and corporations from having their work duplicated without compensation. Eventually, this work is supposed to pass into the public domain where it becomes everyone's property. However, these days the bulk of copyrights are controlled by multinational corporations who are in no mood to let assets slip from their control.

The last copyright law in the U.S. prevents anything copyrighted after 1923 and still under copyright at the time the law was passed from going into the public domain until 2023. Larry Lessig is a lawyer and university professor who challenged the constitutionality of the law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the court ruled against him.

Much as they'd like to, governments and corporations can't stop the world from changing and culture has the nasty habit of evolving without needing anyone's official permission. Below is a 20 minute video of Lessig discussing why governments and corporations are behind the times and how mash-ups are a vibrant form of contemporary culture. Lessig is still looking for ways to make the copyright laws more balanced as he fears that in their current state they will restrict the creation of culture and make us intellectually poorer.

This video is one of many resulting from the TED conferences. The topics are wide ranging and some are scientifically complex, but the speakers generally are good at explaining things to a lay audience and there's lots of provocative material here.

3 comments:

Kris said...

Really fascinating stuff, Mark. Thanks for posting it.

Dancin' Dave said...

He makes interesting points but I couldn't disagree more with his conclusions.

As someone who's content has been pirated over and over again on YouTube, it angers me to think that my hard work is now up for grabs simply because it's easy for kids to do.

Copyright is about more than money, it's about control. I can choose to give permission to have my content used, or I can withhold that permission if I don't like the manner in which it is being used.

If I were to write a heartfelt love song and some kid decided to cut images of Hitler to it and make it a Nazi love song, I'd like to have the control over my own material to prevent that from happening. If a kid wanted to use my love song to create a video love letter to his girlfriend I might very well approve that for non-commercial use.

The answer is not to weaken the copyright laws and give blanket permission to anyone anywhere who wants to use a copyrighted work. A better idea would be to use the vast resources of the Internet to make it easier for interested parties to contact copyright holders and seek permission.

Why isn't there a copyright.com with links to the government's database so this research can be accomplished simply?

This way, if someone writes to the author of "I Will Survive" and says "I'd like to use your song in a video about Jesus getting his by a bus," the copyright holder could consider if this is an appropriate use of his/her material.

Mark Mayerson said...

The thing we can both agree on is that the law, as it exists, is not working. You don't feel your work is being protected. Corporations are preventing works from ever falling into the public domain. People interested in using copyrighted content have no easy way to purchase a license. Something has got to give eventually and Lessig's argument is that we should be actively trying to find a solution rather than allowing the status quo to continue.