Wednesday, November 10, 2004

CSCW - Lawrence Lessig

I was really looking forward to this talk -- Hacking the Law to Rebuild a Free Culture. Those who had to leave early were not happy at all about missing it.

First, we had the obligatory wrap up and look ahead by the conference directors. There were 452 attendees from six continents. Not bad. Notes were new this year, but posters weren't. Being a newbie, I'd have guessed the opposite. The upcoming conference locations on similar topics look pretty enticing: Paris , Sanibel Island, and Banff.

Well, the presentation was worth the wait. Great use of visuals, obviously well practiced, and really seamless use of the remote. Here are some points that struck me: The writer and reader together make culture. Copyright is good and essential and just. Historically rational. Commercial remix is regulated. Uncommercial remix is free. Discussed what Hitchcock had to do to make Rear Window. Technology has now reduced the economic barriers to essentially nothing. Obtaining rights is enormously expensive, orders of magnitude more so than creating derivative works. He showed a hysterical remix of the Peanuts partying to "Hey Ya!" Wow! This one really made his point about digital creativity. This is powerful new multimedia speech that goes beyond text because it has more impact.

The same technology enables creative power and uncreative reuse. The "war" against uncreative destroys creative. Today, it is illegal. In future, it will be "impossible" unless you are a geek. The current version of copyright doesn't fit for technology today. It is too lawyer centric. There is no way to look up copyright holders; you are required to hire detectives to figure it out for you. Rejecting the law is stupid. He rejects the concept of rejecting the law. The law can change and has changed in the past to deal with technology advances fairly, as with the advent of player pianos. The mechanical reproduction fees that Congress mandated are the basis of the recording industry today. A modern equivalent would be a predetermined remix fee of some sort that would keep the lawyers out of the mix.

One other reasonable example of an attempt at change is called PDEA. After 50 years, you'd have to pay $1 to continue holding the copyright on your works. 85-90% of content would be free, because it wouldn't be worth even one dollar to the copyright holders to retain their rights. Congress, unfortunately, bought the argument that this would hurt poor copyright owners!

The political problem is IP McCarthyism. Lessig's answer is Creative Commons. No lawyers are needed because rights are built into the architecture. Some rights reserved, not all or none. Avoiding the extremes will stop the McCarthyism.

DRM can allow copyright owner to opt out of restrictions such as fair use. Technology can enable remix in new ways. Remix has always been going on. We don't just want fair use, but free use. All fair use means is that you can hire a lawyer when you are sued.

His most important audience is creators (creative artists in whatever media). Some musicians and authors are using the Creative Commons license today -- David Byrne, Lessig himself (Cory Doctorow is another example that Lessig didn't mention). Why? To drive more attention to your work and gain more influence and money, or as part of an explicit recognition that all creativity is a remix, building on the past. Ultimately, parents must get it. The Creative Commons license comes in three basic forms: machine readable, human understandable, and legally enforceable.

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