SES Keynote Live Blog: Lawrence Lessig: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in a Hybrid Economy

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SES Keynote Live Blog: Lawrence Lessig: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in a Hybrid Economy


Posted by: Dan Malachowski, Product Marketing Manager (Natural Search)

Lawrence Lessig:
How we can win the battle against IP extremism from his book “Remix.”  The Internet needs a freedom that we depend upon and it is threatened by copyright lawyers.

Starts With Three Stories
(1) A long time ago, the elite spoke Latin and ordinary people spoke normal languages, so masses ignored the elite.

(2) John Philip Sousa was not a fan of the new “talking machine” because he thought it would cause young people to stop singing together.  He feared we would lose the capacity of this read-write creativity.  The “talking machine” culture would be read-only, a culture that is top down where the vocal cords of ordinary people are lost.

(3) 1919 US launched Prohibition with the ideal to clean-up America.  By 1929, people began to realize this was failing.  Government used wiretapping to entrap criminals.  Was the government allowed to wiretap without a warning?  The Supreme Court turned to the Fourth Amendment (freedom from unreasonable searches).  Justice Taft said that the amendment was meant to stop trespassing, not wiretapping.  Louis Brandeis dissented saying that the Fourth Amendment was meant to protect privacy and the job of the Court should be to translate old protections into a new context.  By 1933, there were increasing costs on the war against bootleggers with low benefits from the war (alcohol still everywhere).  So the government ended the war on Prohibition by repealing the idea of using war to fight alcohol dependence.

Today
Freedom to write, create and quote in the digital age.  What should that freedom be?  As with the war against Prohibition, we are in a copyright war.  As with the war that Sousa launched, it is by an industry that is terrified of the changes that will happen.  Can we get the benefits of this war without the costs? The benefits of copyright are allowing people to profit from their creativity by limiting the freedom to copy.  Like privacy (wiretapping), the right regulation of copyright depends on today’s technology.  We need to adjust copyright law to achieve the same value in a different context.  Copyright needs to produce incentives for the professional, but ensure freedom for the amateur.

Evolution
We now have technologies for people to get and consume culture (like iTunes).  We have a celestial jukebox culture accessible by anyone from anywhere at any time.  Revival of read-write culture.  Remix.  In the context of YouTube, videos inspire the creation of other videos and then version after version/remakes.  For example, dancing to Soulja Boy, putting Soulja Boy over Simpsons’ footage, will.i.am putting Obama’s words to music.  Being creative with the work of others creates conversations.  What’s important is the technique has been democratized and it speaks to a generation more powerfully than words.  Copyright law indicates this read-write technology illegal.  Every single use of a digital work is a copy.  The platform of the Internet has rendered read-write illegal.  All this non-permission use of content on YouTube is getting take-down notices.  No one ever thought of this when writing the Constitution.  Law is out of sync with the technology.  The law needs updating.  The war on piracy has not worked.  The Supreme Court declared peer-to-peer file sharing illegal in the summer of 2005 and all peer-to-peer file sharing has done since is grow.

Three Economies
(1) Commercial economies- Money

(2) Sharing economies- Such as going out to lunch with a friend.  Exchange not around money.  If one woman said let's have lunch and another said how about I give you $50 instead, that would be weird.
The Internet has both commercial economies and sharing economies.

(3) Hybrid economies- Google- every click you make, Google is learning something.  In exchange they give you something back.  Google is now allowing you to change your search results with Search Wiki.  You’re helping Google by working for free to make Google richer.  It’s a hybrid.  Amazon’s value comes from people rating and reviewing products for free.  Wikipedia.  Steve Balmer says every successful Internet business will be a hybrid.  Free culture underplayed by free markets.  What we have to do to make this possible.

Changes in Law
The law has to give up its obsession with copyright.  It should focus on what is meaningful, remixing is not meaningful.  It makes no sense to regulate this broadly.  Copyright law has to focus on professionals who are copying material in complete form.  When amateurs are doing it, it should be okay.  Deregulate a space of culture from heavy-handed regulation and focus it where it should do some good.

The piracy war has totally failed.  We could fight forever against the enemy (our kids who are pirates).  More money for artists is important, but kids aren’t criminals.  Chill the control freak lawyers.   Businesses can build respect into their hybrids and express respect they have for artists.  Radiohead has enabled creators to use their work with Creative Commons licenses.  They give artists an easy way to mark their creativity.  150 million people use these licenses now.

Lawyers are still saying nothing has changed.  We are insane.  This cannot work in the digital age.  We will force kids not to create.  Kids believe that copyright was for a time past.  That is bad too.  We have to preserve the copyright system against the extremes, but not kill creativity.  We can’t stop piracy. We can only drive it underground.  We have to ask whether this is good, our kids living against the law.  This is corrosive to the rule of law, as well as the instincts kids need to survive in a democracy.

Q and A
Lots of IP extremism with online video content.  Background of video of little girl dancing was music from Prince.  Lawyers said this violated copyright.  YouTube fights these battles all the time.  After three complaints about copyright, they’ll turn your channel off.  McCain’s YouTube channel was questioned by people raising copyright claims.  McCain wrote YouTube saying these were fair uses and that they shouldn’t be taken down.  YouTube says they can’t spend time seeing if this is fair use or not.  One good thing that Viacom is saying in their lawsuit is that all they want to do is not have full copies of their shows on YouTube.  If there are remixes, that is fine.  This kind of leadership is key.  Need to encourage creativity, while ensuring compensation to artists without breaking the Internet.

It’s hard to tell the difference between an amateur and professional.  Some cases are easy.  Video of a kid dancing with Prince in the background is an amateur.  Madonna is a professional.  Kids aren’t making money.  Some are doing it because they want to become professionals.  Design schools see their talent and it helps them gain admission, but the stuff they are creating is still amateur.

What about amateurs profiting from ads on their YouTube channel?  If there is a copyright violation on YouTube, YouTube takes the video down and they have no liability, but the user who posted it does have liability.  This should be reversed.  Where people are trying to profit, we should worry about copyright laws.  When they aren’t, we shouldn’t.

Peer-to-peer file networks are wrong if acting against the wishes of the copyright owner.  What kids are doing is wrong.  But Congress set up a system that what seems natural to your kid is a crime.  We should find a different way without lawyers and lobbyists.  Regular people need to talk to your representatives.

How to support the middle hybrid view.  The more business that embed Creative Commons like Flickr and Picasa have done, the more the legislature will begin to recognize that there’s a vast number of people in the middle that believe you shouldn’t be profiting from other’s works, but you still shouldn’t stifle creativity.


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