Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Copyright: Living Life Against the Law

Lawrence Lessig (now at Harvard) has another thoughtful presentation regarding copyright that he gave at EDUCAUSE 2009. He makes a compelling case about how "things have changed" but that our copyright laws have not kept up with those changes. In the past, "copyright had a tiny role." He quotes Jessica Litman:

At the turn of the century [the last century, not this one], U.S. copyright law was technical, inconsistent, and difficult to understand, but it didn't apply to very many people or very many things. If one were an author or publisher of books, maps, charts, paintings, sculpture, photographs or sheet music, playwrite or producer of plays, or a printer, the copyright law bore on one's business. Booksellers, piano-roll and phonograph record publishers, motion picture producers, musicians, scholars, members of Congress, and ordinary consumers could go about their business without ever encountering a copyright problem.

Ninety years later, the U.S. copyright law is even more technical, inconsistent and difficult to understand; more importantly, it touches everyone and everything. In the intervening years, copyright has reached out to embrace much of the paraphernalia of modern society. The current copyright statute weighs in at 142 pages. Technology, heedless of law, has developed modes that insert multiple acts of reproduction and transmission - potentially actionable events under the copyright statute - into commonplace daily transactions. Most of us can no longer spend even an hour [emphasis Lessig's] without colliding with the copyright law.
Please note that he is not arguing to abolish copyright in this presentation, but that it needs "to be radically changed in important ways."

It's a full sixty minutes, and the money part for educators is at the end, but I think it's well worth your time. He's said it before, but the part that always gets me the most is when he talks about how our students (children) are "living in an age of prohibitions" and that they "live life against the law," and what that will mean for how they grow and develop if we don't find a way to change that.


  1. love Lessig's work. I was able to hear him at UT and he was a great and interesting speaker. Looking forward to watching this.

  2. Karl...
    Are you aware of the recent movements in exemptions from Library of Congress to Copyright? Here is something I recently wrote about it as well as some thoughts from Renee Hobbs from the Media Education Lab. The game is SURELY changing!