Good interview with Larry Lessig by Reason magazine

Good interview with Larry Lessig by Reason magazine

Includes good succinct explanation of why intellectual property is different from other kinds of property:

“If you’re a lawyer, it’s OK to think of intellectual property as property, because we[base ‘]re trained to use the word property in a careful way. We don’t think of it as an absolute, perpetual right that can’t be trumped by anybody. We understand property rights are constantly limited by public-use exceptions and needs, and in that context we understand intellectual property to be a very particular, peculiar kind of property .. the only property constitutionally required to be for limited terms. It’s clearly established for a public purpose and is not a natural right.

The real problem is when people use it in the ordinary sense of the term property, which is “a thing that I have that nobody can take, forever, unless I give it to you.” By thinking of it as property, we have no resistance to the idea of certain great companies controlling “their” intellectual property forever. But if we instead use terms like monopoly to describe the control that companies like Disney have over art objects like Mickey Mouse, it’s harder to run naturally to the idea that you ought to have your monopoly right forever.

Another problem is the increasing ability of owners of intellectual property to control the actual use of that property. Before the network, if you bought a book, the First Sale doctrine made it impossible for the copyright owner to control what you did with it. Copyright law would not interfere with my ability to give you the book or copy a chapter or read the book a thousand times. All those things are completely within my control, partly because the law guarantees it, but also because the book producer couldn’t do anything about it even if he wanted.

As you move to the Internet, though, lots more control is possible. If you look in the permissions for an Adobe eBook, it has the power to control how many times you can print certain sections of the book, whether you can use technology to read the book aloud, whether you can cut and paste sections of the book. All these controls would not have existed without digital technology, because the cost of regulating those uses would have been too high.”

Also, very good on the way in which digital representations allow unparalleled extensions of IPRs:

“And now, if digital content has a built-in copy protection system, you aren’t allowed to interfere with it, even if the content isn’t protected by copyright laws. I have bought a number of eBooks, including Aristotle’s Politics. Aristotle[base ‘]s Politics, of course, was never copyrighted, but the Adobe eBook reader forbids me from printing any pages of the book because the permissions have been set to disable any printing. If I try to interfere with those permissions .. if I write a bit of code to disable the limitations that forbid me from printing Aristotle’s Politics from my Adobe eBook .. that would be circumventing an access technology, which under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a crime.”

He also tells the story of how the Stanford network police got it wrong about his use of Morpheus:

“I was giving a talk at the New America Foundation. Jack Valenti from the Motion Picture Association of America stood up and talked about how awful it was that Stanford allowed a Morpheus server to exist on its network, and what did I think of this obvious technology to enable stealing? I told him I had a Morpheus server running on my machine at work, which was delivering my own content, both audio and text versions of lectures I[base ‘]ve given. When I first made this available, the Stanford network police came in and pulled the plug on my server over the weekend because they thought I was engaging in “illegal acts.” But I wasn[base ‘]t engaging in illegal acts. It[base ‘]s completely legal for me to distribute content that I have the copyright over, and this technology makes it very easy to do that.

The idea that you would assume that all uses are illegal is an overreaction to what I think is a legitimate problem. I’m not in favor of copyright theft, I’m just opposed to shutting down all technologies merely because copyright theft may occur on them.”