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A Tight Grip Can Choke Creativity

Publication Date: 
February 09, 2008
Source: 
The New York Times
Author: 
Joe Nocera

The New York Times' Joe Nocera wrote a column about the Harry Potter Lexicon case that references the Fair Use Project, its Executive Director Anthony Falzone, and the work of Professor Larry Lessig:

On Friday, a lawyer named Anthony Falzone filed his side’s first big brief in the case of Warner Bros. Entertainment and J. K. Rowling v. RDR Books. Mr. Falzone is employed by Stanford Law School, where he heads up the Fair Use Project, which was founded several years ago by Lawrence Lessig, perhaps the law school’s best-known professor. Mr. Falzone and the other lawyers at the Fair Use Project are siding with the defendant, RDR Books, a small book publisher based in Muskegon, Mich. As you can see from the titans who have brought the suit, RDR Books needs all the legal firepower it can muster.

...

At the same time, though, copyright holders have tried to impose rules on the rest of us — through threats and litigation — that were never intended to be part of copyright law. They sue to prevent rappers from taking samples of copyrighted songs to create their own music. Authors’ estates try to deprive scholars of their ability to reprint parts of books or articles because they disapprove of the scholar’s point of view. To illustrate the reason why the Fair Use Project is getting involved "...Mr. Lessig likes to cite a recent, absurd case where a mother posted a video of her baby dancing to Prince’s song “Let’s Go Crazy” on YouTube — and Universal Music promptly demanded that YouTube remove the video because it violated the copyright. Have these efforts had — as we like to say in the news business — a chilling effect? You bet they have."

About a decade ago, Mr. Lessig decided to fight back. His core belief is that copyright protection, as he put it to me, “was meant to foster creativity, not to stifle it” — yet that is how it is now being used. He fought the Mickey Mouse Preservation Act all the way to the Supreme Court (he lost). He founded Creative Commons, which is, in a sense, an alternative form of copyright, allowing creators to grant far more rights to others than the traditional copyright system. And he started the Fair Use Project to push back against copyright hogs like J. K. Rowling.

...

Mr. Lessig points out, anybody who owns a computer can now create content that is based on someone else’s creation. Indeed, we do all the time, by posting content on Facebook, on YouTube, everywhere on the Internet. If the creation of that content is deemed to be a violation of copyright, “then we have a whole generation of criminals,” said Mr. Lessig — which is terribly corrosive to society. But if it is fair use, as it ought to be, then it becomes something quite healthy — new forms of free expression and creativity.