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Lessig: Rewriting The Rules

Publication Date: 
March 15, 2007
Source: 
CIO Insight
Author: 
Wayne Rash

This article describes how influencial Professor Lessig has been in the last ten years in shaping the rules about copyright on the internet. Following are quotes by Professor Lessig:

In his writings and commentary, Lessig argues that the rules need to be changed if innovation is to flourish. He suggests, for example, that the manner in which copyright is defined does not work in the current digital world.

"The architecture of the Internet was responsible for the innovation around the network," Lessig said in an interview. "It brought about innovation because people didn't need to ask AT&T if they could innovate. [Innovation] must be preserved," he said. Lessig said that even though companies including AT&T may own the physical infrastructure that comprises the Internet, those companies don't hold the keys to who uses it or how it's used.

"I think that companies are increasingly seeing that the existing rules weren't written for this technology," Lessig said. "They don't make sense. They create uncertainty." Lessig pointed out that YouTube, for example, is suffering from just such uncertainty. "The company can't realize its full value because the copyright rules are against it," he said.

While Lessig said he'd like to see legislation that would recognize the changing rules of the Internet, he isn't counting on it. "The reform will be through private action," he said. Lessig said he's already working on this through his organization, Creative Commons, which is fostering flexible copyright licensing. He said his organization has already entered into a deal with the largest insurer of documentary films so that filmmakers can make use of licensing specifically designed to meet their needs, sidestepping today's restrictive default licensing. "It will radically change how documentaries are done," he said.

But, as Lessig points out, that's just one area of innovation that's affected by intellectual property rules that don't match the reality of the Internet. Because of this, Lessig has started the Center for Internet and Society, which is intended to help innovators grow by redefining how copyright rules, including fair use, are handled.

Most important, though, is the idea that the environment makes the rules. "Technology is a kind of a regulator," Lessig said.