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Talking To The Publisher Who Stole Google's Laptops

Publication Date: 
June 11, 2007
Farhad Manjoo

Salon quotes Professor Lawrence Lessig in a story about Richard Charkin, Chief Executive of McMillan Book Publishing, temporarily stealing two of Google's laptops to make a point:

Farhad Manjoo writes: "I phoned Richard Charkin, the chief executive of the U.K. publishing house Macmillan, on Friday morning, just after both Lawrence Lessig and Boing Boing published items calling him an idiot." Later he quotes Professor Lessig:

The thing was so silly in so many ways. What Charkin did, the copy-fighting Stanford law professor Lessig says, "betrays an astonishing level of ignorance."

But of course the main thing is this: When Google scans a book it does not reduce anyone else's access of the title -- people can still get it from the library. But when Charkin took the laptop, Google couldn't use it anymore. Intellectual property and physical property are in this way fundamentally different ideas, and American law, as Lessig has argued, has long treated them differently. The Constitution envisions copyright lasting for "limited times," while your rights to physical property are permanent. Yet those who hold large stocks of intellectual property constantly blur that difference; they've lobbied again and again to raise copyright terms, and they continually put forth the idea that "copying" is the same thing as "stealing." Talking to Charkin, the view shifts into sharp focus.


Lessig and other copy fighters argue that knowledge and human creativity flourish under a less restrictive copyright regime -- that intellectual property deserves less protection than physical property because art and science depend crucially upon access to past work.