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Lessig Spins Copyright Law 279

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the stuff-to-read dept.
ceebABC writes "In the always riveting CIO Insight magazine, tech-pundit (and professor) Lawrence Lessig examines the copyright laws and how they can be applied to e-books and other electronic forms of rights management... i.e., in today's world, the author doesn't receive a royalty everytime someone reads a book from the library. Will they in the future?"
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Lessig Spins Copyright Law

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  • by Maul (83993) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:03PM (#4876807) Journal
    in today's world, the author doesn't receive a royalty everytime someone reads a book from the library. Will they in the future?

    The ultimate goal of most publishers is likely to be pay-per-read. In other words, royalties for the PUBLISHER. The author might recieve 0.00000001% of this, or something like that, if they are lucky.
  • Library Royalties (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chunkwhite86 (593696) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:04PM (#4876813)
    I certainly hope that authors in the future don't recieve royalties for public library readers.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to be anti-copyright here, Authors should definitely recieve royalties - just not from a public library that my tax dollars went to fund.

    Just my 2 cents.
  • No, they won't. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kwerle (39371) <kurt@CircleW.org> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:09PM (#4876850) Homepage Journal
    in today's world, the author doesn't receive a royalty everytime someone reads a book from the library. Will they in the future?

    Nope. This was tried with new-fangled technology - the pay-per-view DVDs. It failed because folks aren't (quite) that dumb.

    If you think that folks will 'buy that' for the written word - a technology that has been around for a long time, you're a fool. Hell, folks won't even buy e-books that they can re-read.
  • Why Should they? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by arakon (97351) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:11PM (#4876866) Homepage
    Do I collect money every time someone walks across my yard? I'm a big supporter of the "Pay for it once" philosophy. If I buy a book, its mine, I can loan it to whoever I want. The idea can remain the writer's or whoever came up with it and copyrigted it, but the book is mine. I'm pretty sure that a "book" , as in a collection of paper with words on it, cannot be copyrighted, so as long as I don't make money off of it, how is it violating copyright if I let someone else "see" (I'm not talking about copying the book, just one copy). As I see it anything printed on paper can be seen by anyone, and read by anyone because it exsists on prior art.

    We never had to pay an author before for trading in a book, why should the model change now? Content should be paid for once. Continual payment to use it is just crap.
  • by Dialithis (33532) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:24PM (#4876946)
    Clearly, an exact duplicate of the existing system with pay-per-read royalties wouldn't work. But what if this hypothetical library can "buy" books for 1/10 of the current price in electronic form, but pay a small amount for each reading?

    Small libraries would suddenly be able to have millions of available volumes, and users of the library will have far more choice than before. The tradeoff would be that money previously spent in acquiring actual paper and storing it would be spent in paying for an equivalent amount of "electronic publishing" or use fees.

    I don't think this sounds so terrible.
  • Franklin (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Helpadingoatemybaby (629248) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:25PM (#4876954)
    If Franklin were alive today he'd never be allowed to start a "library." Just like then, it would be portrayed as a way to rip off authors -- but unlike then legislation can now be purchased to prevent these creations.

    Lessig brings up an excellent point that only 147 out of about 10000 books from the 20's are still in print. What happened to the rest of this knowledge? The rest of this creativity? It has been lost and forgotten.

    We were supposed to build our society on the shoulders of giants. Instead we've institutionally forgotten everything that came before us. It seems appropriate that our attention spans are now short enough not to notice what we've lost.

    Societally, we're only a step away from being the old lady in a flannel nighty that keeps wandering away from the old folks home.

  • by Wraithlyn (133796) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:35PM (#4877024)
    I've always thought pay-per-use was a perfectly reasonable idea, as long as the usage fees were low enough.

    Imagine, you could build a vast library for free.. in fact, you wouldn't even NEED a personal library, because EVERYTHING would be available freely on the net.

    Then, you pay based on what you use. So, if you listen to the latest Britney song 1000 times, you owe her some cash. And why shouldn't you?? If you listen to the song that much, obviously you're enjoying it.

    If you grab a movie and only watch it once, you pay next to nothing. But if it becomes your all time favourite, and you watch it over and over again, you pay more money. It's totally fair.

    I know a lot of people would be opposed to this, because they want to pay a flat OWNERSHIP fee, and get infinite usage. But in the Internet connected world, where anything digitizable can be copied infinitely for near zero cost, I posit that the concept of ownership is obsolete. We have the capacity for everyone to own everything, in other words, and just pay for what they actually use.

    Speaking for myself, I have a library of hundreds of DVDs, which has cost thousands of dollars to build. If instead of purchasing copies, I could watch ANY movie I wanted for say, 50 cents, I imagine I would have seen a lot more movies, for a lot cheaper, than I would've by purchasing a personal library. And the number of times I've seen Aliens could probably fund Cameron's retirement. ;)

    Now of course, I'm not saying converting to such a system would be easy, or even possible right now. It would require universal, mandatory ID3 tags or equivalent, a ubiquitous micropayment infrastructure, and global co-operation of everyone who designs media playback mechanisms.
  • best line: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jeffy124 (453342) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:45PM (#4877097) Homepage Journal
    Top of the third page:
    The purpose of copyright law is to create incentives that "promote...Progress." But extensions of copyright for works that already exist do not promote progress.

    Easily the best comment I've heard against Pro Bono for copyright terms.
  • by NewtonsLaw (409638) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:53PM (#4877142)
    As someone who creates a lot of material that falls under the protection of copyright law I think it's time that other writers and publishers lighten up a little.

    I'm certainly not in favor of people being able to copy and republish or redistribute my work for free without my permission -- but I can't think of a single occasion when I've refused a request from someone who wished to do so.

    The only condition usually associated with the granting of such rights is a clear attribution.

    Of course if the NY Times comes knocking on my door asking to republish something I've written then I'll probably ask a fair fee for the privilege -- but when it's another not-for-profit website or there's a measure of public good then I simply grant a non-exclusive right to republish without charge.

    This usually works well for all concerned:

    * The republisher gets some good free content.
    * My work becomes more widely known
    * The general public has more access to my writing.

    In marketing terms, these free republication licenses are a loss-leader. What I lose (which is probably very little in cash terms) by giving away the content, I gain by being able to charge more for material that I write specifically for other publishers.

    What those who produce material protected by copyright have to appreciate is that just because you can enforce your rights to be paid for copying doesn't mean it's always a good idea to do so.

    I cringe every time I hear Microsoft, the RIAA or MPAA preach about how much money they've lost through unauthorized copying. How on earth do they know that those who copied their IP would have actually purchased it otherwise?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:55PM (#4877154)
    It could be worse, someone could try to patent them. Then when anyone comes up with an application of gravity, they could be sued. Then you'd get some shadowy group controling all the physical laws and .. hmm .. VoidEngineer? Forget I said anything.
  • by VoidEngineer (633446) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @10:04PM (#4877201)
    Like what? Playing with computer code? Flipping hamburgers? Lying to the public?

    1. Building shelters (architecture)
    2. Healing others (medical doctor)
    3. Feeding others (restaurant management)
    4. Listening to others (psychiatry)
    5. Making kitch (manufacturing)
    6. Hospitality (hotel management)
    7. Risk management (actuarial science)

    I could go on if I wanted to, but I don't. And yes, there are billions of people in the world who flip hamburgers, lie to the public, and write code which makes sense to them, but doesn't necessarily have any greater use (myself included). Many of these people are making minimum wage, or slightly better. What they are not doing is making $100K per year, $1M per year, or $1M per month. People who run restaurants, hotels, casinos, heal others, and make kitch can make $1M per year or more.

    There are a LOT of people who want to write books or play instruments for a living. Most of them suck.

    Agreed. Unfortunately, the fact that most of them suck is a side affect of statistics. (somebody has to create the bulk of a statistical distribution, by which 'average,' 'above average,' and 'below average' are measured by.) I also agree that a lot of people want to write books or play instruments for a living. Doesn't necessarily mean that other people are going to pay them to do it, however. Which is my point, in regards to eBooks. People shouldn't worry about copyrights on written works. Worry about patents on physical things, processess, and systems (such as building a house, opening a restaurant or hotel, making kitch, or building a more efficient automobile.)

    My point is that in the information age, there is so much information in the world that its a loosing proposition to try to stand out from the crowd and to actually make a living by merely writing for a living... The competition is too numerous. Writing and coding are merely skills that a person must know how to utilize, in addition, to other skills.

    The key to ebooks et al is TRANSFER of the copies. If I buy an ebook, I should be able to give that book to any one person that I want to

    Actually, I think I agree with you in regards to the distinction between 'copy' and 'move'. And I definately agree with the physical tie-in, however I also suspect that floppy disks and compact disks are going to be obsolete within the next decade. (optic storage cubes, biochips, wireless transmitters, and smart cards are were tech is currently going).
  • by AndroidCat (229562) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @10:11PM (#4877237) Homepage
    What if the library could insure that only one active copy could be in use at a time, with active copies set to expire within a period of time. (To avoid the problem of "overdue" ebooks.)

    The library would retain a dormant copy that couldn't be used to generate another active copy until the active copy was "checked in" or expired?

    This might also work for an ebookstore, except the ebooks wouldn't expire, and the store would have to order more "stock".

    This is just off the top of my head. The technology would be a problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2002 @10:20PM (#4877271)
    I don't think I want my experience of most novels and my favorite musical selections to be affected knowledge that with each passing read/listen of it, I'm paying for it.

    I don't want a subscribed lifestyle any more than I need to. Phones, cable, sure. Static artistic possessions? No.

    I make my living as a writer and a photographer; what you propose has no attraction to me. It may be an "innovative" commercial design, but it intrudes on the inherent nature of the objects you're talking about.
  • by infolib (618234) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @10:35PM (#4877327)
    I really think copyright has been turned up side down. All the arguments are about "content owners" "intellectual property" etc.

    Look at it this way for a moment (or the rest of your life):
    I have a CD with nice music. I have a CD burner. I have a blank CD. All of it is my property. Why should the law limit my freedom to copy the CD and give or sell it to a friend?

    All laws put restrictions on my freedom, but we need to justify these restrictions. The law says I can't hit you over the head and gives me back the security that you probably won't hit me over the head. It gives us as society the benefit that we don't need to wear helmets all the time.

    The answer to my opening question "Why can't I copy?" lies in the premise that my friend will purchase the music in a way that economically will encourage the musician to productivity. But only as far as this gives something back to society can we justify the restrictions copyright places on our freedom.

    [END OF RANT] (Well, preaching to the choir anyway)
  • Re:Copy rights (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WeaponOfChoice (615003) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @10:38PM (#4877352) Homepage
    The reason is purely related to the ease of distribution software (and the net in general) grants even the most clueless of individuals.

    Before the current information age the act of duplicating a movie was a rather lengthy and technical one. I would either have to invest in a high speed copy system or a number of conventional recording machines and manually copy the tapes. I would have to purchase a physical item for each copy I made and the total copies I had available would never exceed the number I could afford to buy. This kind of operation is rather easy to detect once it reaches a certain scale (at least in the UK as recent news shows...) and requires a host of logistics and management to run smoothly.

    In todays world a 12 year old with a vid card and a broadband connection can distribute that file on a scale that physical transport cannot match. It only ever has to be copied once outside DRM controls (studios should be able to attest to how difficult it is to maintain 100% security all the time without fail ever) and everyone who wants it can have it - at almost zero cost to the copier (the main difference with digital copies - total costs scale logarithmically - the difference between 1k and 1m units tiny compared to the cost of an extra 999k tapes)

    Copyright law fails because they are trying to apply laws developed to control the production and distribution of physical objects to purely virtual ones that have none of the drawbacks that made the laws possible in the first place...

    Sorta reminds me of a Larry Niven story (Flash Crowd I think) about dealing with the crowd dynamics of a society where anywhere was a instant teleport away. A small disturbance can become a riot in as much time as it takes all the worst rioters to get there, a celebrity appearance becomes a crush as millions try to port into spaces designed for thousands - traditional laws and practices designed to control crowds are just hopelessly outmatched by the technology, they have to adapt to the tech landscape rather than trying to cripple the systems in favour of the laws...
  • by putaro (235078) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @11:10PM (#4877520) Journal

    Lessig a good point in his article of how just about every digital use of information involves copying. Perhaps all of the craziness that we're going through is just a result of poor semantics. We've focused on "copying" because our term is "copyright". In reality, I think that what most reasonable people (MPAA & RIAA need not apply) could agree on is that we really want to protect and control the right to distribute. Is loaning a copy to a friend distribution? I think we can all agree no. Is "sharing" the file over Kazaa with 10,000 others distribution - well, I think the answer has to be yes. Copying from CD to MP3 is not distribution nor is making a backup copy or putting it on all the computers in your house.


    Lessig's main point is no less valid if we begin to talk about "distributionright", however - there needs to be a time limit and it can't be continually extended.

  • Actually ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by OzPeter (195038) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @11:22PM (#4877574)
    How about the even sinmpler fact that it is a TV
    show and that would spoil all the writers plots??

    "God dammit, It's ficiton Jim"
  • Re:No, they won't. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SN74S181 (581549) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @11:30PM (#4877614)
    The 'pay per view DVDs' that you say 'failed' was, I presume, that DIVX scheme by Circuit City?

    You are talking about one commercial attempt, a number of years before most people had DVD players, by a single commercial outlet.

    It's shortsighted to say 'it failed.' That particular scheme failed. Who's to say a scheme that isn't single-vendor and 'leading edge' would fail?

    It's tiresome seeing people use Circuit City's DIVX disaster as a definitive textbook case showing people won't pay per view.
  • Re:No, they won't. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kwerle (39371) <kurt@CircleW.org> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @11:54PM (#4877728) Homepage Journal
    Folks will buy e-books when the convenience is more than that of a book.

    Nope - they will buy when it's more convenient, cheaper, and they have gotten out of the habit of reading regular books.

    By that time, I think that folks will be out of the habit of reading, and ebooks will fail to sell because nobody reads anymore. I think we're nearing that point now...
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportlandNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday December 13, 2002 @12:10AM (#4877806) Homepage Journal
    First off, everybody is an author, so think that gives you some high ground. It is implied in your post that you are published, well good job, that is very difficult, anf\d might give you some validity if the discussion was about getting published, but it is not.

    Do you have even the slightest clue what libraries are for?

    Libraries are necessary to promote reading as a whole, and often provide an outlet for people who could not, or would not, otherwise purchase a book.

    Our tax dollars go to getting and maintain those books. If not our tax dollars, then someones money goes to buying those books. The courts have ruled many times that copyright does not mean you can exclude people from lending/giving a book the have purchased.

    I got shocking news for you, My friends and I often exchange books we have read because we don't/can't buy everything we want.

  • by SETIGuy (33768) on Friday December 13, 2002 @12:11AM (#4877810) Homepage
    But I bristle at your notion that libraries ought to be entitled to distribute recently created copyrighted works, with no compensation whatsoever to the author. On what basis do you feel that government should essentially engage in intellectual theft?

    Sorry to point this out, but... At least in the US, copyright is an artifice created by govenment. The government gives you a monopoly on distribution of you books under the assumption that it is in the public interest for you to have that monopoly. Should the government wish to modify the terms of that monopoly, or eliminate it entirely, it is certainly within the powers granted to the Congress to do so, so long as the public interest is served. This would not be theft, because "intellectual property" is not really property. It only exists in this country by act of Congress.

    The only purpose for copyright law is to serve the public interest by promoting the "useful arts and sciences." That you can also use it to make money is a side effect. The assumption that the side effect is the purpose seems to me to be "selfish and poorly thought out."

    The question with the Eldred case is whether the Congress has passed copyright laws that are no longer in the public interest, and are therefore unconstitutional.

  • by Fulcrum of Evil (560260) on Friday December 13, 2002 @12:21AM (#4877855)

    If I write something, and the law says you don't have the write to copy it without my permission,

    Assuming that no written contract is in play and also that I have a legally obtained copy, I can copy it with impunity. I just can't redistribute the copies, nor can I retain them if I sell my original copy. Copyright governs distribution only. Further, copies made as a part of normal use are explicitly permitted.

    As far as DRM goes, my objection is that it does infringe on my rights. Specifically, I am explicitly allowed to quote from a work and do various other things under copyright law. DRM and the DMCA straightjacket that comes with it prevent me from doing these things at the whim of whoever controls the DRM and makes it a felony to circumvent the restriction. It makes what are effectively legal judgements without the necessary insight to apply the law correctly. It also ventures into the realm of perfect enforcement, something which runs counter to our system of law.

  • by twitter (104583) on Friday December 13, 2002 @01:02AM (#4878006) Homepage Journal
    He did not re-evaluate the purpose of copyright law and the deal made to acheive that purpose. People keep mentioning the fact that you can make coppies of information cheaply and easily as if that were bad. Far from it. Copyright and patent laws exist to further the useful arts and the public domain. They do so by prohibiting others from exploiting work for a period of years, then 14 for copyright. At that time publishing was much more expensive, yet 14 years of exclusivity was seen as adequate incentive for publishers. So now that anyone can share information and publish, why do we need exclusivity? So that Disney can keep Mickey Mouse movies to themselves? Much more important works will rot in obscurity while Mickey generates cash for amusement park owners. Copyright needs to be evaluated from the perspective of it's purpose. New technology, which should and is obsoleting many large publishers, is also being perverted to artificailly make infomation imobile, as if it were confined to dead trees or vinyl that had to be trucked from central warehouses. To parphrase Bill Clinton, who signed the DMCA into law, Just because it's easy and profitable to hoard information, does not make it right.
  • by ottffssent (18387) on Friday December 13, 2002 @01:12AM (#4878046)
    You're almost right. Copyright exists to benefit the public by making incentives for producers to produce. Money is the incentive. When a producer is not making money on something, it should be released into the public domain. An easy way to effect this is as follows:

    The term of copyrights is 1 (one) year.
    The price of securing a 1 (one) year copyright is $1 (one dollar).
    One-year extensions to existing copyrights may be purchased.
    Each extension costs twice as much as the previous year's copyright.

    Suppose I create a story about widgets. I pay my $1 and nobody can sell my story but me. I sell my story 10 times for $100, so I figure it's worth $2 next year. Next year only 5 people want the story, and I get $50. I'm still ahead, so I renew for two more years, costing $12, and sell $20 worth of widget stories. Now, I can either pay $16 for another year, or I can let go of my copyright and see how many copies I can sell without copyright protection. Since my widget story has little value, it is released into the public domain quickly.

    Suppose Disney creates Mickey mouse. They also pay their $1. However, because they're Disney and can afford to do so, they buy 20 years of protection right off the bat. It costs them about $2million, which they make in a year. 19 years of profit - how sweet is that? Disney's still making millions a year off of Mickey, so they figure another year at $2m isn't bad. The 22nd year costs $4m, which is getting up near the break-even point. Soon Disney will release Mickey, continue using and making money from it, and will have benefitted the public good by letting the rest of us finally draw cute mice without getting sued by attack lawyers.

    The system is simple and effective. Producers are compensated for high-value inventions and are persuaded but not forced to release these inventions to the public. Individuals can also protect their works cheaply - 5 years costs under $50. Read Cringley's column today about treating IP as a fading asset, and it will become even more clear why this is a good way to solve the problem of copyright terms.
  • Re:Franklin (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mpe (36238) on Friday December 13, 2002 @07:19AM (#4879367)
    Lessig brings up an excellent point that only 147 out of about 10000 books from the 20's are still in print. What happened to the rest of this knowledge? The rest of this creativity? It has been lost and forgotten.

    Hopefully the rest of these books still exist in the various copyright libraries around the world. Which is less likely to be the case with the hundreds of thousands of out of print books published more recently.
    More disturbingly more modern media such as records, film, magnetic tape, etc do not have any kind of public archive. Thus are at even greater risk of rotting away before copyright expires on the content.

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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