Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Lessig Spins Copyright Law 279

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?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Lessig Spins Copyright Law

Comments Filter:
  • What is more likely, (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:03PM (#4876802)
    a micropayment each time you open the ebook file. Judging what a 'read' consists of otherwise would be too difficult, until you computer starts reading (pun) your retina for ID.
  • by SoCalChris ( 573049 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:10PM (#4876857) Journal
    He's got good points about if you have a book now, you can loan it to friends or borrow it from the library without any troubles.

    The problem is, that before eBooks, you couldn't "loan" your copy of the book to 10,000 of your friends on Kazaa.

    There are some interesting ideas in there, but I don't think his ideas are the answer. They are a good start though.
  • There isn't... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kaxman ( 466911 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:10PM (#4876858) Journal
    ...a whole lot to say, since I basically agree with him. In fact, the very idea that anyone with a T1 can create and publish content makes me very very happy. I never like the way the original creators of material seem to get less than what they deserve. Authors less so than musicians, but hopefully (ever so hopefully) that is changing. I envision massive user-run blogs of cool content released by independent people, filtered from among the other inevitable cruft and lifted from obscurity simply by the scouring power of billions of people. It could be cool.
  • by fritz_269 ( 623858 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:16PM (#4876895)
    Why not have a short copyright term as the standard (say life + 10 years). But if a corporate entity wants to keep that copyright past that point, it would have to pay a substantial fixed fee plus some small royalties to the government (i.e. a tax on profits).

    This way, the list of long-term copyrights would be small, maintained in a single place, and thus easily searchable. There would be a financial disincentive in place to keep companies from locking up works unless they were actively making money. Companies are happy, museums are happy, the gov'ment is happy, and the internet is happy.

  • Re:Library Royalties (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Planesdragon ( 210349 ) <slashdot@castlesteelst o n e .us> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:21PM (#4876925) Homepage Journal
    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.

    They do, chuckwhite. Unless the author donated the book, they get a cut of the sale to the library.

    That is, after all, why your tax dollars are paying something to the library. So it can get new books.

    Actually, in the future I think it'd be grand if authors got a little bit of money (a few pennies) everytime someone outside their family checks out one of their books that was still copywritten. Cut out the middleman, streamline the publishing biz, and keep the economic incentive for authors to keep writing things people want to read.

    Hmm... if a book costs $5 to get on the library shelves and the author gets $0.25 from each read, once it's been read twenty times they make pure profit... and that could even be paid for out of the pockets of the readers without too much trouble.
  • Re:Meta Information (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Planesdragon ( 210349 ) <slashdot@castlesteelst o n e .us> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:26PM (#4876958) Homepage Journal
    Goes to show that the written word is a de-valued commodity in the information age; same goes for music (napster). If you want to make money, figure out a way to do something that a billion other people aren't doing (i.e. typing, writing, and playing musical instruments).

    Like what? Playing with computer code? Flipping hamburgers? Lying to the public?

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

    The written word wasn't worth all that much after the printing press--but the gov't stepped in to make sure that the authors didn't get screwed. Copyright, in this form, has been with us for longer than any work has been or ever will be covered by it, and no one's had a good objection to it.

    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.

    A low-level switch from "copy" to "move" as a default for these files would do the trick. But since that's not technically feasible (for a whole lot of reasons), a physical tie-in would be the best.
  • by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:34PM (#4877017) Homepage Journal
    Forcing companies to have to renew copyrights every 5-10 years would help but you'd need some major incentives to keep them from just putting everything they roughly own on a list they automaticlly keep renewing. Possibly after the first 10 years the rate starts climbing exponetially. I still think there should be a reasonable limit. Possibly limit it to 15 years unless they release it under an opensource style license. ie a license that makes it available for free but forces those who modify it to release their works under the same license.

    I also think obfustication should make it impossible to get a copyright. If the work is made such that it blocks copying of that work such that it'll be hard for people to use/copy/modify when the copyright has expired then they should not be granted a copyright.
  • by susano_otter ( 123650 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:35PM (#4877028) Homepage
    The problem is, that before eBooks, you couldn't "loan" your copy of the book to 10,000 of your friends on Kazaa.

    And things were better before eBooks and Kazaa how?

    Also, are things better now that we have made a dramatic leap in information transfer technology, but are restricted from using the new tech because it makes the old tech (and everybody who profited from the old tech) obsolete?

    See, I might even accept the restrictions on use of new tech--If it were part of a well-reasoned, long-term plan to phase in the new tech without destabilizing the economy, spiking the unemployment rate, or creating a whole new area of ethical/legal conundrums that we haven't really had any time to think about or address.

    Since that's obviously not the reason the old tech is being preserved (nor will it ever be, probably), I say fuck it: release the hounds and go for broke.

  • by Schlemphfer ( 556732 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:37PM (#4877034) Homepage

    Authors should definitely recieve royalties - just not from a public library that my tax dollars went to fund.

    I'm an author, and I don't object at all to my books ending up on library shelves. When it happens, it means I'm probably "relieved" of 97% of my royalty for each time the book is read -- given that I suppose the average library book is checked out 30 times. But I don't care that this is such a bad deal for me, since I think it's great that people are reading my book.

    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?

    I'm trying to understand your point of view, but I can't make any sense of it. It seems totally selfish and poorly thought out.

  • by NetDanzr ( 619387 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:38PM (#4877047)
    Did you know that even when you own a paper version of a book, it is illegal to download an electronic version of the book? The current copyright applies not only to the content (as it should; especially since copyright is supposed to promote advancement in arts), but also the format (which should be protected by patents, not copyright). As a consequence, under the copyright law you have to pay twice for the same book - the paper and the electronic version.
  • by fritz_269 ( 623858 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:42PM (#4877075)
    Forcing companies to have to renew copyrights every 5-10 years would help but you'd need some major incentives to keep them from just putting everything they roughly own on a list they automaticlly keep renewing. Possibly after the first 10 years the rate starts climbing exponetially.
    Makes a lot of sense. And I also figure that the first payment should be substantially high hurdle in order to force most stuff out quickly. But then perhaps it could double every 5 years or so?

  • Copy rights (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:46PM (#4877102) Journal
    I read the actual copy right law as applied to print and recordings. It seems fairly straight forward.

    You buy a book. You own the book. You can sell the book. You can make copies of the book for personal use. If you sell the original, all the copies have to be destroyed, or go with the original. You can't sell copies with out the copy right holders permission. You can even loan the book, as long as the person you loan it to returns it and doesn't keep a copy.

    I can't understand why software is being treated in a different manner.

    Just my two cents.

  • Scalability (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MacAndrew ( 463832 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @10:06PM (#4877212) Homepage
    Everyone realizes that not everything is scalable; what works on a certain scale may not on another.

    Libraries are a wonderful institution that doubtlessly cut into the income of those who produce the books. More importantly (to me) they are repositories of books that are out of print and can't easily be located. Older books doubtless stimulate interest in buying newer ones. In the very earliest days, of course, few could afford books at all.

    The thing is, electonic distribution blows up the apple cart. It's just too easy. And I worry it will somehow fundamentally change a system that we have grown used to over many decades. Just because the library system is familiar and effective doesn't mean that scaling it to the Web will work. It will be wonderful for the user, but the producer? In fact, in could be a disaster, save the current reality that reading books on a computer just isn't like a real book.
  • by Bicoid ( 631498 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @11:29PM (#4877602)
    Before we start talking about "fair use" and the other assorted issues of paying for use, etc, lets look at the REASON copyright laws exist in the first place.

    Copyright laws are made to prevent others from publishing copyrighted material and making $$ off that copyrighted material, i.e., it's to prevent the sale of a creative work in which none of that $$ goes to the creator of that work. This isn't about money they would have made but aren't making. This isn't about "fair use" or "unlimited use" or "restricted use" at all. This is about preventing other people from stealing your work and making money off it. As far as I know, KaZaA isn't charging me to download e-books or mp3s. As far as I know, I'm not paying someone to read a book they transcribed into text and posted on their website in HTML format. A third party is not profitting from the sale of another person's intellectual property without that individual getting royalties.

    I think online publishing of material is great; it allows amateur authors, musicians, etc to get much more exposure than they would in traditional media. Additionally, it allows for many more alternative opinions and ideas to be expressed because publishing is not based on the demand for a book but rather the author's desire to publish it. In the paper book world where most publishers are looking for New York Times Bestseller books, you get very little good literature. I'm sorry, but I'd prefer to read less popular authors who I find interesting rather than the newest hackjob of a book by Stephen King, Michael Crichton, etc. Online publishing allows for a diversity of ideas you don't get when the stakes are as big as they are in paper publishing.

    In other words, Adobe and the DCMA and the MPAA can take their opinions, sit on them, and rotate.
  • by killthiskid ( 197397 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @11:30PM (#4877615) Homepage Journal

    The problem is, what exactly constitues an open? A file open? A read from memory? A sleep cycle? A power off/power on cycle? A pause of reading over X minutes of time?

    This sticks of something else: the ruling that called a read from a hard drive to memory a 'copy'.

    I feel that this is one point where the analogy between physical and digital breaks down...

  • by Absurd Being ( 632190 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @11:53PM (#4877727) Journal
    I forget exactly how the economics work in their complicated ways, but usually the people who use the library wouldn't buy the book anyway. Upon reading/falling in love with your book, however, this can change.

    You're now guaranteed 1/30 of the sales on these people who wouldn't have bought your book if the library didn't exist, through the purchase by the library, and there's sales for x% of these readers after they read your book, and want to have a copy forever.

    Economics is really convoluted, but if we all knew how it works, all our material wants would be close to satisfied. It's also a shame how contemporary society seems to treat artists/writers/whatevers. It seems like all my friends who have their art/social degrees have little hope at financial success.

    Good luck with the authoring business. No sarcasm intended.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @12:25AM (#4877880)
    libraries will only be distributing pulic domain works in digital form. They aren't in the business of collecting royalties for authors, nor do they wish to be. That's kind of part of the point.

    And for the most part customers of libraries *don't want ebooks.*

    This is not to say they do not *pay* royalties to authors though.

    What do you suppose would happen if *libraries stopped buying books*?

    I guess most people aren't aware of the fact that for a comparitively huge percentage of books published library sales make up a huge percentage of *total* sales.

    If libraries boycotted publishers an awful lot of publishers would simply go out of business overnight. Particularly the "specialty" houses.

    What the hell kind of world are we building anyways when *public libraries* are regarded as "theives"?

  • by serutan ( 259622 ) <snoopdoug AT geekazon DOT com> on Friday December 13, 2002 @01:45AM (#4878220) Homepage
    The type of protection a creative work receives should not hinge on the notion that transmitting an e-book involves making a copy or that reading a library book does not. These are legal nitpicks. The Supreme Court could decide that reading a book constitutes copying the contents of the book into your brain. Then the very act of reading would technically be regulated by copyright law. To me it doesn't matter whether this type of regulation is achieved by ridiculously redefining the notion of "copying" or by introducing book licensing. Either tactic is government by hair-splitting.

    The question of copyright shouldn't revolve around the technical interpretation of existing law. The question should be how, in real terms in today's world, copyright law can best implement the intent that is stated in the Constitution, which is simply to provide incentive to produce new works.

    If e-books are to be considered a threat to creativity and invention, it should be because e-books might make it difficult for an author to recoup the cost of creating the work, thus discouraging new works. It should not be because somebody decided that transmitting an e-book is technically making a copy. The latter argument assumes that the point of copyright is to protect authors indirectly by protecting the copy-making business directly. It isn't, and it never was.

    As much as I respect Lessig, I wish he and other high-profile people who are thrashing out this issue would depart from dissecting the fine points of laws that weren't written with enough resolution to cover current conditions. What they are doing amounts to adding extra zeroes after the decimal point and arguing over the accuracy of the numbers. I wish they would consider that in a very few years, when almost anybody on earth will have the capability to publish their own work to the entire world at practically zero cost. Copyright law of the future should provide an incentive for the people and institutions who PRODUCE new works, not for those who merely make and sell copies.
  • by Arandir ( 19206 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @02:09AM (#4878324) Homepage Journal
    An interesting idea. As a libertarian I don't really like taxes. But in some situations they make a heck of a lot of sense. This is one of those cases.

    Originally copyrights did have a payment (of sorts) to the public. In exchange for the copyright the author would publish the work, instead of keeping it secret under non-disclosure agreements. But that's laughable nowadays with century long terms and implicit contracts. A tax on copyrights restores the balance.

    There is a problem with the scheme however. It's the Berne Convention. What's to prevent an author from publishing his or her work in a nation that doesn't have a copyright tax? Would the Bahamas become a copyright haven as well?
  • by krouic ( 460022 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @02:38AM (#4878410)
    The major issue with copyright is that instead of defining a principle (an author has the exclusive artistical and revenue rights from the produced works) it just edicts one possible *technical* (hence the word "copy" in "copyright") way to enforce the intents.

    And that technical solution is flawed in several ways :
    - It is legal to prevent an auhor form getting revenue as long as no copies are made (by lending or reselling a book)
    - It is illegal to make copies even if it does not hurt the author revenues (out of print works).

    The notions of copies and public performance have greatly evolved during the last decade and the copyright laws are innapropriate.

    These flaws were less apparent when copy and distribution were restricted to publishing companies, but now that Internet gives these possibilities to individuals, these flaws are becoming more and more evident.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 13, 2002 @04:46AM (#4878834)
    At least from public libraries in the United Kingdom you do, and I believe that the practice is wide spread in Europe. Probably why most of my books say not for resale in the U.S.A. inside the front cover.
  • by pnot ( 96038 ) on Friday December 13, 2002 @05:28AM (#4878958)
    in today's world, the author doesn't receive a royalty everytime someone reads a book from the library

    Well, actually, in the UK they do. See The Public Lending Right Website []:

    Under the United Kingdom's PLR Scheme authors receive payments from government funds for the free borrowing of their books from public libraries in the United Kingdom.

    It would appear that the system works so well that most people haven't even heard of it ;-).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 13, 2002 @12:00PM (#4880957)
    "The life of an e-book is quite different. Because of a simple technical feature of the Internet, copyright law regulates much more of the life of an e-book in cyberspace than of the life of a book in real space. As every action (on a digital network) produces a copy, and every copy (under the current regime of copyright) is presumptively within the reach of copyright law, every use of a copyrighted work in cyberspace amounts to a copyright event. Thus, to give an e-book to a friend involves a copy; it is therefore regulated by copyright law. To borrow an e-book from an Internet library involves a copy; it is therefore regulated by copyright law. Indeed, to have the computer read an e-book aloud involves making a copy; it, too, is therefore regulated by copyright law. All these "uses" of an e-book are within the reach of copyright's regulation, while the very same uses of a book in real space would not be."

    I suspect too much ganja was involved with this article. Whether the copy is digital or a book passed from friend to friend, the copy right is the same. If an author of an ebook or hard copy novel can convince millions of people to purchase the work, more power to them. If no one thinks the work is worth the money, tough luck bucko! It is the nature of copy right. If I author the definitive book of Belly Button Lint Colors...and zillions of folks purchase it for a dollar a shot, I get my percentage. Woohoo! If I spend 30 years of my life writing the book, and no one cares about the book, tough shit. Them are the breaks. Congress keeps changing the law regarding the actual duration of copy right. Congress is one of those enimies they speak about in the Oath they take when entering protect and defend the Constitution of the United States agaisnt all enimies, foreigh and domestiv. They are the domestic variety.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 13, 2002 @12:27PM (#4881158)
    "Copyright law of the future should provide an incentive for the people and institutions who PRODUCE new works, not for those who merely make and sell copies."

    Bravo, you hit the nail on the head!! Too bad most folks have no clue, especially lawyers.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"