March 31, 2003  ·  Lessig

Today is a key deadline in this absurd system for raising money to run for president. There are a lot of great Democrats out there (so far, only one Republican so we don’t need adjectives). If you’re eager to see this become an interesting race, contribute something by today. Here are some useful links:

Edwards
Dean
Others

UPDATE: Apparently, this plug put Edwards over the top. Wow.

March 31, 2003  ·  Lessig

Thanks to Sean McGrath for sending me this wonderful story about the first copyright wars. The story is told in Ingenious Ireland by Mary Mulvihill, about the 3000 men who died in the “Battle of the Book at Cooldrumman” after copyists refused to return the copies after a court ruled against them. Perspective perhaps, but precedent too?

March 31, 2003  ·  Lessig

Ed Felten has a wonderful piece about the idiocy in the mini-DMCA’s being considered by a number of state “governments.” What is so frustrating about this business is not the people (like these governments) who disagree with you. But that their disagreement reveals that they have not done anything to understand the issue. We are over 5 years into this battle, yet these laws look like they have been drafted by people who have lived on another planet these past 5 years.

March 28, 2003  ·  Lessig

As most no doubt know, Dave has brought weblogs to Harvard’s Berkman Center, which is extraordinarily great news. Today the Harvard weblog adopted the Creative Commons technology for expressing just how free their weblog content is. More great news. Martin Schwimmer, trademark and ICANN maven, is struggling with the same issues�though he chose words to say what the CC license says with code. And now, I learn, he will use CC licenses as well.

Alas, weaning the lawyers from their words proves harder than the programmers. Maybe the generation of lawyers that Dave influences will be different.

March 26, 2003  ·  Lessig

The Mexican Congress is about to consider a revision to its copyright law. Among it many changes, the law will extend the term of copyright from life-plus-70 to life-plus-100. (And no doubt thus beginning yet another cycle of “harmonization” around the world.) Worse, at the end of the copyright term, the government has the right to charge royalties for works in the “public domain.”

This is apparently something new for government regulators. Usually governments nationalize first, and then (and as a result) kill the industry nationalized. Mexico plans to innovate on this pattern: kill the public domain first, and then nationalize after.

The insanity in this system is astonishing. But here’s the message Mexico has got to understand: it will be easier for Mexicans to consume Hollywood content over the next 150 years than it will be for Mexicans to cultivate and preserve their own culture. Is promoting Hollywood really what the Mexican Congress is for?

March 25, 2003  ·  Lessig

Donna “Copyfight” Wentworth is blogging Harvard Berkman Center’s iLaw program here in Brazil. The Berkman Center does this every six months or so, at least once a year in a very interesting place — and this will qualify as the most amazing place for many years. Yesterday, John Perry Barlow and Brazil’s Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil, debated the economics of culture. Barlow is in great form, and Gil is an extraordinary speaker. Most extraordinary was to hear him quote Jefferson and Barlow in Portuguese.

So we’re trying to focus on Internet Law, but the truth is, it is impossible to be here, as an American, without the war raining down everywhere. Barlow sits next to me browsing war webpages. Student’s won’t stop asking. And I, ever wanting to believe, remain stumped.

Then there are minor wars: I’ve been asked not to praise MIT in the way I did. The reality of this world: one can do good, but others can’t talk about it.

March 21, 2003  ·  Lessig

So this is the best I’ve seen so far: The Talbott Hotel in Chicago has free wireless in the rooms and public areas. No registration at all. The signal strength is at the maximum; the connect time was exactly 5 seconds.

Competition is amazingly great way to get great infrastructure built. Someone ought to tell the FCC.

March 19, 2003  ·  Lessig

I had dinner last night with an extraordinary group of computer scientists. As always in such contexts, the discussion moved quickly to patents. I’ve been a skeptic about software and business method patents for a long time (while a supporter of, e.g., drug patents), but what always strikes me in these contexts is how violently opposed people in the industry are to software and business method patents while the legal system remains oblivious.

I had thought there was some hope in the new administration. An article by LA Times reporter David Streitfeld quoted the new Patent Commissioner, James Rogan, saying smart and skeptical things about the patent system. I wrote a piece for the FT based in part on that interview, only to have his office call me to tell me that I had gotten it wrong. The “crisis” that Commissioner Rogan sees is not the “crappy patents” (their words) issued by the patent office; the crisis, I was told, is that the office is not issuing patents fast enough.

But the more frustrating response to my article was the follow-up by Professor Epstein. He called my “indictment” “harsh.” As he says, “to my knowledge” there is “no fundamental signs of breakdown.” He points to “OS X by Apple” as evidence that “strong intellectual property rights [have not] Balkani[z]ed the intellectual universe.” “One looks,” Epstein writes, “for fundamental flaws in the underlying institutions only when the progress starts to grind to a halt.”

My initial (and uncharitable) response to reading this was that Professor Epstein was not looking very far. But after dinner last night, I recognized that there is a fundamental gap in understanding. Most lawyers and policy makers do not understand what technologists believe; most technologists don’t understand that (at least some) lawyers believe that what technologists believe about the system should matter.

So here’s an idea. I’d like to construct a page of views of technologists who have experience with the system. The aim will not be to evaluate the system as a whole, but instead to collect credible testimony about the burdens the system imposes. Policy makers should be evaluating whether the benefits outweigh the burdens. My aim is not to do that weighing. My aim is simply to collect stories and evidence about the burdens.

If you have experience and a view, then email me and describe both. I will collect them and verify the source, and then make the results available here. The aim is not to conduct a poll; this will not be a representative sample of anything. But it would help immensely to have a place where people could go to read what technologists say to me all the time.

Update: Karl-Friedrich Lenz has sent a link to a great list of patents. This is important and useful, but I’m eager to hear stories of how the system affects ordinary software development.