July 27, 2003  ·  Lessig

This is a great story about the creativity possible when control is relaxed. Whenever I read these stories, I have an odd dejavu to the days of Gorbachev: The Soviet Union would relax its controls, and people would write stories about how freedom actually increased innovation and creativity. The Soviet officials were amazed and surprised. But what’s amazing to me is that we’re surprised when we learn the same thing here.

UPDATE: I was whining about something re the Times that Dave Winer has solved. I apologize.

  • Ugh

    Why is it “rotten” to have to pay to read the NY Times online when I would have to pay to read the paper version (barring going to the library each day)? Sure it would be nice to have access to all that (lately less than truthful) content for free, but the same goes for just about everything else in this world?


  • Songmaster

    There are ways to link to the NY Times without requiring the reader to have registered with them – Google links to the NYT don’t require registration. I forget which one of the main blogging software sites has the necessary information and permission on how to construct such priviledged URLs (userland?) but one of them does and it should be relatively easy to find. As long as it’s fairly recent you could also just locate the story via Google and use the URL from there.

  • don’t forget

    you can always use:


    (courtesy of http://www.librarian.net)

  • http://www.aaronsw.com/ Aaron Swartz
  • Karl

    You’re still paying for it when you go to the library, Ugh…assuming you pay taxes.

    Songmaster, Google recently entered into discussion with the Times on removing it’s pages from the cache. I don’t expect this will be an option far into the future. Also such engineering of priveleged URLs, if it results in avoiding the payment of fees, could result in prosecution under the DMCA.


  • http://joshua.hayworth.com Joshua Hayworth

    This is a great story? Taking a childrens show (a show that I happened to grow up with, I’m 23 years of age) and perverting it, is great?

    Please forgive me, but I fail to see how this is a GoodThing(tm). I don’t think perverting childhood by introducing Adult-like issues somehow makes good entertainment. I’m currently in the process of growing up and experiencing reality (bills, getting a job, going to school and attempting to earn a degree). Life is screwed up enough without having to pervert it with this crap.

    – Joshua

    p.s. I wouldn’t mind paying for News content. Even from a leftist news source like the New York Times. http://www.bitpass.com has my vote! ;-)

  • Anonymous

    “There’s something rotten” when a high school student — whose library is not made of brick and books, but is known as “Google” — will not be able to access this article for his paper on copyright law. The online periodical databases are an ease of use nightmare, so unless he’s adept at navigating bad websites, there’s no chance he’s going to find it elsewhere… The New York Times is the world’s foremost English language newspaper — probably the most referenced, the most trusted (ya, ya… I know) — and it bills itself as such. With advertising as its means of revenue, it should be freely available to everyone, always, as the vital resource it claims to be.

  • Joan Kowatsch

    Are all the commentaries on this site made by college students or are older folks welcomed to participate? It’s our country,too! We may not be hip to the tech, but we are hip to the problems!

  • Ugh

    “�There�s something rotten� when a high school student � whose library is not made of brick and books, but is known as �Google� � will not be able to access this article for his paper on copyright law.”

    When I was a high school student, there was no net, much less any google; if I wanted to read the times, either my parents had to subscribe, or I had to go to the library (and hope they did).

    It would be nice to keep getting the Times for free, however I can hardly see how it is “rotten” that content that had been charged for for decades and then “free” (if you have a computer and pay for internet access) for the past few years is (potentially) again charged for. To me, such a statement misuses the word “rotten,” and Prof. Lessig should know that (though I suppose he can say he only said “rotten in that” implying that it’s not “rotten to the core”).

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    Joan: Anyone, of any age, is welcome to comment. But older folks tend not to want to deal with the, err, predominant demographic, of Internet discussions.

    Everyone: The blog-linkable New York Times feed is from Dave Winer at


  • Me

    I don’t really see a problem with it — as it says, they made their own characters, not using Sesame Street characters. So Sesame Street really has nothing to say about the matter (unless Apple wants to write in an amicus brief on “look and feel”).

    Then again the article also raises an interesting point that I heartily agree with; Sesame Street, over the years, has really gotten worse and worse. Elmo was the first step to making it stupid; now, every time I sit with little cousins and catch an episode, I wish I’d retained a few of those tapes we had from the 80s to show them.

    I look at it this way; if it keeps the kid’s attention, great. If it does that, but doesn’t make the adult who’s watching the kid while doing housework or something feel stupid, then you’re teaching the kid without insulting his/her intelligence. The older episodes do a great job. The new stuff today blows.

    You CAN educate kids without underestimating their intelligence. Sesame Workshop used to understand that. Reading Rainbow always has, though that show might be gone soon. Square One did a good job of it, as did 321 Contact. Maybe they’ll get the message, hire this guy back, and the show might get palatable again.

  • Ugh

    Quick question: is the mere act of offering up songs to share on Kazaa (or wherever) copyright infringement, or does someone actually have to download a song from you? I ask because it seems to me that the recording industry is sending out thousands of subpoenas based (as far as I can tell) in some cases only on the fact that someone has offered files for sharing on one of the networks.

    I’m having trouble figuring out which of the exclusive rights tha violates (and therefore maybe it doesn’t).


  • Karl

    Well, Ugh. From what I’ve read, the RIAA is usually helping itself to a copy of some of the files those people are offering for two reasons: to assure that they can sue them for infringement, as well as to assure that the files are actually recordings they have rights to, and not white noise that has been mislabeled.

    Sorry that this doesn’t exactly answer your question, but I don’t see a case going to court where the RIAA says, “We saw these files available, but we didn’t actually attempt to make sure they were what they said they were, nor did we actually download any of them.” That would leave their claim with little to no ground to stand on.


  • Matthew Saroff

    For people making a comparison between getting the NY Times online and getting the paper, some elementary economics:
    When you buy almost any paper in the nation, what you are paying for is a portion of the cost of the paper and ink.

    The costs of writers, editors, some of the printing, etc. are covered by advertisements.

    This is not a statement on the rightness or wrongness of the NY Times charging for archives (though I’m against it), just the economics.

    I’m sure one of the IT folks out there can tell me what the cost of the Times actually serving an archive article to someone. My guess is that it would be less than a penny.

  • Ugh

    Karl –

    It may not leave their claim much to stand on, but it may be enough to get a subpoena and scare the hell out of some worried mother. I was just wondering if they were contending that the act of making such files available was enough to constitute infringement (they seem to think it does, at least from what I’ve heard).

  • http://www.glome.org/ Trevor Hill

    Ugh — It would seem to me that should be considered some sort of contribution to infringement, or incitement or enablement of infringement, rather than direct infringement, although I am not a lawyer…

  • Slink

    Somewhat re the NYT mention… I’m commencing a BA degree course in Political Science, and am looking for the best US papers to buy (in the UK) to keep up to date, since the course I’m doing and the area I’m most interested in is US politics.
    I am mainly liberal and am interested to see how Howard Dean does in the next election, and would like papers with a more Democratic slant.
    Any advice on this would be hugely appreciated!

  • Rob

    Ugh, the subpoenas are already going out. They are going out to ISPs, to force them to disclose who was using a particular IP address to share files. It won’t be the subpoena scaring the hell out of the worried mother, it will be a summons (or maybe an arrest warrant!) to appear in court and defend herself because her child was sharing files.

    The president of the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group for the largest music labels, said lawyers will pursue downloaders regardless of personal circumstances because it would deter other Internet users.

    “The idea really is not to be selective, to let people know that if they’re offering a substantial number of files for others to copy, they are at risk,” Cary Sherman said. “It doesn’t matter who they are.”

    Here is the full story.

  • Rob

    Also, IANAL and all that but it seems pretty clear to me that they would contend you are violating their exclusive distribution rights.

  • Karl


    Talk of arrest may be a bit rash. Thus far, all the RIAA’s suits have been civil cases. As was repeatedly made clear in the DOJ IP lawyers� interview on Slashdot last week, none of these cases have involved criminal charges, yet.


  • http://www.unbendable.org Matthew Smillie

    Slippery slope arguments always seem a little dodgy to me, but I thought I’d point this one out:

    1. First they sued file-sharing companies.
    2. Then they sued ISPs.
    3. Then they sued “super-sharers”.
    4. Now they’re suing anyone.

    The supposition that they’d never actually sue an individual was of relative comfort during stage 1; the supposition that they wouldn’t arrest an individual now is somehow not as comforting. I think the fact that it’s even become a possibility says a lot about the situation.

    As an aside, it constantly amazes me the number of people willing to jump to the defence of large media corporations (be they news, music, movies, or even computer games) and their pricing policies. They have entire marketing departments to do that for them, their motivation being to make money. What’s your motivation in doing their work for them?

  • http://home.telepath.com/~hrothgar Timothy Phillips

    This article in the Christian Science Monitor


    discusses the process of cumulative creativity, as does my latest post to Telae Tabulae

    From the Monitor article:

    “Paul McCartney conceded that the tune ‘Yesterday,’ one of the most popular pop ballads of all time, may have been based on McCartney’s subconscious borrowing from an old Nat King Cole song called ‘Answer Me.’”

  • Lee Kane

    In the NYT article a couple of days ago on the RIAA subpeonas the writer said P2P downloaders “rationalize” (quote) their behavior by claiming music is too expensive. Interesting choice of words from the NYT.

    How to rebel against registration sites (to those confused, the Times does *not* charge…they only require registration): Always, always put in completely bogus and ridiculous demographic information when registering so that such information becomes completely useless. It’s a joke already that orgs like the Times think their registration is somehow telling them who their users are…

  • Lee Kane

    Oops… *does not charge for recent articles* (they do charge for older ones)