January 29, 2005  ·  Lessig

In 20 minutes, I’m getting in a car to go to the airport to fly to Sao Paolo, to fly to Chicago, to fly to San Francisco, to get in a car to go home. It has been an insanely intense few days in this astonishing place.

This morning’s panel was packed in what seemed to be an old factory. The room was overflowing with at least 1,500 people, and a panel of 5. Manuel Castells began, with a careful and extremely interesting diagnosis of the net’s development. I then described the remix culture culture has been (legal and free) and the remix culture culture could be (amazing and diverse) and the blocks to that new culture coming about (law). Christian Alhert told the story of the BBC’s Creative Archive. And JP Barlow gave one of the most intense and powerful speeches I’ve ever seen him deliver. This place is personal to him.

Then Gil spoke. Needless to say, the warm up acts were just that. He electrified the audience, delivering a written speech as poetry slam. He promised more support for free software, and free culture. And he again embraced the Creative Commons movement in Brazil, which is exploding everywhere here. Again he took questions. Again he answered critics, directly, and passionately. I was reminded of his comment to me in the car the other night: we’re just citizens here.

After lunch, I visited the Youth Camp at the WSF, where 50,000 tents, and 80,000 kids are participating in WSF events. At the core was a Free Software lab, with about 50 machines, all running GNU/Linux, and constant lessons about how to set the systems up, how do to audio, and video editing, how to participate in free software communities. This was organized totally by the kids who ran it. Machines in shacks, hay on the ground, wires and boxes everywhere.

I got to talk to the organizers of at least one part of the lab for about an hour. JP Barlow and I peppered them with questions as they described their “Thousand points of culture” project — to build a thousand places around Brazil where free software tools exist for people to make, and remix, culture. The focus is video and audio; no one’s much worried about Office applications, or the like. It is an extraordinary, grass roots movement devoted first to an ideal (free software) and second to a practice (making it real).

They have the culture to do it. Again, there were geeks, but not only. There were men, but plenty of women (and lots of kids). They were instructing each other — some about code, some about culture, some about organizing, some about dealing with the government — as they built this infrastructure out. Think Woodstock, without the mud, and where the audience makes the music.

I’m going to write more about this, elsewhere. But I’ve not admired more in as long as I can remember.

January 28, 2005  ·  Lessig

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As is old news (but everything on the Lessig Blog is old news), the Copyright Office has asked for comments on whether a solution is needed to deal with “orphan works” — works still under copyright but whose owner cannot be identified.

This, as PublicKnowledge notes, fantastic news. For many years, many have been trying to refocus this debate on copyright from the binary questions that p2p sharing seems to raise (“seems to”) to the more pragmatic and fundamental questions that this insanely inefficient and bizarrely complex system of speech regulation called copyright raises. When Congress shifted our system of copyright from an “opt-in” to an “opt-out” regime, it transformed copyright from a system that automatically narrowed its protection (and hence regulation) to those works that had some continuing need for copyright protection, to a system that totally indiscriminately spreads copyright to every creative work reduced to a tangible form — automatically, and for the full term of copyright.

This issue is the focus of our challenge in Kahle v. Ashcroft. It is something I’ve been whining about in every publication that will have me (see, e.g., this op-ed in the LA Times).

But this is an issue that I’ve only become aware of because of the writings and emails from many who visit this space. And it is time for you to speak to government. No one who read the emails that I’ve collected could think that this was not a problem. But the copyright office doesn’t accept email inboxes. It reads submissions only. The requirements are simple. Submission is free. We’ll be organizing as many submissions as we can at eldred.cc. But please help spread the word: The Copyright Office needs to hear about every example of where the existing system is stifling the cultivation and spread of our culture. Not because Congress extends the term of copyright for Mickey Mouse. That battle is over. But because the way in which it protects Mickey Mouse blocks access to the balance of our copyrighted culture – for no good copyright, or free speech, related reason. This point is clear to many. You need to make it clear to the government.

January 28, 2005  ·  Lessig

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I walked out of my constitutional law class, climbed into a car to go to a plane to fly to Chicago to fly to Sao Paolo to fly to Porto Alegre to get into a car to come to this. Brazil is hosting the World Social Forum, and Barlow and I will be on a panel with Manuel Castells and Gilberto Gil on Saturday. But Thursday night, we visited the Youth Camp, which in part this year is devoted to demonstrating and developing tools to support free software and free culture.

We arrived in the middle of a concert. Gil was asked to speak. As he went to the mic, the tent fell silent. Hundreds were packed into a tiny space. Gil began to describe the work of the Lula government to support free software, and free culture, when a debate broke out. I don’t speak Portuguese, but a Brazilian who spoke English translated for Barlow and me. The kid was arguing with Gil about free radio. Two minutes into the exchange, about 8 masked protesters climbed onto chairs on one side of the tent, and held posters demanding free radio. A huge argument exploded, with the Minister (Gil) engaging many people directly, and others stepping in to add other perspectives. After about 20 minutes, the argument stopped. The band played again, and then Gil was asked to perform. For about another twenty minutes, this most extraordinary performer sang the music he’s been writing since the 1960s, while the whole audience (save Barlow and I) sang along. When the concert was over, Barlow, Gil and I were led out of the tent. It was practically impossible to move, as hundreds begged Gil for autographs, or posed for pictures. At each step, someone had an argument. At each step, Gil stopped to engage. Even after Gil was in the car, some kid rapped on the window, yelling yet another abusive argument. Gil, with the patience of a saint, opened the window, and argued some more.

This was a scene that was astonishing on a million levels. I’ve seen rallies for free software in many placed around the world. I’ve never seen anything like this. There were geeks, to be sure. But not many. The mix was broad-based and young. They cheered free software as if it were a candidate for President.

But more striking still was just the dynamic of this democracy. Barlow captured the picture at the top, which in a sense captures it all. Here’s a Minister of the government, face to face with supporters, and opponents. He speaks, people protest, and he engages their protest. Passionately and directly, he stands at their level. There is no distance. There is no “free speech zone.” Or rather, Brazil is the free speech zone. Gil practices zone rules.

Even after the speech was over, the argument continues. At no point is there “protection”; at every point, there is just connection. This is the rockstar who became a politician, who became a politician as a rockstar.

I remember reading about Jefferson’s complaints about the early White House. Ordinary people would knock on the door, and demand to see the President. Often they did. The presumption of that democracy lives in a sense here. And you never quite see how far from that presumption our democracy has become until you see it, live, here. “This is what democracy looks like.” Or at least, a democracy where the leaders can stand packed in the middle of a crowd, with protesters yelling angry criticism yet without “security” silencing the noise. No guns, no men in black uniform, no panic, and plenty of press. Just imagine.

January 11, 2005  ·  Lessig

IBM has announced the pledge of 500 patents to a “patent commons” for “open source” software development. That means people developing software licensed under a license certified by the Open Source Initiative can be assured that IBM will not assert these 500 patents against them — at least so long as they don’t sue IBM or another open source developer for patent related issues. (Steve Lohr’s got a piece in the Times.)

This is important news. It further demonstrates IBM’s commitment to making free software and open source software development flourish. And it could well inspire others to follow. Ideally there should be a trust that these patents could be contributed into. We’ll have to get the commonists to get to work building such a thing.

January 6, 2005  ·  Lessig

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If I had the time, and the money, I’d do the deep analysis that it would take to explain to myself why it is I constantly hope to be surprised by Mr. Gates. Yet I never am. Here’s BoingBoing reporting the red-baiting of Mr. Gates.

It’s one thing to read this sort of thing from a studio exec, or head of a record label — surrounded as they are by the sort that surround them. But the people I’ve met at Microsoft are miles beyond this sort of silliness. Does Mr. Gates not even talk to them?