May 31, 2006  ·  Lessig

In a rare spin into politics, ebay’s Meg Whitman has written to eBay community members asking them to write members of Congress to get them to support Network Neutrality legislation. (eBay’s policy statement on NetNeutrality is here. )

This is a critical time. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is my favorite leader on this issue. After just barely squeezing a victory in the House Judiciary Committee last week, the press is on now for the vote on the floor. The Congress Daily (which can’t be linked to) estimates about a $1 million per week is being spent on ads by telecom and cable companies to fight neutrality legislation.

SaveTheInternet.com has an action site. There’s another (overly fancy) site I hadn’t seen before: It’s Our Net. But whether you like fancy or plain, spread the word.

May 23, 2006  ·  Lessig

From Henri Poole:

At 8:30am this morning, wearing neon Hazmat gear, 25 techology activists from FSF & EFF swarmed the 2006 Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle.

Following the lead of the French anti-DRM activists, the new initative, Defective By Design, is signing up activists interested in getting involved in local actions to bring awareness to the crippling effects of DRM on art, literature, music or film, and free software.

May 23, 2006  ·  Lessig

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Wired is holding a town hall discussion at Town Hall, New York, with Al Gore, James Hansen, Laurie David, and Lawrence Bender, moderated by John Hockenberry, Thursday, May 25, from 8-10pm.

You can get tickets here.

May 21, 2006  ·  Lessig

So the Gore movie will at least give lots of good and appropriate work to bloggers, as lots try to spin the story told by Gore. My favorite so far are two ads released by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. (Both are here.) The first is totally empty and hilarious, with the slogan (and who could make this up): CO2: They call it pollution. We call it life.

The second has more substance, charging the biased media with not reporting the fact that there were scientific studies showing that the ice caps were in fact thickening, not thinning. That claim has incited a strong rebuke from the scientist quoted in the ad:

“These television ads are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate,” Davis said. “They are selectively using only parts of my previous research to support their claims. They are not telling the entire story to the public.”

CEI: They call it truth. Scientists call it lies.

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May 21, 2006  ·  Lessig

So the recent struggles about network neutrality have led me to recognize something I hadn’t quite seen before. And that something in turn makes more puzzling the debates that have been raised around network neutrality.

The something to recognize is that in a fundamental sense, fair use (FU) and network neutrality (NN) are the same thing. They are both state enforced limits on the property rights of others. In both cases, the limits are slight — the vast range of uses granted a copyright holder are only slightly restricted by FU; the vast range of uses allowed a network owner are only slightly restricted by NN. And in both cases, the line defining the limits is uncertain. But in both cases, those who support each say that the limits imposed on the property right are necessary for some important social end (admittedly, different in each case), and that the costs of enforcing those limits are outweighed by the benefits of protecting that social end.

So from this perspective, it is easy to understand those who reject FU and NN (who are they?). And it is easy to understand those who embrace FU and NN. What gets difficult is understanding those who embrace one while rejecting the other — at least when that rejection is articulated in terms of “government regulation.”

For there is a consistency problem for those who embrace FU while arguing against “government regulation to support NN.” For FU and NN are both “government regulations” — each government defined limits on government granted property rights. In both cases, a government official (a court, or the FCC) is telling a property owner “this use of your property is opposed by the state.” And while there are important differences in the way FU and NN get administered, if anything, FU is more vague, more complex, more expensive, and more uncertain than the regulations being called for under NN.

So too are other arguments advanced against NN also available FU. NN opponents say the market will take care of the problem — that people won’t use networks that don’t give them the freedom they want. But the same could be said about copyright — if Madonna’s too restrictive, you could try Lyle Lovett. Some say there’s not a showing of market power with NN sufficient to justify state intervention. But on that standard, could there ever be a justification for FU? Who could possibly have enough culture as to have that amount of market power over culture? And finally, NN opponents say NN would sap the incentives from network owners, and they won’t build fast networks. But again, the same argument is made against FU — that giving up perfect control destroys the incentives of copyright holders. In both cases, the arguments are the same — on the one side, the call for perfect control over a property right; on the other, the demand for some limit in the exercise of a property right.

There’s also a consistency problem of course for those who embrace NN and criticize FU (me, for example). For the reasons I’m critical of FU are exactly the reasons people are fearful of NN. That recognition has helped me understand the nature of the concern about NN. But again, having lived the legal battles over fair use, and watched the regulatory battles over NN(‘s equivalent), I don’t see how anyone can be categorical in embracing FU while rejecting NN.

No doubt, some of those who embrace FU while rejecting NN (or the other way round) do so because the value said to be protected by each is not, in their view, sufficiently strong. That difference wouldn’t raise questions about consistency. It would simply reflect differences in values.

But then let’s hear that debate. Let’s hear people who say competition in applications and content isn’t important. Or that it doesn’t raise issues of free speech. Or whatever other reasons might be advanced to argue that government shouldn’t intervene here. Such arguments would at least be progress in a debate that seems to me so far just stuck in a confusion.

May 21, 2006  ·  Lessig

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On Wednesday, May 24, in select theaters in New York and LA, a film by Davis Guggenheim about Al Gore’s global warming slide-show will open. I have seen the slide-show. It is — by far — the most extraordinary lecture I have ever seen anyone give about anything. And I’ve now seen the film, An Inconvenient Truth, twice.

I will rarely ask favors of those who read here. But this is one. No issue is as important. I doubt you will ever see an argument as compelling. And though this is a beautiful and pasisonate film, it is, in the end, an argument that gets built upon the ethic that guides at least some conversation in places like this — facts, reason and a bit of persuasion.

I push for you see this because of the peculiar economics of theaters. Unlike blog posts, that are equally as available always, whether or not this film gets seen is a function of what happens in the next four weeks. If many see it, then many more will have the opportunity. So if there is a time to see it, it is early and often.

You’ll see me credited at the end. I gave some advice re fair use (you can’t believe the insanity filmmakers live with). And some might notice that Guggenheim is on the board of Creative Commons. But none of that is behind this recommendation: Even if you want to reject the argument, understand it first. This is a perfect opportunity to understand it.

There’s an overly professional website associated with the film at ClimateCrisis.Net. You can pledge (no, I don’t know whose idea this was) to come, and take others. Tere’s a list of places the film will be showing. And there’s a blog.

Please. If there were an obvious way to put everything else aside and work on this, I would. Meanwhile, please see the film.

May 18, 2006  ·  Lessig

There has been good progress in the Net Neutrality debate. Critical to this debate is that it not become a left/right issue — because however much we on the left push it, it is not properly seen as a left/right issue. The Christian Coalition has now helped by announcing their support for Net Neutrality principles.

Also, PublicKnowledge has a great PSA on the issue.