December 24, 2006  ·  Lessig

“Radical” changes in Washington always have this Charlie Brown/Lucy-like character (remember Lucy holding the football?): it doesn’t take long before you realize how little really ever changes in DC. The latest example is the Dems and IP issues as they affect the Net. Message to the Net from the newly Democratic House? Go to hell.

As everyone knows, one issue critical to those who are making the Net interesting (for politics at least) is IP reform. Not “reform” in the sense of the last decade (e.g., Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, DMCA, NET Act, etc.), but real reform designed to make IP laws work sensibly in the digital age. Real reform — not the piddly full-employment-act-for-lawyers reform proposed by the Copyright Office for “orphan works,” or the puny reform suggested for digital libraries. Instead, reform that tries to fit the legitimate objectives of copyright — to assure that artists have the incentives they need to create great new work — into the contours of digital technology.

To craft that reform would require real work. I don’t think anyone has a clear picture of what would be best yet. But what is clear is that the war on technology of the last decade must come to an end. And the efforts by content holders to leverage their power over rights they can’t even prove they own (see, e.g., the Google Book Search battle) into control over the architecture of the net must be stopped. No one should defend “piracy.” But no one should believe that the way the law currently defines “piracy” makes any sense at all.

So is there any hope for such reform from the Democrats? Word from Washington so far: Fat chance. As reported in the LA Times two weeks ago (registration required but hey, it’s LA), the crucial House IP subcommittee will be chaired by Hollywood Howard (Berman) — among the most extreme of the IP warriors. It is this committee that largely determines what reform Congress considers. It is the Chairman who picks what voices get heard. And while Berman is a brilliant man — whose brilliance could really have been used in the problems facing the mid-east — his brilliance has not yet been directed towards working out the problems of IP and the Net with any view beyond the narrowest of special interests.

This is like making a congressman from Detroit head of a Automobile Safety sub-committee, or a senator from Texas head of a Global Warming sub-committee. Are you kidding, Dems? The choice signals clearly the party’s view about the issues, and its view of the “solution”: more of the same. This war — no more successful than President Bush’s war — will continue.

No doubt, there are Net issues beyond copyright — surveillance, net neutrality, etc. But I suggest this choice is an important signal about this party (and I’m afraid, any party). I once asked a senior staffer of a brilliant Senator why the Senator didn’t take a stronger position in favor of Net Neutrality. “No Senator remains a Senator opposing an industry with that much money” was his answer.

And so too here. The Dems have looked at the potential “return” from the activists on the Net. They’ve considered the kids being sued by the industry (including the kids running MySpace, and maybe soon, YouTube), and the kids creating amazing new (but presumptively illegal) mashups and remixes, and they have compared that value to the party with the value promised by Hollywood. Result: the 20th Century continues to rule.

Dems to the Net: “Thanks for the blogs. And please continue to get outraged by MoveOn messages. But don’t think for a second we’re interested in hearing anything beyond the charming wisdom of Jack Valenti. We appreciate your support. We appreciate your money. But come on — you’re all criminals. Don’t expect your criminal ways to be taken seriously by an institution as respected as the US Congress.”

December 21, 2006  ·  Lessig

This is a fun project I’ve been pushing inside CC which, thanks to endless work by our GC Mia Garlick and a Stanford student, Dana Powers, has now launched as a beta.

The background is this: US copyright law gives creators an inalienable right to terminate any “transfer” or assignment of copyright after 35 years. The idea was to give the creator a second bite at the apple, an idea that goes back to the first US copyright law.

The problem with the procedure is — surprise, surprise! — it is INSANELY complicated. It is almost as if — AS IF — it was designed not to be used.

So Creative Commons decided it would take a crack at making the system easier. We’ve developed a tool that will help an author determine whether or when an assignment is terminable. And our idea is to work with legal aid clinics around the country to refer likely terminators for final termination (it is an irresistible word for us Californians).

At this stage, the tool doesn’t refer you. And you should not use or rely on anything that comes from this BETA. But we’d be very eager for people to play around with it and give us feed back on the tool. When we’re really confident we’ve got all the logic right, and it’s clear enough, and when we’ve lined up volunteer projects around the country to represent authors whose transfers are to be terminated, we’ll launch the project.

Why is this a Creative Commons project? We’ve seen CC from the start as a tool to help creators manage an insanely complicated copyright system. When we have this running, we’ll offer any copyright owner who has reclaimed his or her rights the opportunity to distribute the work under a CC license. But that will be optional. Right now, we’re just offering the tool to make it simpler for authors to get what the copyright system was intended to give them.

December 20, 2006  ·  Lessig

From jefferson.jpg to virgil-sm.jpg

Regarding this article in the New York Times about Congressman Goode’s letter to his constituents condemning America’s first Muslim Congressman’s decision to swear his oath on the Koran:

Congressman Goode: The Constitution which you studied as a law student at Virginia, and swore to defend as a member of the “105th, the 106th, the 107th, 108th and the 109th Congress” says this:

“but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (Article VI, section 3)

Does your oath to the Constitution not include this section? Or do you simply not take the oath you took seriously?

December 17, 2006  ·  Lessig

plaque.jpg

My retirement plaque, presented by Jimmy Wales. (click to enlarge)

Last week, culminating Friday night, in parties around the world, Creative Commons celebrated its fourth birthday. Hundreds of people helped mark this event. My 3 year old son, Willem, and I cut the first cake at the party in Portugal.

Five hours later, in the Creative Commons party in the virtual world of Second Life, I made (for me an announcement. As I removed the CC torch from my bag of objects, I told those in world, and in San Francisco, that Joi Ito, a venture capitalist from Japan and a key driver in the “sharing economy,” would be replacing me as Chairman of Creative Commons. I will remain on the board, and as CEO. But from the moment I handed him the torch, he is CC’s new Chairman.

This is a very happy moment for CC. I’m not going anywhere — CC will continue to get everything I can give. But we are movement, not a cult. And it is important that movements have leaders. I have had enormous respect for Joi since first meeting him in Japan in early 2000. It was a real coup when I was able to convince him to join our Board. Joi’s whole ethic has been to build the sharing economy. That ethic of building is precisely where CC is going right now.

This has been the best job I will have had. I can’t describe how extraordinary it has been to watch this organization grow, nor how rewarding it has been to see the passion and energy it has inspired. We have tried to show the world something about how creativity works — not through obsessive control, but by creators inviting others to create and share as well. More and more, this is a message the world seems to get.

But for now, let me leverage a bit the opportunity that the ambiguity of new leadership creates. After the thermometer is updated to reflect a very generous anonymous gift we just received, we will have just $100,000 left in our campaign. That’s a lot to raise in two weeks, but I think we can do it. Indeed, you can look at this change in leadership in two ways, each of which gives some of you a reason for one last push:

  • Some of you have been loyal supporters of me from the very beginning. I can’t begin to express how grateful I’ve been for this support, or for the generous thanks you’ve offered. To you, please show that support one more time, by supporting CC in this final two weeks of our drive.
  • Some of you have been loyal critics, with a different vision of copyright, or CC, and with a strong hope that the organization move beyond the particular vision I’ve offered. Now you have your chance: please celebrate the change, by supporting CC in this final two weeks of our drive.
  • Either way, what both I and CC need most just now is your support. A simple click is all we need to get that going.

    Finally, thanks to all of you, and the Board of CC in particular, for allowing me this extraordinary opportunity. And join me in helping, and supporting, Joi Ito in his new role.

    December 15, 2006  ·  Lessig

    Creative Commons turns four tomorrow. On December 16, 2002, in San Francisco, we launched this licensing project. Within a year, there were a million licenses. Within two years, 12m. Within three years, around 40m. At four, Google reports us close to 150 million licenses. I’m in Portugal to launch the 34th country ported — with Willem (age 3), who proudly marched around the event with a sticker on his shirt, explaining to everyone that it meant “ke-ative koms.”

    I’ll be in Second Life at the CC pod at 10pm San Francisco time (6am Portugal time) to join the party, and make at least one announcement. But meanwhile, enjoy this fantastic card from one of CC’s better ideas — iCommons.

    ccbirthday.jpg
    (here’s the original)

    December 11, 2006  ·  Lessig

    codev2.gif codev2.gif codev2.gif codev2.gif codev2.gif

    So Code v2 is officially launched today. Some may remember Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, published in 1999. Code v2 is a revision to that book — not so much a new book, as a translation of (in Internet time) a very old book. Part of the update was done on a Wiki. The Wiki was governed by a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. So too is Code v2.

    Thus, at http://codev2.cc, you can download the book. Soon, you can update it further (we’re still moving it into a new wiki). You can also learn a bit more about the history of the book, and aim of the revision. And finally, there are links to buy the book — more cheaply than you likely can print it yourself.

    Most important, however, as we come to the $185,000 mark of the CC fundraiser: All royalties from Code v2 go to Creative Commons, in recognition of the work done by those who helped with the wiki version of Code v1.