August 29, 2007  ·  Lessig

Film schools are in the business of creating filmmakers — artists with film. Their job is to teach both the skill and the ethic of an artist. The skill in making film; the ethic of creating art.

So what lesson do film schools teach their students about copyright? Unfortunately, in some at least, the most striking lesson is on how best to become an artistic-sharecropper.

That at least seems to be the lesson being taught at the University of Hawai’i's Academy of Creative Media. All film students must sign a copyright agreement that either renders their work “work for hire” or assigns completely all copyright in their creative work to the ACM. (After two years, the student gets a nonexclusive license to the work, but the copyright remains with ACM). ACM becomes the black hole for these rights. What they do with them is not clear.

But what is clear is the lesson ACM is teaching: That you, the creator, deserve no creative- or copy-right for your creativity. That right should be owned by the man. And while (at least so long as you’re good) the man might grant you a nonexclusive license to your creativity, don’t even think about the idea that what you create is yours to control. Copyright at ACM at least is not a right grant to “authors,” it is a right taken from the authors by the University.

Is there anything illegal in this? No. Is there anything immoral in this? Probably not. But I should think that at least some film students will decide where they want to learn how to be film makers by thinking a bit about the values of the school they attend. IMHO, these are precisely the opposite of the values we ought to be teaching creators.

August 14, 2007  ·  Lessig

In an interview after YearlyKos, DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga was keen to avoid making himself less relevant (“I can’t imagine any way to make myself less relevant today than to come out” and announce his choice for the presidency he told the Times). But there are times when we all have a duty to make ourselves a bit less relevant (I know, assuming a fact not in evidence). This is one for me, prompted by Senator Clinton’s vigorous defense of lobbyists, now supported by the Wall Street Journal.

It should be no surprise that I’ve been a Clinton skeptic for sometime now. As I said at a keynote at PDF , those of us in the free culture movement have lots to be skeptical about. Some of the worst changes in copyright law came under the watch of her husband (Sonny Bono Act, DMCA, NET Act). She’s made no statements that I’m aware of to suggest she has any different view from her husband’s. She was also the only major Democratic candidate not to endorse the idea of free presidential debates. Of all the Dems, I would have bet she was closest to the copyright extremists. So far, she’s done nothing to suggest to the contrary.

But that skepticism could have been erased. As important as I believe those issues are, they are obvious not the most important. What is, in my view, most important is a candidate with a clear understanding of the corruption that is Washington. (Again, not corruption in the bribe sense. But corruption in the economy of influence sense I’ve described before.)

After her comments on the lobbyists, it is clear enough that Senator Clinton has no such clear view. Indeed, quite to the contrary: were she elected, we’d get more of the “let me do enough to suggest I think this matters but not so much as to make a change” we’ve seen for 30 years. And if this election is to matter, this is precisely the sort of view that we need to defeat.

“The idea,” Senator Clinton said, “that a contribution is somehow going to influence you …” Right. That’s precisely the idea. Not always. Not fundamentally. But obviously (isn’t it? Or is the relationship between contributions and votes so brilliantly mapped on MAPLight just an amazing coincidence?) on the margins, when interests are strong and opposition oblivious, “contributions … influence” judgments that otherwise would have been different. That, at least sometimes, is the problem.

The problem is not, as Clinton seemed to suggest, that anyone believes that lobbyists are evil. Of course they are not evil. Lobbyists are often among the best educated, hardest working, most sophisticated people in Washington. They know their stuff. They are fantastic at conveying the message. They are typically decent, polite and honorable people. They are not in any sense corrupt, any more than lawyers, or press secretaries, or union stewards are corrupt. They have a job; it is to persuade. The people who succeed in that job succeed because they are good at what they do.

But just because a system is populated with good people does mean the system itself is not corrupt. And the problem with this system is the way it obviously queers good judgment when so much effort by politicians must be devoted to raising money in order to keep your job.

Put differently, if there were a way to fund campaigns that wouldn’t create the stain of corruption, we would still need (and want) lobbyists. Their job would be simply to make policymakers aware of the interests they represent. But just because your job is to educate politicians, it doesn’t mean you have to be able to give politicians money.

This is the (extraordinarily obvious) point the Wall Street Journal missed when it chimed in yesterday in support of the Senator. As the Journal wrote:

Her answer was met with jeers, but what Mrs. Clinton was daring to tell her left-wing audience is that lobbyists are an essential means by which average Americans transmit their political concerns to Washington, and in turn hold their elected Representatives accountable. Not everyone in America can afford to trek to D.C., or has the clout to demand an audience with a Senator. Lobbyists represent the collective voice of groups with shared ideals, whether they be gun owners, union workers, corporate employees or the pro-choice movement.

Just the sort of reasoning that makes that page so famous: Look, lawyers represent their clients before a judge. Does it follow from that that judges must be free to take money from lawyers? Even just to redecorate their office?

I don’t doubt that at one level, Senator Clinton believes — like every politician who takes money in a campaign, or every law professor who takes money to testify for some policy or another — that her judgments are not being influenced by that money. But I also can’t believe that she doesn’t also understand that at some level, this simply can’t be true. A good politician develops a 6th sense about how her actions will play. Some of these reactions we want her to be sensitive to — that’s why this is a democracy. But it impossible to believe that politicians spending 40% to 70% of their time raising funds to get elected don’t begin to factor into their decisions a sense about how their decisions will burden their opportunities to raise money. Not that it always trumps. But like water in a basement, it obviously eventually corrodes.

August 10, 2007  ·  Lessig

In October, 2002, I testified before the Senate Commerce Committee about “network neutrality.” (Here’s the article referenced in the testimony.) I believe it was the first time Congress heard the term “network neutrality,” but the message was just a continuation of the story many of us had been pushing since circa 1998 about preserving the “end-to-end” principle on the Internet.

After my testimony, an economist/lobbyist approached me and asked: “Do you really believe there is any threat that broadband network owners would discriminate in either the content they carry, or the applications they allow? After all, first, none will have enough market power to be able to do this without consequence, and second, even if they did have enough market power, what possible incentive would they have?”

I remember then thinking — this is the life of the theorist. They have a simple economic theory about how people will behave. When mixed with large lobbyist fees, it becomes impossible for them to imagine how anyone could behave inconsistent with the theory.

I don’t know what theory would explain the extraordinary stupidity of AT&T in censoring certain anti-Bush Pearl Jam lyrics.

But the important points to remember are these:

(1) This is precisely the behavior we e2e/NetNeutrality advocates have been warning about for almost a decade. And not just (or even most importantly) in this explicit form. Much more important are the games played more subtly, to push innovation and content in the direction that benefits AT&T.

(2) This is precisely the behavior cable companies have demonstrated from the beginning of cable. They live in a culture in which they own the lines, so they believe they have the absolute right to control the content/application on those lines. Whether or not that culture is harmful for cable deployment, it will be deadly for Internet innovation.

(3) This is precisely the environment that raises the cost of application innovation for the cell phone industry. As many VCs have explained to me, innovating in the cell phone application space is deadly, because every innovation needs the approval of the network owner. Again, maybe Steve Jobs is right, and this kind of control is necessary for cell phones (though I don’t believe it). But bringing the culture of the cell phone network to the Internet is a great way to increase profits to the network owners while reducing innovation on the Net.

This censoring event, whether AT&T’s “mistake” or not, should be a rallying point for this movement. Let it be remembered a million times until we get an administration willing to do something (finally) to protect the promise of the Internet.

August 9, 2007  ·  Lessig

So I’m back in the USA, welcomed with this very good news.

Months ago, we started a petition here calling on both parties to demand that presidential debates be free. Obama, Edwards, Dodd joined the call immediately. Congressman Livingston (Ret.) did so as well. CNN agreed quickly afterwards. But now, as MoveOn.org reports, ABC/NBC have taken significant steps to join the move to free the presidential debates. ABC’s policy is that footage is “without restrictions on use.” NBC’s is slightly more restrictive — “provided the primary intent is not commercial and that candidates don’t use NBC moderators in ads.”

These are both extremely important moves in the right direction. There will be important ambiguity in what “not commercial” means here (as we’ve been working through with CC licenses). But the move clears the field of unnecessary legal questions — which was the primary objective in our original call last April.

Thanks to everyone who joined the call, and especially the presidential candidates who took the lead in demanding it.