April 6, 2009  ·  Lessig

Fred von Lohmann has a fantastic essay on the complexity in knowing whether the President’s gift to the Queen violated the law.

Does anyone doubt it is time to begin a formal and serious discussion about how best to craft a copyright law for the 21st century? Does anyone think such a law should yield such ambiguity to such a simple question?

  • http://digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    I recommend reforming copyright as the natural exclusive right as per the US constitution (sans monopoly), i.e. protecting the boundary of an individual’s private domain against unauthorised removal or communication of the intellectual works they legitimately possess (due to creation or purchase) – rather than creating a monopoly for the benefit of printers.

    That would make the law extremely simple.

  • Daniel Stern

    I think part of the reason why we are still having such issues with the current copyright law, and why a better law more applicable to the 21st century has not yet emerged, has less to do with the law itself and more to do with the fact that we have not yet reached clarity on what we think is fair. Furthermore, we are paralyzed by that fact that what we think is fair may be beyond the reach of regulation.

    Short of disproportionate punishments or deep architectural changes to the way bits are transmitted, the risk / reward ratio of transmitting 100% fidelity digital recordings gives pirates too significant an advantage to effectively mitigate their behavior.

    I think the real reason we have not yet produced an effective 21st century law is because we have not yet chosen between a healthy recording industry, or a healthy digital environment. This has more to do with the confluence of legacy powers still being at the helm & and un-articulated priorities than it does the inability to craft a law. The law will make itself once society makes up its mind.

  • Krishna

    First region-locked DVDs to the PM and then an iPod with music to the queen?
    Both gifts that bring up copyright issues. Anyone else think this is kind’a odd? Is Obama trying to make a point here?

  • DM Grant

    Much to do about nothing. This isn’t even worthy of being considered academic. Challenge us!

  • Max

    My parents taught me to share!

    I shared my website with the world (copyrights and all). Google crawled it and helped share it with the world (increasing the strength of my rights). No problem so far. Then Google serves up revenue generating ads aligned with my related content. Where is my share? Why didn’t Google obtain my authorization?

    Daniel Stern makes an excellent point, “I think the real reason we have not yet produced an effective 21st century law is because we have not yet chosen between a healthy recording industry, or a healthy digital environment.” It seems to me that the decision has to do with distribution control and not matters of law.

    I continue to allow Google to crawl my web-pages believing that they are infringing on my rights, but they control distribution in ways that benefit me. It’s a trade-off that millions of people accept (without reform). Distribution control is the issue for the record industry. Copyright reform in this context makes about as much sense as shutting down Google.

    “careful what you wish for.”

  • David

    > Is Obama trying to make a point here?

    If so, it’s brilliant.

    David

  • http://www.otofog.net Alex Bowles

    +1 vote for Daniel being on the mark.

    Add to it the idea that we should abandon attempts at copyright ‘reform’ and simply limit the law to the area for which it was intended and designed: the reproduction and distribution of physical copies. Now that we all recognize the way that content and container can be separated, it’s time for the laws governing contents and containers to separate as well.

    The real point of contention here is the notion of ‘publisher’s rights’. These made limited sense when the mechanisms for publishing and distribution were capital intensive and privately owned. Without the limits imposed by copyright, publishers could never recoup their investments.

    But now that the mechanisms for publishing and distribution have merged into a single global platform with no single owner and widely distributed costs, the idea of asserting ‘publisher’s rights’ is a bit like ‘claiming’ a piece of Yosemite Valley on the basis that you are a member of the public to which it belongs.

    That’s not to say you have no rights at all. It simply means that we cannot accept impositions tied to the existence of private, mechanical platforms in areas where there’s nothing private or mechanical to begin with.

  • http://www.three-brothers.net Dan

    Let the guy send an ipod if he wants to sheesh.

  • Max

    Alex,

    Not sure I get the Yosemite analogy mainly because the public is compensated in exchange for the right to enter the park (access to the ‘content’ is protected by rangers at gates).

    Isn’t the impetus behind copyright law to provide incentive to the creator? I don’t see how publishers “recouping investment” has anything to do with the law. The content is worth what people will pay, unless they can get it for free. Distribution and publishing are not “merged” to the extent that content rights can be protected. Controlling the content container through distribution is obviously the issue. Tampering with copyright law (especially the first sale doctrine) is not the solution as this could easily dilute the incentive to create.

    We are witnessing an incredible shift in content distribution. There will be new winners and losers, and new ways to reward creators will evolve. The “distribution” problem will begin to take care of itself so be it with new players involved. For example, ipods are not hack-proof content containers. The itunes legalese attempts to address the risks associated with this point for Apple and their content partners, but so what. Their users have proven that people will pay for quality service combined with content even though they could pirate (itunes recently surpassed Walmart as the #1 music retailer). This is a great example of the channel evolving.

    So far I have not read a single argument for copyright reform that actually benefits the people (the majority). Perhaps the President is trying to tell us something!