November 28, 2007  ·  Lessig


We received this happy missive in the mail yesterday: The plaintiffs in the lawsuit about Virgin using a CC-licensed photo have dismissed CC from the case. This is not a settlement. It is not the product of negotiation. It is the recognition by plaintiffs counsel that the laws of Texas and the United States give the plaintiffs no cause to sue Creative Commons.

As I said when I announced the lawsuit here, the fact that the laws of the United States don’t make us liable for the misuse in this context doesn’t mean that we’re not working extremely hard to make sure misuse doesn’t happen. It is always a problem (even if not a legal problem) when someone doesn’t understand what our licenses do, or how they work. We need to work harder to make that clear. But the news today lets us go back to the work of Creative Commons, without the burden of this lawsuit hanging above us.

So how can you celebrate with us? Well, help us recover some of the costs (probably $15k) that we have to eat because of this suit (deductibles with our insurance company, etc) by supporting CC. Or help us by joining as just a friend of CC. Or help us by spreading the news that the lawsuit is over.

And as one final word to the plaintiffs here — a word I can utter because neither required nor asked: As CEO of Creative Commons, I apologize for any trouble that confusion about our licenses might have created. We thought the meaning was clear. We work hard to make this as clear as we can. We will work harder.

November 20, 2007  ·  Lessig

To celebrate its 5th birthday (Dec 15), Creative Commons is launching a drive to get 50,000 friends. From the CC Blog:

Through sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Flickr, you can help us broaden our reach and educate the masses about the Creative Commons mission.

So, starting today, we’re issuing a 50,000 friend challenge to our community. We’reasking you to help us expand CC’s overall friend network to 50,000 people across the Web’s various social networking and content sharing sites by December 15 – the date of our fifth birthday party.

Here are some ways you can help our friend network grow. If you aren’t a member of any of these sites, please help us by starting (or expanding) a CC group on any site you do use.

Of course, you can also help Creative Commons by contributing to our annual fundraising campaign. As always, we thank you sincerely for your support!

November 19, 2007  ·  Lessig

Tom Bell is writing a book about (what’s called) “intellectual property” in public. He calls it “intellectual privilege.”

I here offer a third view of copyright. I largely agree with my friends on the left that copyright represents not so much a form of property as it does a policy device designed to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” (as the Constitution puts it). I thus call copyright a form of intellectual privilege.

Like my friends on the right, however, I hold our common law rights in very high regard. Hence my complaint against copyright: it violates the rights we would otherwise enjoy at common law to peaceably enjoy the free use our throats, pens, and presses. That is not to say that copyright is per se unjustified. We can excuse facial violations of our common law rights, such as the takings effectuated by taxation or the restraints imposed by antitrust law, as the costs of obtaining a greater good. But it does mean that copyright qualifies, at best, as a necessary evil.

Watch and participate at his website.

November 16, 2007  ·  Lessig

So as readers of this site know, I represent Robert Greenwald (pro bono) in a some fair use matters. My first work was on his film Outfoxed. Robert has been continuing the campaign against Fox. His latest is a very clever set of attacks on the “indecency” of Fox News. (The purpose is to push the FCC to unbundle cable channels). Watch the video below and you’ll see the point.

Ok, so here is where things get weird. All of this content is content broadcast on Fox television. All of it thus passes the censors at the FCC. Yet stories about Robert’s latest are now banned on DIGG. And YouTube requires you verify you’re over 18 to see the clip. (At 9pm, the story is #1 on Reddit, on the other hand.)

So it’s ok to broadcast this content to kids for the purpose of driving ratings and ad revenue, but banned for purposes of criticizing the (yet again) hypocritical Fox network. The conspiracy theories abound here. My guess is that some pro-free speech entities (DIGG, YouTube) are just not thinking.

UPDATE: DIGG did the right thing. Read (and digg) Kevin’s correction of their mistake. Bravo.

November 14, 2007  ·  Lessig

Free resources hero Carl Malamud is responsible for another coup: As announced on the site, he has negotiated a deal to buy a chunk of federal case reports and make them available totally freely — expressly public domain (using a new CC tool we’re releasing in December that makes it clear that there are no rights — copyright, moral, publicity, etc. — attached to content). This is a brilliant step to a properly accessible public domain. Bravo to Carl!

November 14, 2007  ·  Lessig

Some of you have seen the fantastic site we built at CC called “ccMixter.” Launched after Wired released a CD which invited people to remix CC licensed music, ccMixter has built a community of remix artists. Thousands of tracks within a system that tracks who remixed what. So, e.g., the technology enables you to say “this track was made by remixing these three tracks, and it has been remixed by these four other tracks.” Making transparent the community that is remix, on a platform of CC licensed content.

We launched ccMixter as a demonstration project. As with all our demonstrations, we expected eventually it would spin out to something self-sustaining. How and whether we do that with ccMixter is now something we’re beginning to consider. We’ve asked the ccMixter community about their thoughts about a change. (You can read the missive I sent to them last night in the Extended Entry below). But I wanted to state here some important framing values about this that will not change.

We are considering this change because we want ccMixter to flourish. We could likely continue to support it as it is. It’s not cheap, but it isn’t terribly expensive. We’ve been very lucky to have a brilliant musician and technologist (Victor Stone) incubate the project. I’m sure we could persuade him to continue.

But if the ccMixter community is really to flourish, it needs support beyond the support a nonprofit can provide. So we’re considering how we might permit that support to be secured.

Here are the principles that will guide this change:

  1. CC will not profit off of CC artists: We’re not an agency; we will set up no arrangement where the success of CC artists translates into financial success for CC. We’re happy to receive gifts from our community; we’re not about to receive commissions. We are therefore keen to restructure ccMixter so that any commercial benefit flowing to CC artists won’t seem an indirect benefit to CC.

  2. ccMixter will never lose its current commerce-free face. It will always be “free” in both the costless and free-speech sense. It will never have ads. It will always be a .org. The community that exists there now can continue just as it exists now. No one will have to make any change to how they contribute to the ccMixter community, if no change is what they want.

  3. Any change in ccMixter will be completely transparent, and only with the support of its community. The transparent part of this is simple. The support of the community part is complicated by fiduciary obligations imposed upon a non-profit like CC. But we will work hard to make sure that we do only what the community believes (properly interpreted of course) makes sense. Our ultimate aim here is to enable more for that community. We achieve that aim by understanding it.

  4. All the software and creative work will always remain “free”: First, the (award winning) code is free (licensed under the GPL); we will contribute the copyrights to that code to the GNU Project as soon as we can convince RMS of the capabilities of the maintainer. Second, the music is free (all licensed under terms that permit at least noncommercial sharing and remix).

I’m sure there will be more that I add to this list as we work through this. But I’d welcome other comments in the comment section to this post. We’ve not done something like this before. We need lots of eyeballs to make sure we do it right.

Here’s the letter I wrote to the members of the ccMixter community:


I am writing to ask for your advice about a Creative
Commons project that you know a great deal about:
ccMixter. Let me start by saying “thank you” for
participating in that project. By sharing your gifts
with the community so that other musicians can learn
and create together, you have helped us make it clear
that culture is enriched when artists work together in
a legal and sane way.

As you know, started as a tie-in
promotional remix contest with WIRED magazine . Thanks
to you, it has grown into a vibrant community of
quality musicians sharing not only their love for
music but the music itself, and not just with each
other but with everybody through Creative Commons
licensing. As part of a larger initiative to spread
the word about music in the Commons, that one-off
remix contest site is now part of the larger Creative
Commons Sample Pool that boasts over 50,000 CC
licensed music samples including 700 amazing a
cappellas. As sponsors of and the Sample
Pool initiative we are both honored and heartened that
the music production community has taken to these

We at Creative Commons are now working through how we
can best build upon the success that ccMixter is. We
are a nonprofit. We don’t have the resources or
expertise to turn it into a business. Nor do we want
ccMixter to lose its special commons-like character.
We are therefore considering a move that I’d like to
get your feedback about.

This move would change the “ownership” of ccMixter,
and add to its potential. It would not in any way
change its importantly “free” character. In reading
the description that follows, please keep this promise
in clear view: ccMixter’s core character — as a free,
non-advertising space where people can share and remix
(at least for noncommercial purposes), will not change.
Instead, the change we are considering would simply
complement this core character, with added
functionality, and value, that we believe could help
sustain the site, and make it much more significant.

It is this change that I want to get your feedback
about. The plan currently being discussed is to
identify a competent commercial entity to take over
operations of ccMixter. Subject — again — to the
requirement that they keep the existing
site as it is, this commercial entity would be free to
add commercial services beyond the services currently
provided. Again (and I know, even if I say this 100
times, there will still be some who don’t hear it), would remain as it is. It would be kept
free from any commercial interference (fees, ads,
etc.) and continue to have all the music owned by you,
licensed under CC; in other words, everything exactly
the way it is. But the company would fund the free
site by creating a new business-to-business website
devoted to serving commercial consumers of music.

This new site (call it ccMixter-Plus) will be for
commercial purposes and require that the artist signs
a (non-exclusive) contract with the company to
participate. By signing with the company, the artist
will allow the company to license music for the
financial gain of both the company and the artist.
Registered users of the free ccMixter site will be NOT
automatically be signed to the business site, That
decision will be between the artist, company and
fellow artists. No one will be required to sign. No
one’s rights to use will change depending
upon whether they sign. The only change would be to
offer to artists who want it a way that they might
commercialize some of their (and everyone who wants)
creativity. And its aim would be to enable this
opportunity with minimal hassle.

So, again, ccMixter (the free site) would continue to
work the same way it always has. But it would now also
serve as a “community A&R” pool for signing artists to
ccMixter-Plus (the music licensing site). The profits
from the business, in turn, would fund the free site,
and guarantee it can continue to grow as one of the
most interesting music remix sites on the web.

How would the company be selected? As a nonprofit, we
have no choice but to auction the right to run
ccMixter-Plus to the most appropriate bidder. That’s
not necessarily the highest bidder, but the obligation
of our board must be to promote the objectives of
Creative Commons. We know that Victor Stone is eager
to participate in this new organization. Our board
member, John Buckman, founder of Magnatune, and member
of the board at EFF, may also be interested in funding
the organization. But the auction to determine the new
owner would be open to all. No insider can or will have
any special access or advantage.

So that’s the plan we’re exploring. But as I said at
the start, we won’t do anything without the support of
our community. You have made ccMixter. So I am asking
you to give us feedback about this plan. If the
feedback is strongly negative, we’ll try to find
another way to help ccMixter grow. But I am hopeful
that the response will be strongly positive. We
launched ccMixter to demonstrate an idea. You’ve
turned that idea into an extraordinary reality. I am
keen to find an effective way for that reality to
grow. Please let me know if the idea I’ve sketched
here is a way that you could support.

If you click on the following link, it will take you
to a place where we’re collecting feedback.

(You must be logged in to your ccMixter account to
take part in the survey.)

Thanks again for your help.
Larry Lessig
Creative Commons

November 14, 2007  ·  Lessig

Barack Obama Logo

“DON’T DO THIS!” a friend wrote, a friend who never uses allcaps, a friend who cares genuinely about what’s good for me, and who believes that what’s good for me depends in part upon how easily I can talk to the next administration. “He is NOT going to win. She has it sewed up. DON’T burn your bridges before they’re hatched — so to speak.”

So was my suggestion that I come clean publicly about what many here will have intuited long ago — tha I support Barack Obama for President — met by my friend. But I said as much in March, 2004, though I expected this year would be four years later. Barack was a colleague from way back. I’ve supported every campaign since the first. And from the very first moments I knew the guy, I thought that he was precisely the sort we should be able to elect as President.

Friendship, however, isn’t the most compelling reason (for at least others) to support a candidate for President. I was therefore relieved and very happy that on substance, too, this is my candidate.

The closest leading competitor for my loyalty is of course Edwards. He’s got great views about technology and privacy. He’s got a fantastic commitment to changes that might well address the corruption that has become my focus. And he’s come around to the right views about the war. I’ve long admired his passion and conviction. And but for fears about his flirting with protectionism, he would, in my view, make a great President.

The other front running Democrat, however, is not a close call for me. (Saying this is what terrified my newly allcaps friend.) She supported the war, but as my support of Edwards last time round indicates, I can forgive that. The parts I can’t get over all relate to the issues around corruption. I signaled as much in my comments about her comments about lobbyists. We see two radically different worlds here. And were she President, I’d bet everything that we’d see radically little change.

But the part that gets me the most about Senator Clinton is the eager embrace of spinelessness. I don’t get this in Democrats generally. I never have, but I especially don’t get it after two defeats to the likes of George Bush (ok, one defeat, but let’s put that aside for the moment). Our party seems constitutionally wedded to the idea that you wage a campaign with tiny speech. Say as little as possible. Be as uncontroversial as you can. Embrace the chameleon as the mascot. Fear only that someone would clearly understand what you believe. (Think of Kerry denying he supported gay marriage — and recognize that the same sort of people who thought that would win him support are now inside the control room at ClintonHQ).

All politicians of course do this to some degree. And about some issues, I even get it. But what put me over the line with Senator Clinton was the refusal to join the bipartisan call that presidential debates be free. Not because this is a big issue. But because even on this (relatively) small issue, she couldn’t muster the strength to do the right thing.

Her failure here was not because her campaign didn’t know of the issue. I spoke directly to leading figures (or so they said) in the campaign. The issue was discussed, and a decision was made. And the decision was to say nothing about the issue. You can almost see the kind of tiny speak that was battered around inside HQ. “Calling for free debates might be seen as opposing copyright.” “It might weaken our support among IP lawyers and Hollywood.” “What would Disney think?” Better to say nothing about the issue. Better to let it simply go away.

And no doubt that was the safe bet, highly likely and politically sensible. But the issue of course didn’t go away. The legal threats that motivated us to launch this call for free debates materialized in a threat against Senator McCain. But that again gave the Senator an opportunity to say something true and principled and consistent with values she certainly ought to hold dear: That Fox should not not silence McCain, even if his words were an attack on her. Again, there was an opportunity for principled, and strong character. Again, it was frittered away by tiny speak among the very same sorts who frittered away 2000, and 2004.

We (Democrats) and we (Americans) have had enough of this kind of “leadership.” That (plus the Lincoln Bedroom) made it impossible for me, honestly, to support Senator Clinton. No doubt I would prefer her to any Republican (save, of course, the amazing Ron Paul). But I can’t support the idea that she represents the ideals of what the Democratic Party must become.

And that leaves Barack — an easy choice for me (except for the “trailing Clinton” part) for lots of reasons.

First, and again, I know him, which means I know something of his character. “He is the real deal” has become my favorite new phrase. Everything about him, personally, is what you would dream a candidate should be. Integrity, brilliance, warmth, humor and most importantly, commitment. They all say they’re all this. But for me, this part is easy, because about this one at least, I know.

Second, I believe in the policies. Clearly on the big issues — the war and corruption. Obama has made his career fighting both. But also on the issues closest to me. As the technology document released today reveals, to anyone who reads it closely, Obama has committed himself to important and importantly balanced positions.

First the importantly balanced: You’ll read he’s a supporter of Net Neutrality. No surprise there. But read carefully what Net Neutrality for Obama is. There’s no blanket ban on offering better service; the ban is on contracts that offer different terms to different providers for that better service. And there’s no promise to police what’s under the technical hood (beyond the commitment already articulated by Chairman Powell): This is a sensible and valuable Net Neutrality policy that shows a team keen to get it right — which includes making it enforceable in an efficient way, even if not as radical as some possible friends would like.

Second, on the important: As you’ll read, Obama has committed himself to a technology policy for government that could radically change how government works. The small part of that is simple efficiency — the appointment with broad power of a CTO for the government, making the insanely backwards technology systems of government actually work.

But the big part of this is a commitment to making data about the government (as well as government data) publicly available in standard machine readable formats. The promise isn’t just the naive promise that government websites will work better and reveal more. It is the really powerful promise to feed the data necessary for the Sunlights and the Maplights of the world to make government work better. Atomize (or RSS-ify) government data (votes, contributions, Members of Congress’s calendars) and you enable the rest of us to make clear the economy of influence that is Washington.

After the debacle that is the last 7 years, the duty is upon the Democrats to be something different. I’ve been wildly critical of their sameness (remember “Dems to the Net: Go to hell” which earned me lots of friends in the Democratic party). I would give my left arm to be able to celebrate their difference. This man, Mr. Obama, would be that difference. He has as much support as I can give.

(Oh, and to my allcaps friend, this was my reply: “Don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t about misplaced courage. Barack is going to win this one easily.”)

November 14, 2007  ·  Lessig

title="Get Miro - The Free Open-Source Video Platform."> src=""
alt="video player">

An important advance in the life of the network happened today. Miro 1.0 was released. Think about the history of computing technology — from the bottom of the stack up, the movement has been from proprietary to free. The hardware became a commodity, then the OS, then many apps. Miro represents the commodifying the content protocol layer. “It’s a platform that benefits everyone by keeping online video open,” the website promises. Here’s my promise: it signals the movement of those seeking proprietary profits further up the stack. That’s always a thing for innovation and growth.