February 28, 2009  ·  Lessig


Amazon has caved into demands from the Authors Guild that it disable the ability of the Kindle to read a book aloud. This is very bad news.

We had this battle before. In 2001, Adobe released e-book technology that gave rights holders (including publishers of public domain books) the ability to control whether the Adobe e-book reader read the book aloud. The story got famous when it was shown that one of its public domain works — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — was marked to forbid the book to be read aloud. (Here’s a piece I wrote about this in 2001).

Now the issue is back. The Authors Guild has objected because Amazon’s Kindle 2 has a function built in that enables the book to be read aloud. So when, for example, you’re commuting, you can plug your Kindle 2 into your MP3 jack and have the book read aloud.

Amazon rightly argued that this did not violate any of the exclusive rights granted by copyright law to the copyright owners. In that, Amazon is exactly right. But nonetheless, it will now enable publishers to decide whether the Kindle books they sell will permit the book to be read aloud. And of course, that includes public domain books.

So here we go again — How long till we can buy Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and be told that this book “cannot be read aloud”?

But the bigger trend here is much more troubling: Innovative technology company (Amazon (Kindle 2), Google (Google Books)) releases new innovative way to access or use content; so-called “representatives” of rights owners, Corleone-like, baselessly insist on a cut; innovative technology company settles with baseless demanders, and we’re all arguably worse off.

We’re worse off with the Kindle because if the right get set by the industry that publishers get to control a right which Congress hasn’t given them — the right to control whether I can read my book to my kid, or my Kindle can read a book to me — users and innovators have less freedom. And we may be worse off with Google Books, because (in ways not clear when the settlement was first reported) the consequence of the class action mechanism may well disable users and innovators from doing what fair use plainly entitled Google to do.

February 27, 2009  ·  Lessig


Carl Malamud has launched — and we all should support — a campaign to become head of the GPO. I can’t imagine a more exciting appointment. Sometimes an agency needs STASIS. Sometimes it needs CHANGE. Gov’t tech is certainly in the second category, and no one I know of could more effectively deliver on the commitment to open government than he.

Join the campaign.

February 25, 2009  ·  Lessig


Jeff Flake (AZ-6, Republican) has introduced a resolution to call for an investigation about the relationship between earmarks and campaign funding. Having just finished Kaiser’s amazing book, So Damn Much Money, I am confirmed in a suspicion I had before the election: that Flake/McCain were right to be so exercised about earmarks, and Obama/Dems were wrong.

The point is not the total amount of earmarks. Indeed, for a liberal like me, I’m keen to see the government spend money (wisely, at least). The point instead is the corruption that the earmarking system engenders. The history of earmarks is the history of a business model, with lobbyists at the core, a Congress dependent upon campaign funding at the edge, and a world of staffers, bureaucrats and former Members keen not to upset their future employers (the lobbyists).

But of course, one simple solution to this “problem” with earmarks would be to remove the corrupting connection — to campaign finance. And the simplest way to do that would be to follow Teddy Roosevelt’s other fantastic idea from 100 years ago — Citizen Funded Elections.

Thus, yet another reason to join the strike — don’t give money to politicians who don’t irrevocably commit to citizen funded elections.

February 17, 2009  ·  Lessig


As mentioned, the Fair Use Project at Stanford’s CIS is representing Shepard Fairey in his suit against the AP. To that end, we’d be grateful for some net-based knowledge. How many photos are there “like” the beautiful photograph that Mannie Garcia took (the one on the left; the one on the right is a CC licensed photo taken by Steve Jurvetson)? Can you send any examples to [email protected]?

Also, please send any favorite examples of photos used as visual references for other works of art. We lawyers don’t know much, but we can learn pretty quickly.

Thanks for any help.

February 13, 2009  ·  Lessig

From the Creative Commons blog:

youtubelogo2YouTube just made an incredibly exciting announcement: it’s testing an option that gives video owners the ability to allow downloads and share their work under Creative Commons licenses. The test is being launched with a handful of partners, including Stanford, Duke, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCTV.

We are always looking for ways to make it easier for you to find, watch, and share videos. Many of you have told us that you wanted to take your favorite videos offline. So we’ve started working with a few partners who want their videos shared universally and even enjoyed away from an Internet connection.

Many video creators on YouTube want their work to be seen far and wide. They don’t mind sharing their work, provided that they get the proper credit. Using Creative Commons licenses, we’re giving our partners and community more choices to make that happen. Creative Commons licenses permit people to reuse downloaded content under certain conditions.

Visit YouTube’s blog for information. And if you’re are a partner who wants to participate, fill out the YouTube Downloads – Partner Interest form.

February 6, 2009  ·  Lessig

A bunch of you have forwarded to me the story about the AP threatening Shepard Fairey for copyright infringement. The Stanford Center’s Fair Use Project is representing Fairey, so I’m a bit constrained about what I can say just now. More when there can be more.