Stanford law professor Larry Lessig had an editorial in the Wall Street Journal’s weekend edition, “In defense of piracy.” Lessig starts off hating on the lawyers who went after the mother in the dancing baby/YouTube/Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” case. (Background here.)
How is it that sensible people, people no doubt educated at some of the best universities and law schools in the country, would come to think it a sane use of corporate resources to threaten the mother of a dancing 13-month-old? What is it that allows these lawyers and executives to take a case like this seriously, to believe there’s some important social or corporate reason to deploy the federal scheme of regulation called copyright to stop the spread of these images and music?
The answer: Crazy copyright law.
Lessig goes on to defend others whose creativity is derived from others’ creativity, like Danger Mouse and mash-up artist Girl Talk, whose latest album samples from 300 different songs. No rights acquired.
Midway through, the editorial goes into “Braveheart” mode. There’s a war going on, says Lessig– the “copyright wars.” Kids these days are sharing copyrighted material through peer-to-peer networks, while the art world is embracing a rampant remix culture.
This war must end. It is time we recognize that we can’t kill this creativity. We can only criminalize it. We can’t stop our kids from using these tools to create, or make them passive. We can only drive it underground, or make them “pirates.” And the question we as a society must focus on is whether this is any good. Our kids live in an age of prohibition, where more and more of what seems to them to be ordinary behavior is against the law. They recognize it as against the law. They see themselves as “criminals.” They begin to get used to the idea.
That recognition is corrosive. It is corrupting of the very idea of the rule of law. And when we reckon the cost of this corruption, any losses of the content industry pale in comparison.
That’s heavy. Lessig’s suggestions for ending the war, saving our lawless kids, and encouraging creativity, after the jump.
To save copyright law.. and the rule of law… and our children, Lessig suggests five steps:
1. Deregulate amateur remix. Lessig says if you’re not turning a profit, you’re okay by him.
2. Deregulate “the copy”. The law should focus on “uses — like public distributions of copyrighted work — that connect directly to the economic incentive copyright law was intended to foster.”
3. Simplify. Copyright law is complicated. Fix that, please.
4. Restore efficiency. Require that “domestic copyright owners maintain their copyright after an automatic, 14-year initial term.”
5. Decriminalize Gen-X. Lessig calls for an end to lawsuits filed against college kids.
More love, less lawsuits, and simplify, simplify, simplify. Will this solve all those pesky copyright problems?
In Defense of Piracy [Wall Street Journal]