Harvard Law Professor and political activist Lawrence Lessig, a strong advocate for narrower restrictions with copyright law around online video, explained what platforms exist today that have the best system for protecting copyrights, while at the same time encouraging creative usage of that video by others.
In a streaming-video presentation I watched Lessig give last month, he discussed how to overcome legal problems with enforcing copyright law (as it exists today) with online video, and have a better copyright system in place that benefits everyone doing video online. A streaming video copy of Lawrence's presentation is available on his Blip.TV channel. The following is the question exactly as it to Lessing, and followed by his answer – which is actually portions of answers taken from from different questions during the same Q&A session. (Call it my own "re-mixing.”)
Question: Mr. Lessig, what kind of technical and legal platforms exist today that can best leverage and assure (i.e., protect) the rights-owners of online video, as well others who want to put someone else's video to creative use online?
The Recommended Video Platform
Lessig: For a technical platform, I think it's about what you're allowed to download and do stuff with the content. It's been an important evolution in YouTube's history that there's no a simple way to get the videos that YouTube has, and download them in a high-quality version to your machine so you can do stuff with it.
Other sites have had this forever: Blip.TV… my favorite competitor to YouTube… and where all of my lectures get hosted, has allowed this from the very beginning and has allowed people to mark that content with licenses that freely market as usable or shareable. I think that's an essential part; that you can take and do stuff with the content that's not wrapped in Digital Rights Management in a way that disables that.
YouTube – moving slowly towards more freedom
Lessig: I think YouTube should ultimately recognize that it is not in their interests to have any control system that blocks types of innovation with video; and that these different platform standards just inhibit that kind of remix creativity. I'm actually encouraged that Blip.TV's competition with YouTube has gotten YouTube to recognize the value in alternative formats. Blip.TV have begun to make YouTube recognize why encouraging a wider range of freedom here is important.
I think YouTube is moving; not quickly enough, but I think they're moving in the right direction here, and people putting more pressure on them to do it is the right way to do it.
The legal platform solution…
…narrow down the copyright system
Lessig: But the legal platform is just as important. The legal platform has got to be clear to enable people to be free to make this kind of creative work, without the unnecessary restrictions of copyright. So what would that be?
I'm a deep believer that copyright is an essential part of the digital future. We've got to have a system of copyright. But it's got to be narrowed and focused in the places where it could actually do some good. It does no good when it tries to regulate amateur creativity. There's no reason why somebody making a YouTube video… needs to worry about clearing the rights to the music, or anything else they want to do as they engage in that kind of creativity. It makes no sense because there's no market for anybody, and nobody loses businesses if people engage in this kind of creativity; and we want them to engage in this creativity.
We know that if we tax it, as Ronald Reagan taught us, "tax it and you get less of it." We should free that creativity from copyright's control.
…Exempt the amateur from copyright law
Lessig: My take is that amateur remix should be exempted (from copyright law). Not "fair use," but "free use" under copyright law. And instead, we focus on the commercial entities that might profit from this use.
The Creative Commons' non-commercial license is an experiment to encourage and enable that. The reason we launched it was we just recognized that there were many people who see the idea of taking people's creativity and doing stuff with it for non-commercial purposes as a different thing from taking people's stuff and doing things with it for commercial purposes… To enable that kind of cultural meaning created this device to facilitate non-commercial sharing.
…and make Google accountable for advertising profits from unauthorized, published commercial video
Lessig: For example, if Google makes money for people making videos, and they run ads next to it, then Google should be paying for the remixed content that is displayed on Google, not the underlined creators. Right now, American law is exactly backwards. Right now, when you post it in YouTube, the law says that you, the creator, who hasn't cleared the rights to using that music in the background, have violated copyright law. But YouTube, if they take it down with 10 days of notice, is immune from any liability under copyright law. That just makes no sense.
Author's note: Viacom, owner of Paramount Pictures and Comedy Central, has argued in their lawsuit against Google that YouTube (owned by Google) became the leading video site by rampantly infringing on copyrights – including showing copyrighted video clips without permission, and making money off the traffic and advertising from those clips. Google/YouTube maintains it followed copyright laws of the Internet.
Encourage the amateur, and charge the professional.
Lessig: The system ought to be that we encourage the amateur creativity (with online video), and then tax and regulate the commercial (business) profiting from that creativity. There are lots of hard lines to draw there, but we should be trying to draw that line to make sure that this amateur stuff remains free.
Author's note: by "amateur creativity," I don't believe Lessig had amateur porn video in mind. When I did a Google image search under "amateur creativity," that's all I could find. But it got me thinking, would Lessig would also 'encourage' that kind of amateur creativity? ("Free use for free love" has an interesting ring to it. ;)