Fighting IP Extremism With Online Video – The Lawrence Lessig Interview

Fighting IP Extremism With Online Video – The Lawrence Lessig Interview

We caught up with Professor Lawrence Lessig, founder of Stanford Law school's Center for Internet and Society, and the opening Keynote Speaker the Search Engine Strategies Chicago 2008 conference for "Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy”. We asked Professor Lessing if he believes there is significant IP extremism (i.e., legal restrictions) with online video content for both amateur and commercial use, and what video-specific solutions does he see in his proposal of a "hybrid economy" – protecting freedoms for video amateurs while producing incentives for video professionals.

Professor Lessig is on the board of the Creative Commons project, and is on the board of MapLight and the Sunlight Foundation. He has served on the board of the Free Software Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Public Library of Science, and Public Knowledge. He was also a columnist for Wired, Red Herring, and the Industry Standard.

ReelSEO's Contributing Reporter, Erika Blackwell, covered the SES Chicago conference and had the opportunity to ask Lessig the following questions about what he perceives as the problems and solutions with legal issues around online video, both for the amateur and the professional.

Q&A with Professor Lawrence Lessig

Erika: Do you believe there is also "IP extremism" with online video content?

Lessig: Yes, There is lots of IP extremism with video. …Take the story of Stephanie Lenz (Lenz v. Universal) who did a video of herself learning how to dance, uploaded it to YouTube to share it with her mom.  In the background of the video was the music from the artist then-formerly known as Prince. Three months later, lawyers from Universal Music Group contacted You Tube and told them it was a violation of their copyright.

This is just one example…With You Tube right now, after 3 complaints of copyright violation, YouTube will turn your channel off – Three strikes and you're out!

It made John McCain became a copyright radical this last campaign cycle.McCain ran a big channel on You Tube called McCain Videos. They were constantly being questioned about people raising copyright complaints. They were constantly living in fear that You Tube would shut their channel down.McCain wrote You Tube a letter two weeks before the election saying that they had to stop this practice – turning people off, because these are plainly fair uses that they were not crediting against fair uses… McCain's plea was met by YouTube saying, "that's the law, we can't spend time trying to figure out what's a credible claim and what isn't a credible claim – we just have to take these things down.'

So online video now becomes a political strategy. You have campaigns that are timing complaints knowing they can get their other inside shut down for a week because the law triggers itself.

So what's a solution, or a good example, of promoting online video distribution and protecting intellectual property?

There are some good players in this… Viacom sued You Tube saying that You Tube was in copyright violation.The one good thing that Viacom did was say, all we want to guarantee is that FULL copies of our television shows don't appear on You Tube – if there is ANY claim or remix that anyone's been derivative or done something with it – we don't care about that at all.They just wanted to police TOTAL copies but they were totally free about the amateur remix… That's the type of leadership which is necessary [with online video content] – thinking practically.”

A Copyright Problem for Online Video Today?

Lessig says in his keynote presentation that around the year 2004, there was a creative revival of the re-write culture of what Lessig refers to as 'The Remix' age – using digital technology to capture and re-express. Lessing cited many remix examples today with online video from original film, Anime Music Videos, Superman, The Simpsons, pop culture, and political events.

However, Lessing says the presumption of copyright law, now, renders this RW (Read-Write) creativity illegal because of a technical reason – about the interaction between the architecture of copyright law and the architecture of digital technology.

"If the architecture of copyright law is such that copyright law gets triggered when anything is copied, the architecture of digital technology is such that every single use of creative work – produces a copy, meaning permission is presumptively required everywhere.”

"The presumption of copyright law, now, renders this RW (Read-Write) creativity illegal because of a technical reason – about the interaction between the architecture of copyright law and the architecture of digital technology.  If the architecture of copyright law is such that copyright law gets triggered when anything is copied, the architecture of digital technology is such that every single use of creative work – produces a copy, meaning permission is presumptively required everywhere.” says Lessig.

"In the history of copyright, think about a book in the old days…  When you read a book, give, sell or sleep (!) on a book, it is an unregulated free use – it is not to produce a copy.  Regulated uses are necessary.  There is a thin sliver of exception with Fair Use.”

Lessig says that with today's digital technology, the understanding of what is fair use needs to be modernized with allowing for the re-mix. "[The re-mix] has been democratized, and the platform has changed. Every use is now a copy.”

The problem with today's copyright law, according to Lessig, is that the re-mix has not be included in copyright law, and thus copyright law is way out of sync with modern technology. "The 4th Amendment needs updating." Says Lessig. "The war of prohibition has not worked.  All of this copyright war has done has labeled the individual as a criminal… We should give up the [legal] obsession with copyright – its insane!”

Lessig adds that copyright law should just focus on activities that are meaningful – in the context of a particular use. "Copyright law today regulates too broadly – it makes no sense! Focus the regulation where it might do some good." He says.

Lessig's "Hybrid" solution – a legal balance for online video content?

Lessig proposes the following changes with copyright law, that can also apply to video online:

Fighting IP Extremism With Online Video – The Lawrence Lessig Interview

Lessig's believes that amateurs making remixes should be exempt. "What would the world look like today if we had had proposals in place 10 years ago, artists would have more money, businesses would have more competition and ordinary behavior from a generation of re-mixers would not be considered criminal." he says.

Lessig's also believes that the open sharing of re-mixed content online, including video content, is good commerce. "The Internet today has both kind of economies – commercial and shared." This has lent itself to Lessig's definition of a hybird – in this case, ”a commercial entity that tends to leverage a sharing economy." He says.

But what is unclear in Lessig's presentation and statements are what would be an appropriate usage for remixing by professionals, for their own commercial purposes? Being that Lessing was speaking to an audience of search marketers and other online marketing professionals, it would have been much more helpful for him to elaborate on how they could legally repurpose copyright content, especially video content, for their own professional use – be in promotional, commercial, or even internal use.

In addition, Lessig could have also offered a solution for how popular UGC sites (especially YouTube), could be in a better position to devote their resources (manpower, technology) to implement a fairer policy for reviewing copyright complaints. When everything you do on someone else's commercial site (and yes, YouTube is a business first) is free and without any business transaction, it takes a real business incentive for them to change their policy for everyone, and not just the few cases that generate media publicity and outside legal counsel.

Lessig did a service of explain to business professionals about the rights of the amateur, should they ever find their own content, including video properties, being put to re-mix usage. Fortunately here at ReelSEO, we'll be featuring articles from IP attorneys speaking at SES Chicago to answer the questions about commercial usage of online video, including the remix – stay tuned!

Fighting IP Extremism With Online Video – The Lawrence Lessig InterviewErika Blackwell is the Founder/Owner at http://www.VideoSellsYourBiz.com, a licensed affiliate providing video communication tools including video email, live broadcasting, video conferencing, and video podcasting for small business owners everywhere.


Don't Miss Any Stories!
Get daily online video news, tips and trends via email!


Posted in Video & The Law
About the Author -
Grant Crowell View All Posts By -

What do you think? ▼
  • http://www.reelseo.com/about/mark/ Mark Robertson

    Great article erika. Thanks for the contribution.

  • alexbeevers

    I have picked up some pearls of wisdom from your posts and I really thank you.
    I just love your website, its layout and its content. It really is a very interesting read.