Wars over creators’ rights are pretty old – much older than copyright law. In one of the first “copyfights”, in 561AD, about 3,000 people died, writes Robert Levine in his new book Free Ride. St Colmcille and St Finnian clashed over the right to make copies of the Bible, with the King castigating Colmcille for his “fancy new ideas about people’s property”.
Levine’s book is a story of the digital copyright wars.
“I tried to write in an analytical way about something people get very emotional about. I don’t really believe the entertainment industry is good and the technology industry is bad; I just don’t see it as a morality issue. Businesses are in business to make money,” Levine says.
The book details the calamitous decisions made by the music business, particularly in its suing of end users for infringement. “In a few years,” he writes, “the major labels managed to destroy the cultural cachet they had spent decades building.”
The book also follows in detail Google’s “war on copyright” and the academics and activists who benefit from it. It comprehensively demolishes the arguments put by Lawrence Lessig, who helped create the cyberlaw industry. This is a book with masses of solid, meticulously researched detail.
I caught up with Levine in Berlin.
Continue reading “Free Ride: Disney, Fela Kuti and Google’s war on copyright”
What does an ethics professor do when a self-confessed felon bankrolls his favourite causes? Give the money back? Turn it into a case study for his students? We may soon find out.
The professor is the director of Edmond J Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard, and he’s no ordinary professor. It’s Lawrence Lessig, the copyright activist turned crusader for political transparency, and scourge of corporate lobbying. So the extent to which gambling interests have supported two of Lessig’s favourite causes may be one of the strangest stories you have never read.
In Fall 2006 the United States passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which made it illegal to take bets from the USA. It effectively put the world’s largest gaming market out of reach for online gambling companies. As well as traditional casino operations, the legislation affected the the burgeoning internet poker industry – the fastest-growing sector of internet commerce.
The gaming industry, worth $12bn a year, pushed back hard, and lobby money started to appear in the oddest places. One destination was iCommons, the for-profit offshoot of Lessig’s Creative Commons registered in London, which describes itself as “a project-based incubator organization”.
Shortly after the gaming legislation was passed, iCommons received three large donations. Two were from newly-formed and secretive offshore trusts, the while the third was from the founder of PartyGaming, Russ DeLeon.
Continue reading “Lessig’s Pick-and-Mix Ethics”
While Bill Gates now holds a lucrative monopoly on digital images, his successors don’t see the same prosperous future for the digital word. Microsoft is withdrawing from the Open Content Alliance digitisation project and will cease to scan books, the company said on Friday. It’s abandoning its Live Book Search venture – a curious decision, since it effectively hands the future of the book to arch-rival Google.
Why? Because the Open Content Alliance is out of money – and Microsoft was by far the biggest financial backer.
Brewster Kahle, whose Internet Archive project is a key OCA member, admitted the financial impact of Microsoft’s withdrawal was “significant” and that the Alliance now needed fresh resources to keep the scanners running. The initial $10m was almost completely exhausted.
Google differs from the impoverished Alliance in that it doesn’t ask for permission from copyright holders; it simply instructs its stormtroopers – the participating libraries – to rev their machines and start copying.
For this, the ad giant has received lawsuits in the US and France from authors and publishers. Google has fought back using sock puppets of its own. Stanford Law School’s anti-copyright centre has been helping out the Google cause – and received a $2m thank you in return.
(Curiously, “anti-corruption campaigner” Professor Lessig omits this relationship in his own, verbose declaration of interests – a taste of things to come, perhaps.)
Yet the policy will be brutally effective, with Google holding a monopoly on the printed word in book form.
Microsoft says it will donate the books digitised by Live Book Search to the copyright holders. Meanwhile, Google will surely never see a monopoly fall into its lap quite so easily. The future of digital books is now entirely in its hands.
(But perhaps not the future of books – given how superior paper technology is to digital. As Simon Jenkins wrote recently, the physical book just looks better all the time.)
If you arrive for work today and discover a grisly pool of brain tissue and bone fragments where a colleague used to sit, we may have the explanation right here. For, n a move that risks causing Scanners-style head explosions across the land, Professor Lawrence Lessig has endorsed DRM.
Not just any old digital rights management, but Sun’s open source DRM initiative, the Open Media Commons.
“In a world where DRM has become ubiquitous, we need to ensure that the ecology for creativity is bolstered, not stifled, by technology,”. says Lessig – or somebody purporting to be Lessig.
Continue reading “Lessig blesses DRM”
A dramatic update on Professor Lawrence Lessig’s other court case written by his friend John Heilemann appears in New York Metro magazine this week. And this is a battle that critics as well as supporters are praying will end in victory for the lawyer and scholar this time.
Lessig is representing John Hardwicke, who like himself is a former pupil of the American Boychoir School (now the Columbus Boychoir School) in Princeton, New Jersey. Hardwicke claims he was abused by multiple staff including the music director. The school argued it should be immune from such negligence lawsuits, and a trial court had agreed. Incredibly, the school even claimed the sex between now fugitive choir director and Hardwicke was consensual. The case was heard by the state’s supreme court, and in what reads like a movie script, the evidence turned on Lessig himself.
In front of the state supreme court, Lessig tore up the rule book and confronted years of private torment by revealing that he had been abused himself at the school.
Continue reading “Lawrence Lessig's other court case”