Thursday, March 04, 2004

Less is more

I never would have thought I'd find anything interesting in the writings of a Stanford law professor, but then again Lawrence Lessig isn't the average law prof. When Scientific American named the top 50 visionaries of 2002, Lessig made the list for arguing "against interpretations of copyright that could stifle innovation and discourse online." Through his work with the EFF, the Creative Commons project, and the Center for the Public Domain, Lessig is fighting the Sisyphean battle against a government that is supporting the 'rights' of businesses over the rights of people.

Lessig's blog is a weekly read for me, since the things that bother him are things that bother me too. (Wow, I just realized how to Make My Millions: I'll make one of those social networking 6-degrees-of-separation friend-of-a-friend systems, but instead of being based on who knows who, it will be hook you up with people who are annoyed by the same things you are. "You know what really ticks me off...? err... you do? Awesome.")

So I had this big long drawn out rant about something that bothers both Lessig and myself: copyright law, and the way that congress is abusing the powers granted to them in the Constitution to indefinitely extend existing copyrights (since 1923), when imposing a limit on copyright duration is one of the very few explicit commands they were given in the Constitution. So why the hell should you care? Because a limited duration on copyright means that eventually, after the creators of those works have had ample time (life plus 70 years, before the extensions, wasn't it?) to benefit financially, the work would become public domain. Which, in a sense, means you and I and all the rest of the people own it.

So if copyrights don't end, new works don't enter into the public domain, which in a very real way diminishes our culture... actually in more ways than one: first, it means that things go out of print, becoming harder and harder to find as the years go by, and eventually they are effectively nonexistent, and secondly, it means that the works that do survive are those that the publishers feel they can make a buck off of. If the profit margin isn't high enough, the thing just sits in a vault somewhere, so in a very real way these copyright holders become a filter to determine which parts of our culture will continue to be accessible and which will just fade away.

Lessig was involved in a very important copyright case, which he lost. He's got a very crisp writeup of the experience and what it means to us that you should read. Read it, and if you still can't figure out why it's important, go to Project Gutenberg (public domain books), Ibiblio (public domain software, music, literature, art, history, science, politics, and cultural studies), Audiobooksgratis (public domain audiobooks), Mutopia (public domain sheet music), Common Content (public works under Creative Commons license: images, movies, audio, text), or just think about this: you're talking to your grandkids 50 years from now, and the only things they know about this era are Britney Spears, Stephen King, Stephen Spielberg, and Emperor George Bush. Grim, no?

The basic deal here is that corporate greed is choking off our culture. We expect that greed to be in companies, but the sad part is that companies can now buy legislators, people you (theoretically) elected. It's unconstitutional, it's weasely, but mostly it's just sad... the fairy tales of tomorrow will be the New York Times bestsellers of today, because everything else will have just *disappeared*.

As with most of my posts lately, draw your own damn conclusion, I'm going back to bed and a few hours of sweet sweet oblivion.