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Lessig Calls for Free Content Online
By: Michael Hayes (Courtesy of
Posted: 8/16/2006

San Francisco — Speaking at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, intellectual property attorney and professor Lawrence Lessig pointed out the similarities between the fight for free software, such as Linux, and the struggle to make the Internet a forum for free content, saying that existing copyright laws are incompatible with how people disseminate culture online.

For Lessig, content online marks a new form of cultural exchange. Unlike traditional mediums where viewers passively take in what Lessig refers to as “read-only” culture, users of content online both read and write content, adding bits and pieces to pictures, text, audio and video.

"Copyright presumptively conflicts with the read-write Internet,” Lessig said. “Every single use requires regulation permission to be granted presumptively.”

As an alternative, Lessig would have all copyright holders opt into The Creative Commons license, a four-year-old project with more than 140 million content items available for use online.

According to Lessig, search engines such as Yahoo and Google could perform image, text, audio and video searches that filter out content that has not been made available to The Creative Commons.

To ad creative sock to his speech, Lessig created a multimedia mix of animations, videos, news footage and music from The Creative Commons, demonstrating the viability of a forum for the content equivalent of open source software.

Lessig argued that remixing of content, whether society provides a legal framework to do so or not, would always occur.

"You must ask whether the values built into our society — to ignore the rule of law — are the values we want to raise our children to understand," he said.

In Lessig’s online content utopia, users would be free to modify and exchange content outside the constraint of major media companies in much the same way that proponents of Linux demonstrated that operating systems can exist outside of the Microsoft-dominated sphere of influence.

Pushing his libertarian vision for the Internet one step further, Lessig criticized the idea of ceding control of the Internet to companies such as Comcast and AT&T in exchange for broadband infrastructure gains.

"Everyone is focused on the only possible way to build broadband infrastructure, to turn over the soul of the Internet to Comcast and AT&T,” he said. “I wonder if we’re not missing something. There’s an explosion of municipal and ad-hoc wireless networks.”

Networking companies have been lobbying hard to block local governments from building wireless networks, but according to Lessig, people ought to look carefully at what a public infrastructure solution has to offer.




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