Lessig Defends His Controversial Ideas About Copyright

Harvard law professor and Creative Commons co-founder Lawrence Lessig has responded on Huffington Post to the brouhaha over his call for copyright reform two weeks ago at the Vimeo festival in New York.

As we reported here, Lessig  called on re-mix artists to push for changes in the law to make it easier to re-purpose, transform and re-mix the copyrighted works of others to make new works.  With criticism raining down upon him ever since, he used Huffington Post to elaborate on his provocative and–I dare say–not entirely unreasonable position.

As he points out, he’s not advocating for the starvation of photographers or other creators, much less the destruction of civilization. He’s appealing for changes to copyright law that enable a thriving culture of creativity in the digital age–especially by amateur artists–while still preserving the profit incentive of commercial artists, including photographers. (Creative Commons says its licenses “provide a flexible range of protections and freedoms for creators, artists, and educators.”)

There are, of course, copyright hard-liners who see re-mix as a step onto a slippery slope. Some won’t tolerate so much as a discussion. Lessig called out a couple of them, citing their ad hominem attacks against him on Twitter. (The sticks-and-stones title of his post, though, is “The ‘Imbecile’ and ‘Moron’ Responds: On the Freedoms of Re-Mix Creators”.)

Lessig refers to our story in his piece, saying: “The inferno was ignited after the talk when a reporter covering the panel quoted the language I used… without making clear the context within which I was speaking.” Lessig also says his words were “ripped from their context and intended meaning.” For the record, the PDNPulse story explained the context (Ah hem. Link please, Professor Lessig!)

That said, his lengthy explication sheds more light on the nuances of his arguments. And it’s worth noting that “the inferno” he complains of no doubt helped him take his case to a bigger public forum, where it arguably deserve a lively debate.

18 Responses to “Lessig Defends His Controversial Ideas About Copyright”

  1. Photographer Says:

    I dont think Lessig would take this position if he didnt have his big salary from Harvard, he doesnt depend on feeding his family with his craft?

    Why is it that academic types are always pushing free use and Fair Use, who dont really create original work, but has much to benefit from free use.

    “Culture in digital age ” is thriving now because everyone steal it now anyway.

  2. EM Says:

    “…pushing free use and Fair Use, who don’t really create original work, but has much to benefit from free use”

    Lessig has written several book, which he has then licensed under Creative Commons http://www.lessig.org/ . You may disagree with his position, but he has often made his original works available for remix use.

  3. Photographer Says:

    My point exactly, Lessig does not make a living off his books, so he can afford to give it away for free, so he can afford to say copyright should be free and shared.

    Doubt his books have large market anyway..outside of few intellectual types.

    With this controversy he sure is getting lot of press.

    Many photographers and other creators do have to make a living from their craft, are in fact small business people…and most dont get funding, but have to figure it out on their own licensing their art.

    Why doesnt Lessig donate all of his fat Harvard salary to his “remix” cause? SO he can then figure out how to feeds his family?

  4. Em Says:

    I’m not sure how much Lessig makes from this work, but I don’t think he’s been hypocritical. Nor, to my knowledge, has he advocated artists just give it all away for free.

  5. Photographer Says:

    What do you think Creative Commons is?

    Until these guys actually makes a living solely from their books, not subsidized by other income like Harvard salary and benefits, they have zero credibility but merely intellectual posturing.

    You think Lessig shops around for his own medical insurance as a independent artist/author? You think he knows how hard that is?

    Lessig sure is getting lot of press. Making controversial statements pays to embellish one’s career.

    Reality is stealing of images, music, excerpts of books, are rampant in this age of digital. There’s whole generation of people who think what is posted on the internet is free, that they are entitled to it. With this, creative community will disappear including newspapers because they cant make a living or get funding. That is the danger in what Lessig is preaching with erosion of the Copyright Law. It’s irresponsible if you ask me.

  6. Anoher Photographer Says:

    You hit the nail on the head, photog. Follow the money. Academics publish books in part to justify their post in an institution. It is requirement to pull the steady salary. But the money comes from the salary first, then any extra rights on top of that. I’d love to see any creative commons advocates try and make an actual living. Just try to make the same salary as the average household in the United States… $52,000/year. Impossible to do.

    So what he is really advocating is increased access to work by amateurs who want to repurpose others images in “a thriving culture of creativity in the digital age–especially by amateur artists–while still preserving the profit incentive of commercial artists, including photographers.” With that said, Creative Commons is a perfectly smart solution. If you want to share your work around, and you have no business model so to speak of, you can choose a variety of levels of protection within the Creative Commons range of protections. They are quite well thought out for people who do not wish to preserve their fullest copyright protections. Of course, no one can make a living on a Creative Commons license. But there are plenty of people who want to share their work around because the sharing of it is a reward in itself.

    The problem for pros is that the flooding of the market with freely distributable images vastly decreases the scarcity of reasonably accomplished work. So, if you want to make a living, your work must compete with this flood of free images, demonstrating in some way its value as a commodity worth paying for. That’s really simple free market economics. There’s nothing immoral about it.

    At the same time, there is absolutely no argument to be made that reducing copyright protection is good for anyone. If you want to assign a Creative Commons license to your work, great, do so. If you want to keep your copyright protections as they are, also great. Keep them. And enforce them.

  7. Interested Party Says:

    “The inferno was ignited after the talk when a reporter covering the panel quoted the language I used… without making clear the context within which I was speaking.” Lessig also says his words were “ripped from their context and intended meaning.”

    I find it highly amusing that a man who wants changes in the copyright law “to make it easier to re-purpose, transform and re-mix the copyrighted works of others to make new works” is complaining that his words were taken out of context. In other words, they were remixed to create a new work. He should applaud the reporter. :P

  8. Bec Thomas Says:

    Lessig can argue all he wants that he should get to use what ever media he wants, when he wants it, and do with it what he wants but it doesn’t change the fact that people have to put alot of work into what they create and getting the creators permission to use a work isn’t that onerous of a task. If the creator doesn’t want to let you use their work for free then to bad, move on there are alot of creators our there, changing the law to make it easier to steal their works is not the right course of action.

  9. Wes Syposz Says:

    There are a lot of royalty free images for those freeloaders to use, if they want something more of the value, pay for it…

  10. Em Says:

    Okay, I understand why Lessig has become an easy target for criticism. My point has always been he’s not advocating theft or ignoring copyright, but examining and reevaluating the copyright laws as they are currently written and how they’re working for us (all of us) in a new digital age.
    Lessig is not responsible for the advances in technology that have changed the landscape for photographers, musicians and other artists in enforcing copyright. But I think Lessig is saying “now what?”. How is the “war on copyright” benefiting us as a culture? How is the current “war on copyright” helping small businesses and photographers? Do you feel the current system is working for you? If you feel the current system is working properly then maybe you should oppose his viewpoint. But if the current system is not working how do we come up with a new system that can be enforced. Because currently , “You can’t kill the instinct our technology produce, you can only criminalize it. You can’t stop them from using it, only force them to go underground.” (lessig)

    Finally,I think Lessig suggests there is an art form in remix as a new work of art separate from the works before it. If it becomes a new piece of art how is it impacted by fair use? You can disagree with the issue of remixed new works but judging art has always been subjective.

    @Interested Party I think Lessig would probably have no problem with his words being remixed as long as the remixed comments are no longer attributed to him. Lessig hasn’t been afraid to have his own works “remixed” but that is a different practice than misquoting.

  11. Photographer Says:

    Read this..Lessig is back tracked.

    http://photobusinessforum.blogspot.com/2010/10/lessigs-kool-aid-proposed-new-norms.html

    Current system is not working, it’s tilted in favor of those who thinks they can use the images for free, think they are entitled to it.
    The burden is on the creators to police their work.

  12. Photographer Says:

    @EM…you work for Lessig?
    I hope you are at least getting paid to troll the internet and defend him.

  13. rapherPhotog Says:

    “Lessig also says his words were “ripped from their context and intended meaning.””

    He is wants uninhibited remixing
    & complains about being remixed…

  14. rapherPhotog Says:

    “Lessig also says his words were “ripped from their context and intended meaning.””

    He wants uninhibited remixing
    & complains about being remixed…

  15. Em Says:

    @Photographer
    I don’t work for Lessig and don’t feel I represent his point of view- I’ve just read some of his work.
    The topic of copyright, remix and creative commons interests me and I enjoy the discourse.

    Not really “trolling” – I’ve just been following the posts here on pdnpulse

  16. Em Says:

    @rapherPhotog
    Again Lessig would probably have no problem with his words being remixed as long as the remixed comments are no longer attributed to him.
    “Remixed” is a different than quoting a source out of context (if that is what happened)

  17. Charles Maring Says:

    I see a strong opinion towards copyright staying as is. But, copyright only works if artists STOP selling out to magazines and companies on the cheap just to get their name in small print.

    I am a copyright advocate at heart, and am all about using payed for music or materials in my own presentations, etc… And I can’t see myself swaying from that.

    But, I do think Lessig has a point. You can create art out of art. And, doing so can drive creativity to a higher state sometimes and be more profitable for all.

    The problem with the photography industry isn’t copyright. The problem is that photographers have sold out time and time again, and allowed big business to take advantage of their desire to grow. I don’t see this coming to an end anytime soon as long as ambition to become famous outweighs ambition to thrive financially.

    Looking back at a past article in PDN on “what does your company gross annually”, I was more than shocked to see numbers barely breaking six figures for most photographers.

    So, I don’t worry about copyright very much. Instead I focus on being paid well and the rest seems to fall into place.

  18. Lavona Hsun Says:

    Cheers for this interesting post. I look forward to more like it in the future. Thanks again