Lawrence Lessig doesnt appear to be a happy man. I dont know him personally, and Im not saying hes depressed or anything. But the cyber-law expert is unhappy about a lot of things, starting with his profession and all the way up to the chiefs of American business, about what is happening to the Internet.
Lessig didnt think being a lawyer would be so troubling. As he told the assembled at a LinuxWorld conference keynote in San Francisco last month, he thought legal minds would always resort to what is right, or “reasonable,” as he put it. But lawyers—even some of the law students he has taught at Stanford and Harvard universities—are among those chiefly responsible for turning the Net into something diametrically opposed to the spirit in which it was created.
“You built an extraordinary platform [the Internet],” he told the developers in attendance. “My kind are working to shut it down. … My students are changing that environment.” Lessig cited the fact that there are laws created to ostensibly protect copyrighted material online—namely the Digital Millennium Copyright Act—which instead of protecting artistic freedom are acting to stifle another kind of freedom, the freedom to innovate technologically on top of the platform that is the Net.
Hes not saying that there should be open “stealing” of content online, but existing laws designed to protect content are backward-looking and dont allow for new technologies—Napster, for instance—to have a chance. Should Xerox be held accountable for every page of a book that has been illegally copied over the past 50 years? he pondered. Absolutely not. But what Napster and others are trying to do deserves the same “loose standards” that apply to the old school.
Lessig is not very optimistic about changing things for the better. In fact, he doesnt think things will change at all, because its very easy for the public and media to simply accept the notion that technologies such as Napster are bad rather than try to understand that new laws can help shape a different future of online commerce and freedom—if only we could get our heads out of the sand and recognize it.