I didn’t recognise Lawrence Lessig at all when he walked onto stage, although I’ve seen photos of his face many times. He’s young, dressed all in black, and his body language reminds me of my brother-in-law. I don’t know why, but I’d imagined he was older, staider. I guess not.

His talk is a vibrant argument explaining why copyright must not be applied to political debate. Here are my notes from his talk.

In poltics today, you can’t answer a and b, or “I like c sometimes“. Both and sometimes are seen as confusion today.
Iraq for Sale: Do you want the profit motive to be built into war? Asking this question called communism…

Copyright is the grandest either/or confusion. Creative commons – “some rights reserved” – this concept is very hard for many people to accept. E.g. Bill Gates called it communist, WIPO saw it as contrary to an intellectual property system – copyright is either/or (not both/and) because

Surprised to be optimistic (“because it’s contrary to my brand”). In 2000, Napster was outlawed. Politicians wouldn’t say anything that might question their unquestioned support of Hollywood. 2008 is different. Letter to the DNC/RNC: you should have free debates, by either placing the videos of debates in the public debate and allowing anyone to copy, edit, use them as they wish in the political debate.

rip = copy
mix = remix
burn = share

This is always what politics has been about. Now: using new tools, empowering new speakers. (plays example of Jon Stewart remixing stuff (governor Bush vs president Bush, then the The Office parody with Wolfowitz (The Bank), Johan Sˆderberg: Read my lips (Bush and Blair’s love song) [find links afterwards].

Television has always had the possibility of doing this, but this has been democratised. Now anyone with a $1500 computer can do this – opens up the field of political debate immensely.

A movie about the Iraq war – they wanted to use a one minute clip where the President explains why the US went to war, and the White House said no, because it’s “not very flattering to the President”. Mentions another example – Outfoxed – refused a quotation because it was “piracy”, “put journalism at risk”.

Regardless of copyright status, people will use it. There are exceptions: schools and universities will be scared and use copyright police. Hilary Rosen – “we like this world”, we look at the world and decide which of the illegal uses of content we want to prosecute.

Why proprietroy networks are resistant:
1) commercial ride riding – other networks will just take the debates etc and profit from the creators work and effort
2) journalistic integrity – remixing might change what they meant – remix it to make the journalist look stupid, for instance

They’re right, actually. It is an increased burden on them. We can’t force them to be free.

But if free debates are not possible in proprietory networks, then we shouldn’t call on proprietory networks to distribute these debates. Public networks could do this, even CNN has said they’ll do it. If proprietry networks can’t live by the principles of democratic free speech (doesn’t work with its business model) then don’t use them for our democratic process.

Would we ever put voting booths exclusively in an amusement park? Where the only way to pay taxes was to buy Quicken? Would we ever give a company like Halliburton the right to wage war? Oh, uh, sorry (he says; laughter).

Only position we should reject absolutely is the idea that the single system that was developed for and works for Hollywood has to be used for everything else – like for

presidential debates

Copyright has a place – in its place. We have to protect it where it makes sense and eliminate it where it doesn’t. This system has limits. Barack Obama, John Edwards and a couple of others endorsed free political debates. Hillary Clinton has remained silence. All the extreme copyright extensions etc were given to us by the Democrats.

This isn’t about idiots; it’s about corruption. It’s not about bribery, but about an “economy of influence”. The only views that get heard or understood are those that come packed with a significant amount of campaign funding. This is nowhere clearer than in the case of copyright.

Must fight extremists on both sides – both those who refuse to recognise copyright at all and those who want copyright ¸ber alles.

This is a bi-partisan issue, and yes, there is reason to hope.


  • Someone from NPR said that NPR will be releasing its debates freely.
  • Sylvia someone from Berkeley: Why is there no creativity in countries like China where copyright is disregarder? Lessig: I believe copyright needs to be in place in places where without that incentive, speech would be produced. [and I’d have to add that I can’t believe he didn’t point out that there are lot of other influences on China – major censorship being presumably more important than copyright in the restriction of creativity! Also I’m always suspicious of such claims – no creativity in China? How would we even spot it, we hardly know anything about Chinese online culture, we can’t read it, we don’t really try to understand it either.]

  • Just as we teach kids in schools to write essays about political debates, we should teach them to remix videos! But we won’t if schools are scared of copyright.

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