Stephen Colbert to Larry Lessig –“I want a divorce!”

From Wired’s Blogs– this story about Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig’s appearance on The Colbert Report.  Lessig is hocking his new book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Fun, surprising comments from the interview:

Professor Lessig on The Colbert Report

Professor Lessig on The Colbert Report

  • Cobert: “You say that copyright laws are turning our kids into criminals, because they’re keeping kids from doing all the ‘remixing’ that they want of pre-existing copywritten material… Isn’t that like saying arson laws are turning our kids into pyromaniacs?”
  • Lessig: “Totally failed war. Is that familiar to you…?” Colbert: “No. … You’re saying we need a surge in copyright protection?” Lessig: For 10 years we’ve been waging this war. Artists have gotten no more money, businesses have gotten more profit, and our kids have been turned into criminals.”
  • Colbert: “Never, ever, ever, ever take anything of mine and remix it.  For instance, I would be very angry, and possibly litigious if anyone takes this interview right here, and remix[es] it, with some great dance beat, and then it starts showing up in clubs across America.”
  • Lessig:  “We’re joint copyright owners; I’m OK with that. … Copyright is joint for us; we’re in this together Stephen.” Colbert: I want a divorce.”

And of course, the remixes abound. Like “Artistic Socialism” [YouTube] by EmJayEff, “Operation REMIX” [mp3] by DJ Cable and this one by Ludachrist:

I have to admit, Lessig’s got a point:  Congress has been ratcheting up copyright terms, penalties, and fines, allowing DRM and making it a crime to subvert it, and now increasing criminal actions against peer-to-peer copiers. Has this really prevented piracy? Not much. Has the record industry been saved? Not really.  iTunes is becoming totally DRM free.  The artists that are succeeding have figured out how to thrive in the peer-to-peer, Myspace, Twitter generation.

On the other hand, I’m afraid that some of Lessig’s comments paint with too broad a brush.  He claims that 70% of “our children” are “criminals” because they copy music on peer-to-peer systems. That’s probably true.  But the vast majority of infringers on peer-to-peer are not yearing to breathe free from copyright restrictions so that they can remix content to make something new.  Rather, the file sharers want something for nothing–they want music or movie content that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, or millions of dollars, to make at no cost.  Could some of those uses be “fair” (like previewing an artist to see if you like their work before buying)? Certainly.  But are there millions of people out there, collecting digital media just because they can? You betcha.

I haven’t read Lessig’s book (although I think I’ll pick it up… legaly… and pay both the physical costs like the paper, printing, distribution and the intellectual royalty to Mr. Lesig) but my guess is that he imagines a sea change in the economic foundations of the media enterprises — make movies with an economic model like Twitter, where the content is free, but money is made through ad revenue, or as part of being in the distribution channel, or the like. Of course, that would be a revolution in intellectual property law that ultimately devalues the property itself in favor of the method of production or distribution. I’m not too sure that most authors would favor it. But I’m glad there are people like Prof. Lessig in the world to make us challenge our IP paradigms.

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