Driving home after work (school, prep, mock trial bus to courhouse and back, etc.), I was, as usual, listning to public radio, and Fresh Air was on. Terri Gross was interviewing Lawrence Lessig, Law Professor at Standford School of Law, about copyright laws being antiquated in the age of digital information.
Just today in AP Lang, as students were doing an exercise to generate ideas for writing essays of definition, we discussed, briefly, copyright laws as they relate to music sharing–and now, that’s exactly what I’m hearing as I’m driving home. Serendipity.
I want students to listen to this segment, not only because it relates to our own discussion but because Lessig discusses laws as they relate to teenagers, and in a way that immediately wants to take the teenagers’ side.
That doesn’t happen often in the world. Without claiming a side on the copyright updating issue (I’m still working it out, myself; see below), I can say that as a teacher of teenagers, the concept that teenager = dangerous hoodlum is far too rampant. It’s a refreshing change to hear a scholar, and a legal scholar, want to revisit issues that affect teenagers without immediately behaving like an overindulgent parent of spoiled youngsters OR someone who wants to further constrict the creativity of young people.
As to the issue of copyright laws needing to be updated to meet a digital age, Lessing (and others) make very good points. The medium does affect the use, undoubtedly.
On the other hand, I absolutely also believe that artists (whatever the medium) need to be compensated for their work, and compensated fairly.
To bridge that gap, Lessig brings up EFF, for example, and also individualized copyright protections (Creative Commons) based on what the creators want—full access to full restriction, depending. Both concepts made to allow flexibility both for users and creators.
As to the latter, NIN were brought up as a pioneer into this sort of freedom, and a statement by Reznor on a related topic. The gist here, and with Lessing, seems to be that creative use–teenagery creative use–of artists’ work is creative in and of itself, and there should be ways to allow this without criminalizing this creativity.
I can get behind this, certainly–I’m a Free Speech Absolutist, afterall–but as a person who appreciates words, and music, and the genius (or lack thereof) that goes into these enterprises, I also wonder about fairness and compensation at the point of origin.
In the spirit of essays of definition, I have to ask: What is “derivative”? What is “original”? What is the difference between “remix” and “plagiarism”? What separates “digital sharing” from more traditional types?
And, as Lessig opens with, what is, in the modern age, a “copy” that should be regulated by “copyright”?
Good questions, and I suspect we’ll have many good answers–from various perspectives–as the next few years pass.
Edit: 12/23/08: Corrected spelling of Lessig’s name (NPR bit had it two different ways and I picked the wrong one, yesterday).
Edit: 12/23/08: Included link to Creative Commons