The most recent episode has a very good segment about the controversy surrounding Google Books and the evolving understanding of intellectual property laws and the protections afforded writers and publishers — and a host of other complicated questions in the brave new media world. The digital age has upended the fundamental assumptions of our current copyright laws, and the whole framework is slowly being reshaped. The implications for media consumers and producers are tremendous. We think the Google Books case is an excellent bellwether for gauging the pace of change, how much disruption it causes to established industries and how adaptive the legal system can be without significant new legislation.
The ‘On The Media’ piece features an interview with Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School and formerly of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As the digital revolution changes everything, society and the law are going to be faced with these kinds of serious and difficult questions more and more frequently in the years ahead. Lessig is one of the few prominent voices considering these questions and their implications. We read his work a lot and don’t always agree with his conclusions, but it is an important conversation that needs to be happening with more people of Lessig’s caliber more often. Here’s a great quote from a January ‘The New Republic’ article by Lessig on the Google Books case called ‘For The Love of Culture’ — you should read the whole article, especially if you have an interest in documentary films and fair use:
Authors may not be terribly happy about this. I have heard writers in other countries brag about the $2.50 they receive each year from the tax that is imposed on libraries whenever they let people read books for free. But whether authors are happy or not, it is critical to recognize that the free access that this world created was an essential part of how we passed our culture along. When you send your children to a library to write a research paper, you do not want them to have access to just 20 percent of each book they need to read. You want them to be able to read all of the book. And you do not want them to read just the books they think they would be willing to pay to access. You want them to browse: to explore, to wonder, to ask questions–the way, for example, people explore and wonder and ask questions using Google or Wikipedia. We had a culture where an enormous chunk of cultural life was proliferated and shared without most of us ever calling a copyright lawyer. Whether authors (or more likely, publishers) liked it or not, that was our fortunate past.
We are about to change that past, radically. And the premise for that change is an accidental feature of the architecture of copyright law: that it regulates copies. In the physical world, this architecture means that the law regulates a small set of the possible uses of a copyrighted work. In the digital world, this architecture means that the law regulates everything. For every single use of creative work in digital space makes a copy. Thus–the lawyer insists–every single use must in some sense be licensed. Even the scanning of a book for the purpose of generating an index–the action at the core of the Google book case–triggers the law of copyright, because that scanning, again, produces a copy.