19 February, 2014

The Future of Copyright by Lawrence Lessig - Thoughts on His Views

Recently this writer posed a question to Lawrence Lessig, a current lecturer at Harvard and a person of much acclaim in the copyright field, on the website Six Question as to the future of copyright in his mind. More specifically the question posed was: "What do you think is the future of copyright, especially in light of recent developments in other common law countries such as the UK and Australia?" This clearly relates to the avalanche of copyright reviews being conducted in the common law countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland. To this writer's pleasant surprise the question was thought to merit an answer, and one was provided by Mr. Lessig a few days ago. Albeit brief, his thoughts do merit some discussion.

In Mr. Lessig's mind "...the future of copyright is up for grabs"; and this can be said to be very true. Where copyright will be taken, and how evolving technologies will both impact and potentially necessitate the possible change, is wholly up for grabs. A certain desire for change can be felt in the public mindset, and rightfully so, as how we consume media has changed radically since the enactment of most copyright laws in the past 30 years. Much like was noted in the preliminary thoughts over the UK copyright modernization, it aims to "...align the law with behaviour most people consider to be reasonable", at least in the context of evolving media. This matches well with Mr. Lessig's thoughts as well: "...[the US] regime needs to be radically updated to the 21st century to digital technologies".

But the future of copyright is not without its uncertainty according to Mr. Lessig: "The biggest problem we have now is that nobody in government, at least in America, is interested in having that conversation [about copyright reform]". What this can be argued to relate to is a reluctance to expand or extend fair use. The current wave of reform clearly is focusing on a change for much more free and flexible approach to the consumption of copyrighted media. Extending those rights could diminish the profits of copyright holders, or at least extinguish secondary avenues of revenue through the restriction of fair use. Corporate lobbyists have fought over the current change in Canada, which quite heavily is beginning to endorse fair use, showcasing a possible rationale for the restriction over the discussion about copyright reform in the US.

Finally, Mr. Lessig notes that "...the battles here are really as much battles about how to open up a conversation about what the right answer is". How would one initiate such a conversation? Quite frankly, there is no clear answer as to how this could be done. The change a lot of common law countries are facing, and the discussion around the reform, will undoubtedly put pressure on the review of US copyright legislation, at least on an international setting. The more people use media as they see as "proper", the more it also merits discussion on the fact. What can be said as a counter-acting interest is one which Mr. Lessig also points out: "...[the legislature] see[s] copyright as an opportunity to produce incredible wealth for campaigns". The acquisition of campaign funds is highly important in the US system, and clearly inhibits the proper function of the legislature as the protector of its peoples' interests, rather than those who fund their campaigns.

The future of copyright is uncertain, but in that uncertainty one can have hope and optimism. With the change that is occurring all over the copyright world, US change seems all but inevitable. Where that change will take copyright within our American friends' regime is very unclear, and the competing interests on both sides seem to have their position firmly entrenched. This writer, much like Mr. Lessig, is optimistic as to the future.

I would like to thank Lawrence for taking the time to answer my question, and hope this can inspire some more discussion around copyright in the near future.

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