CDF Conference: Lessig on “Core Blindness”

Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig spoke about the “core blindness” on press freedom that exists in the United States. It is easy, he said, to see the core blindness in another culture, like China, with its well known attempts to monitor or limit access to the Internet. But it is harder to identify the blindness in this culture.

The American blindness, he said, is the corporate privatization of culture and speech. He described how copyright protection has grown in time, in scope, in intensity, and in what it affects. He described how creative people in the United States, whether computer programmers, musicians, or filmmakers, need to choose whether to obey the law or to be dissidents. “If they obey, they can say much less.”

In the Q&A section, one person asked about Lessig’s “Creative Commons” project. It is a combination of a human-readable explanation of how people can share a product; a lawyer-readable license; and a machine-readable system that allows people to search out public-access art. People are currently trying to apply this “copyleft” system to the legal systems in at least 25 countries; Lessig said it would apply in China by the end of 2004.

On the topic of China’s intellectual property rules, Lessig said the U.S. began as “a pirate nation.” It didn’t protect intellectual property from other countries for 100 years. He said that’s a bad idea, and that China is on the right track by limiting piracy. The problem, he said, is that the United States is currently calling creative work “piracy” when it’s not. He also said the U.S. ignores the difference between developing countries and developed, which is a mistake.

(posted by Steven Bodzin)


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