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[decentralization] Interview with Lawrence Lessig on P2P (!)

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  • Gen Kanai
    http://www.redherring.com/mag/issue86/mag-rights-86.html Rights fielder Lawrence Lessig on intellectual property rights and cyberspace. By Lee Bruno From the
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 17, 2000
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      Rights fielder
      Lawrence Lessig on intellectual property rights and cyberspace.

      By Lee Bruno
      From the December 04, 2000 issue

      No one is more prescient about the collision of the Internet, government,
      and business than Lawrence Lessig. During the past five years, Mr. Lessig
      has taught and written about some of the most vexing legal questions
      involving the U.S. Constitution and the law of cyberspace. At the heart of
      these critical issues is intellectual property and privacy and how they
      will be handled in cyberspace.

      In order to foster and preserve the openness of the Internet, it's
      imperative to make the right choices now. Mr. Lessig makes clear the danger
      from efforts to regulate the Internet, which will have long-lasting effects
      on its growth and development. But following a simple laissez-faire policy
      is also fraught with problems. Mr. Lessig maintains the approach that the
      openness of digital code can be used to restructure cyberspace. He also
      believes that the citizens of cyberspace must grapple with these issues, or
      else suffer the fate of being coded into a world they don't understand,
      designed without their help by software developers.

      Mr. Lessig was the Berkman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and just
      recently moved to California, where he is now a professor of law at
      Stanford University.

      He is quick to point out the deficiencies in law, and says both business
      and government are missing the importance of intellectual property and its
      fundamental underpinnings for the future of e-commerce. His position on
      Internet issues places him in sharp contrast to cyber libertarians who
      believe the government poses the single biggest threat to the development
      of the Net. He speaks with eloquence and conviction about the critical
      issues that lie before us.

      Red Herring recently caught up with Mr. Lessig and talked to him about the
      future of intellectual property and peer-to-peer technologies.

      Some have placed the arrival of P2P on the same scale as the Mosaic
      browser. Do you believe this technology breaks new ground?
      I don't think the concept of peer-to-peer is new. It is an end-to-end
      architecture. We haven't even begun to understand or imagine the
      possibilities. This is the next great thing for the Internet. What has
      changed is the latent power of the PC and powerful networks being fully
      realized. Napster is a first, rough cut of this model as it makes implicit
      the intent of an end-to-end network. The potential cycles that were
      unavailable can now be deployed for any task.

      At the 9th International World Wide Web conference in Amsterdam this past
      June, you described in your lecture the parallels and differences between
      the Internet and the AT & T telecommunications network prior to
      deregulation. What understanding can we obtain from this parallel, and what
      are the implications for a P2P model?
      Peer-to-peer is an instantiation of an architecture that is not giving the
      network owner control over the network. To that extent, it is reflective of
      the move that enables this end-to-end creativity. To the extent that
      peer-to-peer is an expression of an end-to-end design, it's again expanding
      the scope of creativity outside traditional networks and distributors. This
      is largely what Hollywood has been. And a business model built around
      peer-to-peer undermines their distribution model.

      You've said that patents are a form of regulation. How do patents hurt the
      Patents create incentive for innovators but also create costs for
      innovators. Every step has to be monitored by the patent police. It is a
      huge regulatory burden. If we were going to double the monitoring of the
      Occupational Safety & Health Administration there'd be a chill on
      innovation, and the costs would be huge.

      What about Napster? What are the chances of the Napster case reaching the
      Supreme Court?
      This is a case that will pretty quickly ripen into the sort of case that
      goes to the Supreme Court. It is the first case, but it is not the case
      that will resolve the questions. If the court does what it did with VCR
      technology, that means this is going to be an industry that has to come to
      terms with this mode of distribution.

      If the court doesn't get a chance to address it, that will chill the VC
      money that might have been devoted to this kind of innovation. That is my

      What are the implications of a Supreme Court decision in the Napster case?
      If the Supreme Court writes an opinion in the style that it wrote in the
      Communications Decency Act, then it will be very difficult going forward. I
      think that would be the writing on the wall for the industry. It is
      possible for the court to write an opinion to move it to the next level,
      but it's not obvious that this will happen.

      Is this new P2P technology fragile in any sense?
      It is an emergent movement, so if it's crushed, it would create something
      much worse than the violation of the copyright is going to give them.

      As American law struggles to come to grips with these vexing intellectual
      property issues, what about international laws?
      It's likely that once the American law has struggled with intellectual
      property, the same issues will be addressed internationally. I don't think
      European regulators are up to speed yet on intellectual property issues.
      European regulators have been slower to take account of the Internet. That
      is a good thing, because if they did respond quickly, then they would
      probably do something that does not strike the necessary balance.

      What about business models involving P2P? Any thoughts on ways in which
      businesses might profit from these networks?
      I haven't thought through the business models, but there is a need for a
      different kind of sponsorship. In my view, it is a great thing for artists
      and content producers to get a larger piece of the pie. But because of the
      economics of production, we've been forced to take control of these rights.

      There are some people who believe that the notion of intellectual property
      might disappear completely over the next 20 years. Do you find this idea
      I don't think there is such a thing as intellectual property dying.
      Intellectual property is going to change. The owners don't have control
      over the use of it. That is the important limitation. The tradition of
      intellectual property is that it doesn't grant the owner perfect control
      over its use. That is the battle we are fighting.

      How has the Internet changed the prospects for intellectual property?
      There's never been a technology to give perfect control over content until
      the Internet.

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