Technology activist Lessig to focus on creativity

New Zealand speeches to address cultural freedom

Just two months after a provocative tour by free software advocate Richard Stallman, a founder of the Creative Commons movement and noted cyber activitist, Lawrence Lessig, will address local audiences for the first time.

Lessig will deliver an address, titled “Keeping culture free: the choices law and technology force us to make about the future of the internet and the progress of cultures”, at Auckland University on November 3 (more here).

He was invited to New Zealand to give a keynote at the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) conference on November 4. His topic there is “Keeping the outside outside the box: the role of independence in the profession of the librarian, and academy, and the threats that both now face”.

Lessig, dubbed the “Elvis of cyberlaw” by Wired magazine, says the address will focus on the question of “how a copyright policy protects both professional and amateur creativity and on the important need to focus on both”.

A law professor at Stanford University, Lessig is the founder of the Centre for Internet and Society, which studies how new technologies and the law can promote public goods such as free speech, privacy, diversity and scientific inquiry — and thereby further democratic values.

Lessig says he has begun to study New Zealand’s new copyright regime, which came into force this month, but does not yet have a complete view of it. The Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act has been both praised for charting a mid-course between copyright protection and protection of public rights such as fair use, and damned with faint praise by Stallman, who described it as “slightly less evil” than US laws.

It also places key responsibilities for releasing content for fair use on librarians.

A proponent of fewer legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and the radio frequency spectrum, particularly when applied to technology, Creative Commons, which Lessig chairs, helps creators protect their works while setting them free for certain uses.

He told Computerworld the most important developments in Creative Commons right now is the increasing adoption and integration by key software companies of CC into their infrastructure.

“Google’s embrace of CC for Picasa is an example,” he says.

To the suggestion some of the Creative Commons schemes, such as the lack of a definition of “noncommercial use”, are overly complicated, Lessig says the issue is being addressed.

“The problem with ‘noncommercial’ isn’t with the term,” he says. “It is with the fuzziness of the behaviour it is trying to describe. We’re launching a US$300,000 study to evaluate people’s attitudes about this. But my expectation is we will always be living in a gray zone for a significant chunk of licences.”

Lessig is increasingly focusing on areas other than copyright, such as corruption. He blogs at lessig.org/blog and has set up a wiki to address a particular type of corruption at wiki.lessig.org.

“I want us to discuss ‘corruption’ in a very particular sense,” he says on the wiki. “I’m not interested in overt lawbreaking or outright bribery (eg, Congressman X takes $50,000 personally to vote nay on a particular bill); I am instead interested in non-obvious corruption — instances where a decision is improperly and/or subtly influenced by a government actor’s anticipation of some sort of indirect economic gain or loss.”

Lessig is the author of several books, including Free Culture (2004), The Future of Ideas (2001) and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (1999).

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