Sounds like fair use to me (and it should be, if it's not)

Ethan Zuckerman blogged Erin McKean’s talk at PopTech, reporting of the fear of some lexicographers that they will be sued for scanning some books to analyze language patterns. “This scanning shouldn’t be threatening to publishers. ‘I don’t care about your plot, or your ideas – I just want to analyze your use of the language.’ It should be considered fair use… ‘but this is America – anyone can sue anyone for anything.’ And just the threat of a lawsuit is enough to prevent lexicographers from analysing some texts.”

EZ goes on: “She begs us to make changes to the copyright pages of our books so that lexicographers have the explicit right to analyze them. (I’ll be putting the idea in front of Larry Lessig, to see if this can be yet another selling point for Creative Commons.)”

Making a Market Emerge out of Digital Copyright Uncertainty

The digital copyright issue is one of the sidebars related to the Google/YouTube transaction that has merited a fair amount of digital ink.

(For a few examples: don’t miss Fred von Lohmann as interviewed by John Battelle. Declan McCullagh and Anne Broache have an extensive piece highlighting the continuing uncertainty in the digital copyright space and quoting experts like Jessica Litman. Steve Ballmer brings it up in his BusinessWeek interview on the deal, asking, “And what about the rights holders?” And the enormously clever Daniel Hausermann has an amusing take on his new blog.)

My view (in large measure reflected in the WSJ here, in a discussion with Prof. Stan Liebowitz) is that Google is taking on some, but not all that much, copyright risk in its acquisition of YouTube. Google has already proven its mettle in terms of offering services that bring with them a reasonably high appetite for copyright risk: witness the lawsuits filed by the likes of the publishing industry at large; the pornographer Perfect 10; and Agence France Presse. There’s no doubt that Google will have to respond to challenges on both secondary copyright liability and direct copyright liability as a result of this acquisition. If they are diligent and follow the advice of their (truly) brilliant legal team, I think Google should be able to withstand these challenges as a matter of law.

The issue that pops back out the other side of this flurry of interest in the broader question of the continued uncertainty with respect to digital copyright. Despite what I happen to consider a reasonably good case in Google’s favor on these particular facts (so far as I know them), there is an extraordinary amount of uncertainty as a general matter on digital copyright issues in general. Mark Cuban’s couple of posts on this topic are particularly worth reading; there are dozens of others.

Many business models in the Web 2.0 industry in particular hinge on the outcome of this uncertainty. A VC has long written about “the rights issues” at the core of many businesses that are built, or will be built, on what may be the sand — or what may turn out to be a sound foundation — of “micro-chunked” content. Lawrence Lessig has written the most definitive work on this topic, especially in the form of his book, Free Culture. The RSS-and-copyright debate is one additional angle on this topic. Creative Commons licenses can help to clarify the rights associated with micro-chunked works embedded in, or syndicated via, RSS feeds.

Part of the answer could come from the courts and the legislatures of the world. But I’m not holding my breath. A large number of lawsuits in the music and movies context has left us clearer in terms of our understanding of the rules around file-sharing, but not enough clarity such that the next generation of issues (including those to which YouTube and other web 2.0 applications give rise) is well-sorted.

Another part of the answer to this digital copyright issue might be provided by the market. One might imagine a process by which citizens who create user-generated content (think of a single YouTube video file or a syndicated vlog series, a podcast audio file or series of podcasts, a single online essay or a syndicated blog, a photo covering the perfectly captures a breaking news story or a series of evocative images, and so forth) might consistently adopt a default license (one of the CC licenses, or an “interoperable” license that enables another form of commercial distribution; I am persuaded that as much interoperability of licenses as possible is essential here) for all content that they create, with the ability also to adopt a separate license for an individual work that they may create in the future.

In addition to choosing this license (or these licenses) for their work, these users registered this work or these works, with licenses attached, in a central repository. Those who wished to reproduce these works would be on notice to check this repository, ideally through a very simple interface (possibly “machine-readable” as well as “human-readable” and “lawyer-readable,” to use the CC language), to determine the terms on which the creator is willing to enable the work to be reproduced (though not affecting in any way the fair use, implied license, or other grounds via which the works might otherwise be reproduced).

Some benefits of such a system:

– It would not affect the existing rights of copyright holders (or the public, for that matter, on the other side of the copyright bargain), but rather ride on top of that system (which might have the ancillary benefit of eventually permitting a global market to emerge, if licenses can be transposed effectively);

– It would allow those who wish to clarify the terms on which they are willing to have their works reproduced to do so in a default manner (i.e., “unless I say otherwise, it’s BY-SA”) but also to carve out some specific works for separate treatment (i.e., “… but for this picture, I am retaining all rights”);

– It might provide a mechanism, supplemental to CC licenses, for handshakes to take place online without lawyers involved;

– It might be coupled with a marketplace for automated licensing — and possibly clearance services — from creators to those who wish to reproduce the works;

– It could be adopted on top of (and in a complementary manner with respect to) other systems, not just the copyright system at large as well as worthy services/aggregators of web 2.0 content, ranging from YouTube, software providers like SixApart, FeedBurner, Federated Media, Brad Feld’s posse of VCs, and so forth; and,

– It would represent a community-oriented creation of a market, which ultimately could support the development of a global market for both sharing and selling of user-generated content.

This system would not have much bearing on the Google/YouTube situation, but it might serve a key role in the development of web 2.0, or of user-generated content in general, and to help avoid a copyright trainwreck.

Gardner Museum's Podcast Series, The Concert

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, one of Boston’s cultural gems, has released the first-of-its-kind museum concert series podcast, called The Concert. The good people there — including Catherine and Charlotte, who did a TV spot this morning — have decided to use a Creative Commons Share Music license. They’ve had the pro bono assistance of the Berkman clinical program in putting together this release. We’re proud to be associated with their innovative work to bring their music series to many more people than those who can attend in person at the appointed hour (though they highly encourage people to come to the Gardner to hear the concerts all the same!).

Bostonist and Cory at Boing Boing have more.

A few new firsts at the Berkman Center

Charlie Nesson and his daughter Rebecca Nesson are hosting the Tuesday lunchtime session at the Berkman Center today.

– One first is that this is the first video webcast lunch event. We’ve regularly webcast these lunches audio-only. This week, with the help of Indigo Tabor, we are offering a live feed with video as well as audio. (The real-time webcast is 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. EDT today, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2006.) So, too, is it being offered in Second Life, where 24 people are tuning in at the moment from Berkman Island, we’re told.

– The other first (actually, I’m certain there are more than two, since Becca and Charlie are involved) is that the class that they are talking about, Cyberone: Law in the Court of Public Opinion, is being taught IN Second Life, a first for Harvard Law School and Harvard Extension School, anyway. If you haven’t seen the promo video for it yet, it’s a must.

It remains to be seen if these firsts will stick. It remains to be seen if these firsts will lead to other good things, as the establishment of Creative Commons by Prof. Lessig or the first podcast series hosted here by a combination of Dave Winer, Chris Lydon, and Bob Doyle. But it’s fun to be sure. Charlie and Becca keep the Berkman Center young and just a bit hip, and the likes of Rodica, Dean, Gene, and John Lester from Linden Labs keep giving things like these experiments life.

(John Bracken called this first first, way before me, and added more about a Berkeley example.)

Following up on the RSS/Copyright debate

In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten several fresh calls, four in fact (some out of the blue, some from people I know well) about RSS, aggregation, and copyright issues. I think the matter continues to have traction and importance. Two follow-ups:

– I never managed, somehow, to see a very fine reply from Nathan Yergler to a post of my own a few months ago. I had proposed a series of 5 licenses specific to syndicated online sources. (I understand that Nathan works for CC in a technical job but was not writing as a CC employee.) His sense is that there is a need for more explicit licensing of citizen-generated content, but that CC licenses (and other things, like full copyright and the public domain) already cover the five variants that I had in mind. It’s a nice argument. I have to think about whether I agree in full — there are reasons why CC Attribution 2.5 may not get the job done in full for all users, say — but if he’s right, then we’d need no new licenses, but just a campaign to get people to know about the options and to use them in ways that reflect their desires related to aggregation and re-use of their content. (Apologies, Nathan, that I’m just getting to reply now, but I managed to miss it the first time; it was a strong argument.)

– Ethan Zuckerman had a terrific post, and engendered more discussion, on just this topic. As Ethan writes, “I want to see Creative Commons succeed. I share Larry Lessig’s concern that artists of all sorts need material to enter the public domain so that we can comment, remix, repurpose and create. I release (with very rare exceptions) everything I do under CC in the vague hope that someone else will find it useful. But widespread abuse of content published under CC licenses will make creators – me included – reluctant to release content under them.”

These posts prompted me to reflect on another matter much on my mind, which is the difference between holding intellectual property rights in the first place and in enforcing them. Admittedly: I am not a fan of a strong view of copyright. Nor, for that matter, do I think may forms of patents make much sense at all, at least in anything like the form that they currently take. That is not to say, though, that I think it’s immoral or otherwise bad to hold IP rights. I think that authors or recording artists or those who make movies should be compensated; I’m not a fan of piracy. The fact that things are right now out of whack in the IP realm (see Lessig’s permission culture argument, among many other good articulations of the problem, and any number of people who have pointed out silly patents getting issued) and the fact that pre-digital IP laws are looking a bit long in the tooth in a world packed with digital natives do not change the fact that I want there to be an incentive to create and for fairness to reign in the world (i.e., for artists and inventors to be able to make a living).

What I’m coming to think is that, absent systemic reform, holding IP rights, some of which, like copyright, attach automatically, is not the primary issue. The issue is much more about what rights we choose to enforce against others and how we do it. The issue is also whether we have a system of accountability where, when we do give away some rights that otherwise would attach, we can hold others to the rights we’ve chosen to retain. This is a sticky problem, especially when choices about enforcement could, recursively I suppose, affect those rights themselves. (An issue for another day, but: this is true also of the tiny start-up that holds a software patent for defensive purposes, to create freedom of action against incumbents, and perhaps who licenses it to other firms for similar purposes. The issue is whether those rights are exercised in an appropriate manner.)

I think a key next step in the RSS and copyright discussion may not be new licenses (if Mr. Yergler is right; or perhaps tweaked ones, if that would help; or perhaps repackaged ones, so ordinary people can figure it out), but rather 1) a clearer common understanding of what people mean when they in fact license their works in this fashion and 2) appropriate systems to enforce those rights when they’re being flagrantly violated. Of course, the copyright system works just fine on this second score (perhaps too well, sometimes!), but I suppose that those of us who are wildly supportive of CC as an essential add-on to the copyright regime may have to be willing to step up and file cease-and-desist letters where necessary (polite ones, perhaps!), even as distateful as that may seem. A great deal, it seems to me, hangs in the balance of getting it right, if the trends in creativity online, syndication, search, and aggregation continue on their current trajectory.

A free, legal guide for podcasters

One of the questions we get all the time is: “how do I know what’s legal and illegal when I’m podcasting?” It’s one of those questions that can make a lawyer cringe, because you either 1) spend the rest of the cocktail party trying to give a decent answer or 2) you have to say it’s too complicated and the person should hire a lawyer.

So, a better answer: check out the hot-off-the-press Podcasting Legal Guide — not legal advice, exactly, but a wonderful text with answers to most questions, prepared through a joint initiative of Creative Commons (especially their terrific GC, Mia Garlick) and the law clinics at the Stanford Center for Internet & Society and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.