Thursday, September 12, 2013

Don't Mess With Lessig

Lawrence Lessig is not the kind of guy you want to piss off.  Lessig, a Harvard law professor, is one of the world's leading experts in copyright law; more to the point he is one of the pre‑eminent thinkers in the ever-expanding area of fair use and intellectual freedom. 

Lessig recently gave an online lecture and used part of the song "Liztomania" by the band Phoenix to illustrate a point about dance music and global Internet phenomenons. The lecture was posted on You Tube.  Liberation Music, an Australian company sent Lessig a letter claiming copyright infringement and threatening to sue for violating its exclusive rights. They apparently also sent a takedown notice to You Tube, under the DMCA provisions.  Lessig neither ignored the letter nor did he bother to send a reasoned response outlining his position.  He instead filed suit asking for a declaratory judgment that his use was a protected fair use.  He is asking for damages and legal fees

Lessig's suit is one of what appears to be a growing number of copyright cases using the concept of "copyright abuse" to challenge what might be accepted norms in copyright law.  To be sure, few would disagree that Lessig's use of the song in an academic lecture is almost certainly fair use; it's right there in the statue.  What is more interesting is that Lessig is using the courts and assuming the role of plaintiff to prove his point.  Robin Thicke has done the same thing with his lawsuit against Bridgeport Music and the Estate of Marvin Gaye, filed in response to their claims of copyright infringement with his song “Blurred Lines”. The Lessig case, if it goes to trial, may help academics gain a better understanding of what is permissible in the area of fair use and scholarship.  It might also give copyright owners pause before sending cease and desist letters and sending take down notices to YouTube and other outlets. 

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