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Lessig on Fair Use

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In recent talks for the TEDxNYU conference and Open Video Alliance, Lawrence Lessig articulates a hopeful future for fair use.

Lawrence Lessig
Two excellent illustrated lectures by Lawrence Lessig have gone online (and were also amusingly taken down thanks to the automated DMCA trolls from Warner Music Group) in recent weeks: one from Lessig's address at TEDxNYED last weekend in New York; another from last month's "Wireside Chat" organized by the Open Video Alliance. The two talks include some duplication of examples, but, in combination, give evidence of a significant shift in Lessig's thinking about fair use. A few years ago, when we were first conceiving of Critical Commons, Lessig's negativity about fair use rang loudly in our ears -- his oft-repeated statement that "fair use is the right to hire a lawyer" -- hardly seemed like a principle worth fighting for, but his preference for the tiered licensing of Creative Commons was of no use to educators wanting to teach with copyrighted media. It was only after a subsequent talk by American University's Peter Jaszi, the legal mind behind the Center for Social Media's Best Practices in Fair Use guidelines, that we decided to move forward with the project, focusing on the advocacy and expansion of fair use. Lessig's current, pro-fair use stance seems to be motivated in part by the fact that court decisions have been weighing heavily and consistently in favor of fair use these days. In his typically erudite fashion and signature style of wryly synchronized keywords and graphics, Lessig celebrates the emergence of remix cultures across the internets, likening it to the kind of shared, non-commercial cultural production that is characteristic of pre-industrial societies. Lessig also links the power of remix to a commitment to free code and free codecs. But in the end his real message was about politics. Sidestepping the polarization of the liberal/conservative binary, Lessig makes the case for conservatives as agents of support for common culture; citing the abysmal record of democratic politicians in enacting substantive legislative change. Indeed, Lessig's key argument was to support political action in congress rather than rely on the courts and to continue to enrich culture via fair use.