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Lawrence Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Prior to rejoining the Harvard faculty, Lessig was a professor at Stanford Law School, where he founded the school's Center for Internet and Society, and at the University of Chicago. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court. Lessig serves on the Board of Creative Commons, MAPLight, Brave New Film Foundation, The American Academy, Berlin, AXA Research Fund and, and is on the advisory board of the Sunlight Foundation. He is a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Association, and has received numerous awards, including the Free Software Foundation's Freedom Award, Fastcase 50 Award and being named one of Scientific American's Top 50 Visionaries. Lessig holds a BA in economics and a BS in management from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in philosophy from Cambridge, and a JD from Yale.

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Lawrence Lessig is a Professor of Law at Stanford University and the chairman of the Creative Commons project. He talks about the purpose of Creative Commons, the licenses offered, and how the licenses are secured. Lessig also mentions the relationship between Creative Commons and Flickr, Movable Type, and Wilco. Gilberto Gill and his connection with the sampling license and Lessig's hopes for the future are covered as well.

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[Creative Commons with Lawrence Lessig] Time 5:55

I’m Lawrence Lessig and I’m a professor of law at Stanford, and I’m also chairman of the Creative Commons. We’re here in my extraordinarily messy office talking about topics related to creativity and music. Creative Commons was a nonprofit that was set up with the objective of making it easy for artists and creators to signal to the world the freedom that they want their particular creativity to carry. It’s not total freedom. It’s not that they would give up all rights associated with their creativity. But many artists recognize that part of the creative process is building on other people’s creativity freely, without worrying about a lawyer and legal liability. What we wanted to do was make it easy for them to say that. So, our licenses basically mark creative work with the freedoms that run with that creative work. So you might be free to remix the work. You might be free to use it for noncommercial purposes. You might be free, in some cases, to use it for commercial purposes; all without needing to ask a lawyer up front. By removing the lawyer from the process, creators can both recognize and protect their underlying intellectual property, but also invite others into the creative process without the fear of the legal liability associated with that.

A Creative Commons license is secured by basically going to our website and answering a couple simple questions. One question is: “Do you want to allow commercial use of your work?” The second is: “Do you want to allow people to make changes to your work?” Third is: “If they make changes, do you want to require that they release their creative work under similarly free terms?” Those three questions produce a total of six core licenses. Once you’re given the license, you basically take the code for that license and put it on your webpage. Or, we have the technology now to make it so you can stamp an mp3 with a Creative Commons license and upload it to an archive so others can get access to it subject to the Creative Commons license. So it’s simply through our webpage that you primarily get access. Now, some sites like Flikr have folded Creative Commons into their interface. So when you upload content to Flikr, you can choose the Creative Commons license that you want, and that’s all done from the Flikr side of the story. It is the same with the blogging software of Movable Type. It has Creative Commons built into it so your blog posts are licensed under Creative Commons licenses right away.

The first important thing about Creative Commons is that it’s artist based. It’s artists who choose what freedoms they’re going to give people when it comes to access to their work. Some artists choose to give access or freedoms associated with their work because they think it’s actually a good way to get their work out there and therefore become more successful. A non-Creative Commons example of this would be the band Wilco. When their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was rejected by their label, they just let it free on the internet under terms equivalent to our noncommercial license. That created such buzz around that album that another label, in fact a label owned by the same parent company that had rejected the album originally, bought back the rights from Wilco, released it as a regular CD, and sold more CDs from that record than they had sold in any other release that they had ever done before. So this was a technique for actually increasing the sales of their CDs, not a technique for reducing the income to Wilco. Some artists release their rights in this way because they actually believe that it will support art in a certain genre and also support or extend their creative reach. So, in the context of Brazil, Gilberto Gil, who is of course one of the most successful and famous Brazilian artists, has been a supporter of a license that we’ve released called the Sampling License, which is a license that says you are free to remix this work and even to remix it for commercial purposes, you just don’t have rights to the underlying song. So, you’re allowed to sample in the context of computer and digital laptop music, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to sell the music of the original song that I produced. Now Gil wanted to push this license because he believed that if more people were sampling or building upon Brazilian music, there would be a stronger demand for the underlying Brazilian music. So, it would both encourage creative remixing of Brazilian and also encourage demand for the underlying original creativity. So again, it would be a strategy to benefit both the artist and artistic creativity.

I think what we ought to be thinking about how we can encourage new generations of art. I would be totally happy if all Creative Commons does is make it possible for the next generation to succeed, because that’s something that the current system doesn’t actually do very well. As record label executives will tell you over and over again, under the current system the vast majority, ninety percent at least, of new artists fail. You sign them up for seven record contracts and they don’t succeed and so they’re basically locked up in these contracts and yet they can’t actually make any money from their creative work. That’s not a great system. It might be the best that they could do, given the technologies of the twentieth century, but it’s not a great system. So, if we could help support a different system that actually increased the percentage of artists who could succeed, then that would be enough of a success for me.

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