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File Sharing: Pros and Cons for Independent Artists

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 chairman of the Creative Commons project. He shares his view on file sharing. He does not support sharing copyrighted material. However, Lessig does not condemn file sharing. Lessig shares that many artists believe that peer to peer file sharing benefits them. File sharing makes the Internet more democratic and efficient. For instance, peer-to-peer file sharing is the most economical way of distributing film. File sharing is an essential part of the future of the Internet.

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So my view is that the kind of broad scale file sharing that goes on right now, like where people put, you know, their latest recording of Madonna up for their 10,000 best friends to download, that’s not a legitimate use of the technology. And Creative Commons doesn’t encourage that kind of misuse of copyrighted material and in fact, I think it would be great for everybody if people who engage in that kind of misuse of copyright material would just stop because what that example has done is focus people in this debate upon a particular and extreme use of technology and that allows them to ignore all the other extraordinarily creative and productive uses of this technology, which the “war on piracy” will also make impossible.

So when you focus on peer-to-peer file sharing, that makes you think that a good solution to that would be technologies like digital rights management technology, which would make it impossible for people to share files without the permission of the content owner. And whether or not that’s perfect in enforcing the control over the distribution of files, it would probably be pretty good at that, but that same technology, digital rights management technology, will also make it impossible for people to engage in the kind of creative remixes of content that I think ought to be allowed under the law as it exists right now so that war on piracy begins to make impossible all sorts of other creativity that we outta be celebrating in the context of the internet. So I strongly urge people not to use peer to peer file sharing in ways that compromises the rights of creators both because it’s wrong and also because it’s gonna destroy the potential of the internet to be used in these much more creative ways in the future.

Now there are many people who believe that peer to peer file sharing of their content actually benefits them and what I think is we need simple ways for opt into facilitating peer to peer file sharing for their content. Creative Commons is one way to do that. There are other ways to do it as well, so I don’t think we outta block peer to peer file sharing and in fact, I think what we’re gonna see is that peer to peer file sharing is an essential feature to make the internet much more Democratic and efficient, right, because when you start thinking about peer to peer file sharing of film, you realize that the only efficient way to distribute film out there is to use peer to peer technologies, right? Because the cost of distributing with peer-to-peer technologies can be, you know, less than 1% of the cost of distributing in the traditional file client server model. So the people who, you know, produce video, who wanna make their video available, will voluntarily wanna choose technologies like bit torrent or other efficient peer-to-peer technologies just to keep the costs of distribution low.

So I think peer to peer, as a technology, is an essential part of the future of the internet, but people have gotta separate that technology from the particular misuse of technology that is dominating the press right now about people – peer to peer file sharing in a way that violates copyrights. So I would strongly urge people not to violate the copyrights and the context of peer-to-peer file sharing as a way to demonstrate the value of peer-to-peer to the creative uses of digital technologies.

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