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O'Reilly: Code + Law: An Interview with Lawrence Lessig; Hollywood Is Assaulting Some Basic Rights

Feb 03, 2001, 15:36 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tim O'Reilly, Richard Koman)

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"Lawrence Lessig is perhaps the most prominent legal thinker on the intersection of the law and the Internet. He will deliver a keynote titled "Free Code, Freeing Culture" at the O'Reilly Peer-to-Peer Conference on Friday, Feb. 16. Lessig is a professor of law at Stanford Law School. He was the Berkman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. From 1991-97, he was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. His book, Code, and Other Laws of Cyberspace, is published by Basic Books. In 1999-2000, he was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin."

"O'Reilly: The thing that struck me most in your book was your point that when wiretapping first came before the Supreme Court they said, "It's no problem," because the history of invasion of privacy was based on the idea of somebody actually coming into your premises. And it wasn't until 40 years later when the telephone had become truly ubiquitous and part of everyone's life that the Supreme Court revisited the issue and said "oops." ... I'm wondering about your thoughts on the rise of networking and the ways that it is going to change the legal regimes that are necessary in looking forward.

Lessig: There are two stages in Internet history so far, which are important to distinguish. The first stage climaxes around 1997, when the Supreme Court decided Reno v. ACLU (the case striking down the Communications Decency Act). ...in the first stage of Internet history, the Supreme Court was extremely respectful of the Internet and its potential, and there was still a very strong commitment to the idea that we not muck it up with regulations. But now, in the second stage of Internet evolution, when it comes to copyright issues, that attitude has disappeared. ..."

"O'Reilly: So what has caused the difference?

Lessig: The cynic in me says the lawyers defending Hollywood are better paid and they've got better suits. I think the reality is that copyright law has for a very long time been a tiny little part of American jurisprudence, far removed from traditional First Amendment jurisprudence, and that made sense before the Internet. Now there is an unavoidable link between First Amendment interests and the scope of copyright law. ..."

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