More Lessig Less Linden Please!

by Urizenus Sklar on 23/01/06 at 7:42 pm

Gumby and his 300 pound Samoan Attorney enjoy their virtual autographed copies of Free Culture.

by Paul Lineker, Iggy Sleeper, and Dirk Diggler

This past Wednesday, Lawrence Lessig’s visited Second Life and was met by enthusiastic fans eager to hear his words regarding the cyberspace-related problems that have surfaced within recent years. By the time night had fallen on the world of Second Life and many a spectator returned home with an autographed, virtual copy of “Free Culture.” However, a number of Free Culture fans complained about the technical bugs with the venue, including difficulty “hearing,” an annoying echo, and to some participants, a sense that the Lindens bogarted the event for publicity and weren’t letting Lessig speak enough. Still others found that the format did not contribute to deep discussion, but mostly just a series of one line position statements by Lessig. On balance, however, the event was well worth attending…

Philip Bogarting and spamming the bandwidth.

Lessig, of course, is the author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace as well as Free Culture. As mentioned on his website, he specializes in the areas of “constitutional law, contracts, and the law of cyberspace.” Indeed, Lessig has become an important figure in the digital world of today, and he brings to light several issues dealing with the emerging dominance of cyberspace and its components.

Lessig’s visit to Second Life suffered from problems with the broadcasting system (people in certain regions would hear both Lessig’s chat and the broadcast, making them hear an echo) and certain parts of the auditorium were inaccessible due to the associated server(s) being full.

Larry still waiting for Philip to stop typing…

Lessig’s first major topic was copyright laws. He asserted that our government had extended copyrights past their due, and as a result, legal issues stymie creativity and innovation. Indeed, citing an example of the Google book search project, Lessig maintained that a great deal of our culture and creativity is prevented from being available because of copyright legislation. As technology progresses and the concepts we can claim to “own” – from books, to songs, to virtual items – grow more and more abstract, this particular topic becomes even more important in the near future.

One of the key points brought up by Lessig was that the law now protects “the author plus 70 years – which for someone creating in the way Irving Berlin did, would be 140 years. So, Justice Kennedy, does blocking access to 50-75% of the books in our tradition constitute a burden on our culture?” Lessig also noted that the Internet is a crucial place for creativity to thrive but “the "war" that that copyright industry is waging against "piracy" will kill it, at least as a legitimate part of culture.”

Next, Lessig talked about the phenomenon that is Second Life, and what such a world can possibly mean for the real world. He brought up a rather interesting point. If we wish to know the effects of legislation, such as the likes of what was mentioned earlier, it is entirely applicable to enact similar legislation into a synthetic world such as Second Life, and observe its effects on the virtual society. Philip Linden commented, “One thing that I have often said about SL, is that it is a kind of time machine[,] a place where innovation is rewarded, or perhaps ideas fail…” Truly, the bridge between the real world and Second Life may not be as long as we imagine, and I do agree with the notion of Second Life acting as a predictor of things to come.

After commenting on a few other things here and there, questions from the audience were answered. As one could have expected, the questions all dealt with, in one way or another, virtual worlds and Lessig’s various opinions on related issues. The questions were solid and Lessig’s responses were very much worth hearing, if terse because of the restrictive format of chat and the nattering of Philip Linden.

One fan asked what Lessig thought of a society where some people released their designs and allowed for free modification, and other people released designs with “restrictions and protections in place.” Lessig stated that he liked such a society, and that it would leave the decision of the better choice up to the people in general. Another fan asked what place democracy and law had in a world such as Second Life. “Please, tell me,” was the reply. It was commented that no virtual world in existence currently possesses a “vigorous democracy,” and Lessig hypothesized that we are, in general, turned off by politics. Yet another fan questioned the sanity of “open-sourced” goods, or more accurately, goods freely modifiable by the public. Open sourced software still allows a developer some profit due to services they can provide, but surely, authors would not be able to prosper doing the same with books. Or would they? Lessig brought up an example of a South African company that initially wrote and published books, but then started making them accessible for free electronically. Four years later, they discovered that book sales had gone up by 300%, even though anyone could have gotten the same material for free. This interesting case, Lessig said, wouldn’t apply for everything, but it should be considered; creators should have the right to make this choice.

A few of the best questions and answers of the evening:

In response to a question by Calix Metropolitan on intellectual property rights and dispute resolution in Second Life:
“SecondLife states in TOS that they abide by DMCA and offer a way to dispute, IP infractions. The problem is IP infractions can vary and are very hard to prove as code, building and the tools used to make objects is basically the same format. Is there a copyright similar to a Founders Copyright (creative commons oversees this) or something akin to protect scripts that are original in nature and use. Also, what about NDA agreements in SL vs RL and subcontracting to members using SL money (which can equate to any currency through Lindex trade)?”
“So in principle a copyright is only violated if you copy someone else’s work. that makes proof very difficult because if there are just a few ways to do something there’s a complicated question about whether it can be copyrighted and then a hard question to know whether the defendant really did even see the original that he is alleged to have copied. I do know that on democracy island (I believe) they were demo-ing a creative commons tool. Very cool implementation but we don’t have a sl founders copyright. Re agreements: depends on what it says. But again, don’t assume they are completely separate worlds.”

Daniel Terdiman from CNET probably had the best question of the night. His question was: “I wonder if [Lessig is] familiar with Marvel v. NCSoft and if so, what [Lessig] thinks of the idea of restricting the kinds of characters players can create. And also, how much of a chill on free content creation is it to have a settlement between those parties that doesn’t reveal what the terms are?”
Lessig: “I know the case it is a perfect example of the insanity of these laws people ought to be able to create. The characters that are part of their life the idea that Marvel owns these characters in every use they might have is wrong. IT is just this kind of limit that we need the law to craft. And yes it is bad we don’t know the settlement but the settlement wouldn’t control the law. We need some good common law cases to describe the freedom here so others can build on it.”

A virtual talk may be unappealing to some, but from what was observed in this instance it certainly has its merits. For one, it is impossible to miss what the speaker says, as one can simply scroll back and read their chat history. There is potential for improving the format as well; it would have been possible for the speakers to provide audio feed with the use of a microphone or headset. Combine that with the convenience of participating from one’s own home, and the sense that one got to meet Lessig himself – if not in the flesh then in the pixel – and it was definitely a worthwhile event.

8 Responses to “More Lessig Less Linden Please!”

  1. One Song

    Jan 24th, 2006

    It’s interesting to see Philip resorting to spam tactics on chat in attempt to shadow Lessig’s EARNT respect from the public. I guess just some people don’t get that respect and appreciation is not something you buy or proclaim, but something you work hard to earn. Another thing I thought it was interesting “why da hell” would Lessig need Linden help to host his event. Is this an attempt to control and restrict Lessig can say in the crappy world SL has turned up to be. All I can say is that there are very few communists and facist countries in this world. And that Kremlinlab has their days numbered.

    Good day!
    One Song

  2. TrannyPet Barmy

    Jan 24th, 2006


    TrannyPet Barmy
    The REAL ONE

  3. Athel Richelieu

    Jan 25th, 2006

    Lol, my signature hair is visible to the right of you, Uri.

    I was disappointed that the Lindens did seem to control the event closely, and there were not more questions related to Second Life presented. My question was more general, and I suppose I should have thought more deeply about a better question.

    I wonder why there were not more questions concerning Second Life, it seemed that the presence of the Lindens made people less likely to ask any questions that might be critical of LL or Second Life.

  4. Prokofy Neva

    Jan 25th, 2006

    I agree that the Lindens frame these things too much — or actually too little sometimes — and speak at them overly much, and often incoherently — but they are not guilty of the spam effect. That’s just the broadcast “repeater” technology that for some silly reason literally repeats in chat like that.

    Also, as critical as I am of things, I don’t see that it is necessarily any kind of “Kremlindenlab” thing to have Philip host or co-chair this meeting with Lessig. After all, it’s Philip’s brainchild and concept, the whole SL thing. And it was in his discussion with Lessig last time (I presume, I wasn’t there) that they cooked up this idea of giving people more IP rights. And they did, in fairness to them. Of course, it’s not so perfect, eh? And people bitch endlessly about textures and stuff and the grey squares and stuff (I hate that, I have to live with it) but all in all, you can make stuff, sell it, put “no copy” and “no transfer” on it, and pretty much have a claim to a copyright when all is said and done.

    I guess what I don’t get about these things is why they bother to invite us. We’re not going to get to speak in any kind of meaningful fashion. So they either should have a public broadcast system, where they are the talking heads and we merely tune in, like television, and they chat coherently without interruption from the mob, except for something like a moderated “phone-in” to a “switchboard” — or they decide to include us, warts and all.

    If they wish to include us, they need to realize the era of “you guys” and “we’re all on the same page” is over, and their audience isn’t the FIC anymore, but a very, very diverse, and very differently-prepared audience, even self-selecting for topic interest.

    Accordingly, there are two things they need to do. Either they stop their fussing with Jeska, and just let people talk normally, interrupting each other, making people scroll, like a usual open talk with less people in it — and the devil take the high road — or they seize control and announce very loudly and clearly and repeatedly that they are running the meeting, and that all questions have to be driven through mods.

    But they do neither. What happens is Hamlet arrives and stands around for 15-20 minutes in his little IMs with his little fanboyz or something, who the hell knows. He’s not clearly Large and in Charge, with respect from the community, he’s off somewhere catering to the people who pay his paycheck, and not paying attention to the social task at hand: running a public meeting. I’ve been in enough meetings watching Hamlet do this now, that I feel that I can really bitch about it with the facts of the transcript behind my back: for all the work he does organizing these meetings, and it is considerable, I realize, he is not framing them by having a clearcut Beginning, Middle, and End where he says all the host stuff like “Good Evening, here I am, I’ll be moderating, or Jeska will, and please hold your chat, and that means you, and this is how we will do Q&A.”

    Given the scroll and lag and distraction factor, he has to say that 6 times, not 1 time, to get it to register.

    Then…Philip logs in from his busy RL being a Master Game Dev from a conference somewhere, where he is only half paying attention. Jeska saunters up to center stage…and stands there…weaving back and forth in silence, as she attends to some other urgent office thing. Everybody starts nattering and interrupting each other. Some people dutifully send questions to Jeska, but she’s AFK. Others send them to Hamlet, but he’s in IMs and hasn’t announced what he’s doing exactly. Still others just start talking, seeing no one in charge.

    This is such idiocy, and so fixable, that I don’t know why they don’t choreograph these things better, like this: Enter Hamlet. Awake, control, and with “busy” on or ignoring IMs from his little pals for the moment. “I am chairing this meeting. I will be introducing the speaker. I will be taking questions in IMs to me, only. Then, if not in public, at least in private IMs: “Jeska, please move off stage now hon to avoid confusion. Phil, wake up, you’re on the air, focus for 20 minutes now please and Griefer, please shut up or we will be booting you from the property,” etc.

    That’s all it takes. I’m thinking that given how hard it is to run these things with the scrolling text, the functions have to be divided. That is, one person has to ride shotgun. That would be Jeska. She takes IM’d questions, and she also scans chat for troublemakers, warns them once, and runs the switchboard to boot them.

    Hamlet, then, is free to focus on the guest, keeping him engaged, keeping him talking sensibly, and keeping Philip on cue. This would really have to be the way this thing is run.
    Usually when you have principles like a Philip to run, one staff person has to stay on call just to keep him on task — so the moderator on the air has to make sure they have a line to the control room or scene from out in the restaurant to keep the guy on task, too.

    I dunno, this is basic stuff. Why can’t they do this? Or not…but then don’t scream at the customers if they start all shouting at once in chat.

  5. Prokofy Neva

    Jan 25th, 2006

    Athel, I asked a question, that this article’s authors didn’t reflect in their coverage. It’s posted here on the earlier notice about Lessig. But it comes down to this: how can Lessig square this circle? On the one hand, he’s banging on LL to give IP rights to their customers/residents. And they are banging on LL for more rights. On the other hand, he’s dissing big corporations and basically saying Steal This Book if the book is written by old dead white guys, and the stealer is young brown live kids. Or something like that. Sure sounds like that. Anyway, I’d like to hear more critical analysis of this. There was a link on Csven Concord’s blog to the rebuttals to Lessig which were informed and persuasive.

    I also asked (but the mods being AFK or confused didn’t convey) this question:

    what does Lessig thing of putting out freebies, but that have no mod/no transfer?

    Well I think in generic terms, he answered this: well let them, and let’s have different kinds of stuff.

    He then really really REACHES for this analogy of some group of South Africans putting some book for free up on the Internet. I mean, really bad analogy. Why? Because the people who use the Internet in South Africa don’t number probably in the multi-millions of Western market countries where an or something is doing business and where people wish to sell books to make a living of some sort.

    Give me an example of how this free culture stuff works when it isn’t Soros or the World Bank or the Ford Foundation footing the bill for all the conferencing and NGOS, and let’s talk.

  6. Urizenus

    Jan 25th, 2006

    the classic example of freebees boosting sales is the Grateful Dead discovering that all those bootleg recordings were generating more sales for them in the long run. Or that’s the conclusion The Dead reached.

  7. Prokofy Neva

    Jan 25th, 2006

    Urizenus, I’d be inclined to say that’s a brilliant example, except that you’re forgetting that the “business model” of the Greatful Dead included first and foremost, concert tickets — the fees and sales they got from concerts, including the concessions and things like the t-shirts and memorabilia. They didn’t really make records that much, you know, they had the concerts. And because they didn’t make that many, when they did have some, like Workingman’s Dead, they could make a fortune out of it (actually I’ll betray my lack of true Deadhead credentials by not knowing which of their albums went gold if any). The problem with the model of South Africans who maybe lived off the Ford Foundation or the South African government or were employed in other fields and hoped merely for recognition, and the Grateful Dead model, is that it is not the model for the average student or housewife or retired person trying to make a business out of these worlds and hoping to get paid.

  8. Second Life Harold

    Jan 26th, 2006

    Bitch bitch bitch

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