Lawrence Lessig

Byte the Bullet!


The estimable intellectual property theorist Lawrence Lessig has an interesting op-ed in today's Wash Post. The Stanford law prof suggests that one possible "silver lining" to stupid attempts by Congress to hold makers of peer-to-peer (p2p) technology such as Napster responsible for copyright infringement is that such laws would make gun makers similarly culpable:

If Congress passes this bill [about p2p technology], on what principled basis can it then refuse to hold gun manufacturers responsible for the crimes committed with their technologies?…

The parallels are unavoidable. Like p2p, firearms—including assault weapons and cop-killing bullets—cause harm. But also like p2p, guns—as the NRA and its followers will tell you—have "non-infringing uses" too. Thus, the gun lobby says, manufacturers should be exempt from responsibility for the crimes their customers commit. Guns don't kill people; people kill people….

That argument will be much harder to sustain if Congress does to p2p what it has not done to guns. Of course, the same point is true of p2p technologies. It's not Kazaa that infringes Madonna's copyright; people infringe Madonna's copyright.

Whole thing here.

Lessig thus makes a very strong case against holding p2p tech makers responsible (and I think he knows this). And it's worth pointing out that Congress doesn't act from principle, so regardless what happens, they won't feel a need to act consistently in any sort of legal or intellectual manner.

Reason's Jesse Walker interviewed Lessig here. And David Post reviewed Lessig's latest book, Free Culture, for us here. And Lessig's own blog is here.