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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Piracy fears over net generation
Lawrence Lessig - photo courtesy of www.lessig.org
Fighting piracy was like using DDT 'to kill a gnat'
Net freedom fighter Lawrence Lessig has called for an end to what he described as "extremism" in copyright laws.

The Stanford law professor fears they could stifle the creativity of a new generation in the digital age.

Prof Lessig told the Hay Festival in Wales that the "age of prohibition" could turn "kids into pirates".

He admitted he was a "lawyer with a guilty conscience" who had become more of a campaigner to "raise awareness outside the courtroom."

The right balance

Prof Lessig is a founder of Creative Commons, a framework of copyright licenses which allows creators share and protect their work, with arrangements for non-commercial use.

He outlined how the right balance needed to be found between the rights of the artist and the creativity of web users for re-using material.

This was far from a dry law lecture, as Prof Lessig illustrated the potential for the digital age - taking people beyond just being "couch potato" consumers of culture, but with the tools to remix and repackage it.

An anime music video from Japan, was one example in the "read-write" culture of how users could re-edit cartoons, set to music. Thousands could create works to share, non-commercially.

Stop suing our creativity back into the dark ages of the 20th Century
Prof Lawrence Lessig
He also used the illustration of the micro-budget film Tarnation, an autobiography of video clips hailed at Cannes in 2004.

It cost $218 (124) to make but the budget rose to $400,000 (230,000), once music and video clip royalties were included.

This creativity was threatened by "stifling" regulation, which had been inherited.

"Together the copyright law and the accident of technology is something we have to fix," he told his audience.

The pressure spiralling upwards was of extending copyright, with the new digital culture in danger of being "smothered" by regulation, with the architecture of the law belonging to the 20th Century.

Going underground

Once described as "the Elvis of Cyberlaw", Prof Lessig had words for the "Peter Pan of Pop" - Sir Cliff Richard's - hopes for extending the years for copyright applying to musicians.

"There is no reason to extend it for existing work. Whatever we do, Sir Cliff is not going to create any more great works in 1955".

He also drew on Google Book's hopes to digitalise 18m books for "snippet access", but the danger that "extremism" in the law to protect living writers could also be denying a revival for 75% of work which was out of print.

He said a war was being fought with law and technology to eliminate piracy, likened to using "DDT to kill a gnat".

"These tools are designed to kill piracy but also kill the read-write culture," he said, adding the would "force creativity underground".

He told his audience: "Embrace and celebrate the potential of new technology. Stop suing our creativity back into the dark ages of the 20th Century."

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