The copyright robots

There is a wonderful story on NPR this morning, “Record Company Picks Fight – With the Wrong Guy,” about Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, who was threatened by an Australian record label called Liberation Music with a copyright-infringement lawsuit after he posted a “remix” of one of that label’s songs on YouTube. Lessig happens to teach copyright law, alas, and has fought back against the perhaps inappropriately named music company using an ingenious argument.

Lessig knew he had a legal right to publish these remixes online as part of the “fair use” laws that govern copyright permissions in much of the world. “If I’m using [the remix] for purposes of critique, then I can use if even if I don’t have permission of the original copyright owner,” he says.

From the NPR story: “Lessig decided to invoke another part of the copyright law, ‘which basically polices bad-faith lawsuits’ — threats made fraudulently or without proper basis. Lessig is suing Liberation Music because he wants labels to stop relying on automated systems to send out takedown notices.

“What we’ve got is this computerized system threatening people about content that’s on the Web, much of it legally on the Web,” Lessig says. The problem, he says, is the impact: “what we think of as a very significant chilling of completely legitimate and protected speech.” Lessig hopes his suit will set a precedent that will persuade copyright holders to put human beings who know the law back into the equation.

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