The NY Times has a long look at the current battle over copyright. It gives a sympathetic hearing to the ubiquitous Larry Lessig, along with his intellectual allies, Jonathan Zittrain, Yochai Benkler, and James Boyle (who's right next door to the Door, at Duke). It also gives some space to the opposing view, represented by Jane Ginsburg and Paul Goldstein.
It's a big, important, and difficult issue. Both sides make reasonable arguments. And as Richard Posner recently observed, the resolution ultimately should depend on some empirical magnitudes that we know almost nothing about. (The link to Posner's original article seems to be gone, but Posner is charitable toward copying academic research, so he probably wouldn't mind me linking to this copy of his article.)
That said, I have two snarky comments about the Times piece.
1. The piece opens what with what an NYU scholar helpfully labels for the Times a "copyright horror" story. Students at Swarthmore obtain either leaked or stolen corporate memos. They think they relate to a vital public policy issue, so they post them on the Web. The company, Diebold, alleges that the students are infringing the company's copyright and demands that the memos be removed from the Web. Since the Website is hosted by Swarthmore, and since the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes an Internet Service Provider potentially liable for the material posted by its users, Swarthmore removes the material. Now here's the kicker:
After persistent challenges by the students -- and a considerable amount of negative publicity for Diebold -- in November the company agreed not to sue. To the delight of the students' supporters, the memos are now back on their Web site. But to proponents of free speech on the Internet, the story remains a chilling one.
Even if the students had actually been forced to remove the memos from the Net, were they prevented from writing a speech or an article or a book based on those memos? No. Were they prevented from asking for them to be printed in, say, the New York Times?? No! To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen: I know chilling, I've been chilled; this is not chilling.
2. In the article's concluding paragraph we find
Like Rachel Carson in the years before Earth Day, the Copy Left today is trying to raise awareness of the intellectual ''land'' to which they believe we ought to feel entitled and to propose policies and laws that will preserve it.
Would that be the same Rachel Carson who helped get DDT banned based on questionable science and who is, therefore, indirectly responsible for thousands of premature deaths?