Friday, January 9, 2009

Lessig on Colbert: Congressional copyright legislation is an 'idiot issue'

Larry Lessig, king of the copyleft, went on The Colbert Report yesterday to plug his latest book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce in the Hybrid Economy:

It's always a bit perilous to take a Colbert interview too seriously, lest one be embarrassed by failing to adequately distinguish the snark from the substance. But that won't stop me from trying...

A few high/lowlights:
  • Colbert summing up the "hybrid economy" : "The hybrid economy is that everybody else does the work, and Flickr makes the money." (15:20).
  • Colbert on Lessig's charge that copyright laws "are turning our kids into criminals": "Isn't that like saying arson laws are turning our kids into pyromaniacs?" (15:50).
  • Lessig on Congress passing new laws to fight copyright infringement: "I want a Congress that focuses on real issues, not these idiot issues that are not really causing any problems at all." (17:15.)
One semi-serious copyright point: at about 19:00 Colbert jokes that he doesn't want anyone taking his interview with Lessig and "remix[ing] it with some great dance beat" and playing it in clubs "across America." Lessig -- apparently in all seriousness, though I'm not 100% sure -- says that such a "remix" would be OK because "we're joint copyright owners." Huh? How does the subject of a TV interview become a joint owner of the copyright in the show? Hopefully this is one of those times I confused the substance with the snark.


  1. I usually trust copyright _professors_, so check this:

  2. Kevin -- nothing in the article to which you link suggests that the subject of a TV interview is a joint author of copyright in the show. In any event, it's standard for shows like "Colbert" to have their interviewees to sign releases saying something to the effect of "To the extent I may have any rights in copyright, trademark, right of publicity, etc. arising from my appearance on the show, I assign all such rights to the show." While I haven't seen such a release for "Colbert," I'm confident that they have their guests sign something similar to what I just described. Here's a slightly different way for an interview show to do it:

  3. It was snark. At least that's how I read it. I was actually pleasantly surprised by both Lessig and Colbert's "performances." Colbert is at his funniest when his interviewees push back hard, so he can do his full blown O'Reily caricature. And Professor Lessig brought some heat. That and I was surprised that Colbert actually new the material, though I suppose I shouldn't be considering that if you're a successful personality, you're working with intellectual property issues all of the time.


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