NEASIST Copyright Program: Jonathan Zittrain’s Presentation

Jonathan Zittrain
Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Freedom vs. Control: Rights Management in the Digital Age
NEASIST
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
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Jonathan Zittrain reviewed the history of printing beginning with scrolls as an introduction to copyright law. He then talked about the basis of copyright law in America.

The suit claiming The Greatest American Hero violated Superman’s copyright and the Feist debate about whether facts are copyrightable are two examples he mentioned.

Zittrain outlined how copyright has been lengthened, with many extensions coming in the 1900s. In 1790, the term was 14 years with one renewal. Now, it’s 95 years. He joked about how the registrar of copyright kept a straight face while testifying that the copyright term would not be extended again.

Zittrain discussed contributory and vicarious infringement. The manufacturers of Teddy Ruxpin sued because they thought the use of any cassette tape in the bear’s tape player infringed their rights.

If you combine “Title 17″ and “reality,” you get “literaly IT.” Zittrain admits he’s still trying to figure out what that means exactly.

He shared some articles about cyberspace and copyright law from 1994 to illustrate how thinking and laws have changed and remained the same.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear the Grokster case will contribute to better definitions of what’s allowable under the law.

Some provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act make no sense to Zittrain. Based on his interpretation of the law, a librarian can hack a program if his/her hands are tied behind his/her back and she does it with her nose.

Computers are big security threats because even novice users can use them to violate copyright law.

“School children should recognize their own creativity by including the copyright symbol on their course work” is a recommendation in the DMCA. When the audience laughed at that, Zittrain said when he tells that to lawyers, they don’t laugh. An F could be an infringement, giving the student the right to sue the teacher, he bantered further. (At some point, there might be more lawyers than people, he adds.)

Is the relationship we have to our intellectual fruit going to be sucessfully mediated by lawyers or is there some space for an amateur to use works on his/her own without having to consult a legal expert? frames Zittrain as the key question.

Q: You jumped over fair use. Why?
A: Fair use is important, but it’s very tricky. Fair use is a standard, not a rule. It’s often not clear who’s right and wrong. What would help is a true safe harbor.

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