Larry Lessig and Pam Sameulson gave barn-burning talks at this year's Free Culture summit at Berkeley -- I'm especially interested in Pam's talk. She's one of the top scholars of American copyright law and when she says there's something wrong with it, people sit up and listen:
I think one reason that it’s really important to think about copyright reform is because really pretty much every 40 years there has been copyright reform. So it’s time to really get that conversation started. And a lot of what we need to do is move to better principals about what a good copyright law would look like. It shouldn’t be as long – current copyright law is 200 pages long, 300 if you buy certain editions – and it’s too complicated. I can’t make my way through about half the provisions because they’re so incomprehensible. Maybe it was ok that copyright law was really abstruse at a time when the only people who needed to know anything about it were the industry lawyers who essentially were mediating these kind of inter-industry disputes. If they knew what it meant and nobody else did, who cared, as long as it just applied to them. But now that copyright law is really affecting and regulating our daily activities, we the people deserve a copyright law that’s simple, that’s fair, that’s balanced, and that gets us to a much better way of thinking about what good role copyright law can play.
Like some of the earlier speakers, I worry a lot about the implications of copyright for the activities that all of you do on a daily basis. There’s a really fun essay that was written by one of my colleagues in Copyright, John Tehranian, entitled, “Infringement Nation.” What John does in the article is go through the average day of a professor (seems to be modeled on himself). He does a bunch of stuff on the internet, he goes to the gym, he works out with his tattoos on his shoulders, he plays loud music in his car, and he sings Happy Birthday to people in a restaurant, and by the time he’s finished with his average day, he counts 83 acts of plausible infringement, because some sort of copying was done. And he multiplies that by the maximum statutory damages – $150,000 per infringed work. So, just in one day, even without any kind of peer-to-peer file-sharing going on, John calculates 12.5 million dollars of potential liability for those ordinary infringing acts, and then of course, that’s just for one day, so if you multiply it times the number of days in a year, you end up with 4.5 billion dollars in potential statutory damages for an average day of your life, and that’s only one person. So, when you think about that, you sort of say, “Boy this thing is really out of whack! We really need to get into a better shape.” I could give you dozens of other examples, and actually some of the other people here today have given you other examples, but I want to concentrate instead on how to think about a reform landscape for copyright.