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Friday, January 20, 2006

THE SECOND LIFE OF LAWRENCE LESSIG, PART II

Continued from yesterday; background here. Today's entry: thoughts on law and IP in virtual words, in Second Life, and in Lessig's writing.

Philip Linden: Lawrence, it is such an honor to have you here!

Lawrence Lessig: It is great fun.

PL: Our world, Second Life, is an opportunity to take a look at the rules that govern society and to the extent that we are able, re-write them as best seems to fit us. And Free Culture is such an incredible explanation of some of the things we need to hold dear in this consideration.

For those here who don't know, Lawrence has affected the history of SL already. We had a meeting in 2003 to think about the future of Second Life, and Lawrence was kind enough to attend, and to give us his thoughts on IP, land, and how things should be in SL. Shortly thereafter we gave IP rights to creators...

LL: Bravo.

PL: ... and switched to our system of land ownership. Clearly, looking at the last two years, this was the right call. As every free society has discovered. We have realized, more and more over time, how much SL is a developing nation, and how, if we want to succeed, we must make the choices which fastest and best advance us all. These sorts of choices are at the heart of Lawrence's work.

One thing that I have often said about Second Life, is that it is a kind of time machine, a place where innovation is rewarded, or perhaps ideas fail, or businesses rise and then decline in a fraction of 'real world' time. What I was struck by in reading Free Culture is how important this idea on time becomes! By extending copyrights, we are going in exactly the opposite direction. Slowing progress in the real world. In the same way we can hopefully speed it here.

In the beginning of Free Culture, you tell the story of air rights, of how overflying property is a public good.

LL: Yes, a problem you've dealt with.

PL: This is SO relevant and topical in SL. Something we've all struggled with, how to balance freedom and ownership with progress and benefit for all. I wanted to ask you a question, that I think folks in SL will really relate to, and is an example of where we are at the edge of the envelope. I interviewed a person for a job at Linden Lab the other day, and she was telling me how one of her dreams for using Second Life was to build the sets of movies and allow people to act out the endings in a different way to be a part of the movie. But then, of course, she paused and said, "Oh, but wouldn't that be illegal?"

I think she really didn't know. I think I don't really know.

And that is what your book is all about. I don't think that exactly motivated her to go in there and start working on Finding Nemo. What do you think would happen to her if she did?

LL: So Second Life is prominent. It would get shut down. It is a totally simple application of existing law. You're publishing a derivative of the movie. You need permission from the movie owner. But what the lawyers don't think about is how much of ordinary life they're rendering illegal by this way of thinking. Because as life moves online we should have the SAME FREEDOMS (at least) that we had in real life. There's no doubt that in real life you could act out a movie, or a different ending to a movie. There's no doubt that would have been "free" of copyright in real life. But as we move online, things that were before were free, now are regulated.

That's why people here are so important to this debate. You have got to make the (clueless) politicians aware of what 19th century law is doing to the 21st century. They don't get it. They think they're stopping "pirates" when they stop all sorts of creativity.

PL: Given how fast things change in SL, how long would you make copyrights and patents hold?

LL: Great question. No idea. The issue is how long do they need to be to give the kind of incentive they're needed to give. I like the idea that people here create and then can exploit that creativity. Out of world, too...

PL: Right.

LL: And one complication you might have is that in-world, if copyrights are different from out of world, then you'll have something protected in real space, not protected in-world. But maybe that's fine. I don't know enough to say how things should be here. But I do have a sense of the questions you should ask.

PL: I agree that one key question is the duration of [the] value of a work. Perhaps this is something we will be able to see statistically, given that our world here is so transparent, and better inform the debate.

Calix Metropolitan [from the audience]: Transparent?

LL: One point though, regarding duration. It might be fun to experiment [with] different terms, and see how that matters to growth, or creativity.

PL: Yes, it's a good point. Let an answer evolve.

[To the audience]

Well, I probably can't think of questions as good as those from all of you. And, in true Second Life style, I am currently sitting in a restaurant in Austin, Texas with some folks from MIT and a leading ad creative agency watching over my shoulder.

LL: Now I'm really hungry.

PL: Well the food isn't here just yet!

LL: That doesn't help.

Quantum Waves [from the audience]: Drooling?

LL: Totally.

Hamlet Linden: Actually, I had one related to Code, and then we'll turn to the audience... let's talk a little about that section of Code you're rewriting for the revision, that deals with virtual worlds.

LL: Shoot.

HL: In it, you describe an online world where two neighbors resolve a property dispute by changing the very code of the objects they own-- in this case, virtual poisonous flowers and a virtual dog. The solution is for the one with the poison flowers to re-code them so they don't kill the other neighbor's dog. You describe this as a positive outcome for both parties, but can you see how it might also be a socially negative outcome, too? Instead of trying to find a compromise that doesn't break the shared reality of their world, they alter it in a way that threatens to break the illusion.

LL: That's a great point. And in fact I interviewed this guy to my left [i.e. Philip Linden] last week, and was trying to get the same idea. When does it make sense to code a solution, and when does it make sense for people to work it out? I like to think about different "modalities of regulation" (that's the way a professor needs to talk). One is code. One is law. One is norms and one is markets. And the hard question for me is when does a designer decide-- don't code a solution. Let them work it out themselves. Not because it is hard to code. Maybe it's totally simple but because people should work it out, not have it solved [through code].

PL: It has been a hard problem for us-- when to code. Probably we code too much, in restrospect.

LL: With god sitting in on the conversation.

Continued Monday...

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