Lessig asks his readers to respond to NYT editorial

Posted on May 22, 2007 9:17 am by | Participatory Communication | Wikis

Author Mark Helprin, writing in The New York Times, has proposed a “perpetual copyright.” His argument revolves around the notion that other properties, like buildings, can be owned forever. Why not intellectual works?

For me, the answer is easy, as articulated by the Constitutional Law Foundation:

Patents and copyrights are grants to the holder, by the state, of monopoly powers, for a specific period of time, for a specific reason. The goal is to provide incentive for invention and art. The balancing concern is that one can stifle endeavor, raise the price of entry to enterprise, or lock away the ‘building blocks’ of science, art and innovation.

Stanford University Constitutional Law Professor Lawrence Lessig—the force behind Creative Commons—has been deluged with demands that he craft a reply. Lessig, after all, is the lawyer who argued against extending copyright before the Supreme Court and the popular hero of the public domain movement. But Lessig thinks there’s someone better positioned to write the response: us.

...why don???t you write the reply instead? Here???s a page on wiki.lessig.org. Please write an argument that puts this argument in its proper place.

Despite a concern posted to the comments of Lessig’s post that his readers don’t have the clout that would lead the Times to publish the response, Lessig’s readers have taken him up on the challenge. The wiki page already hosts several arguments; there are more in the comments section. I like this approach to tapping into the wisdom of crowds. Lessig hasn’t indicated what he plans to do with the results, but he certainly has options. He can synthesize it, add his own insights to it, and send it to the Times under the byline, “Lawrence Lessig and his readers.”

Now, if only companies would turn to their employees in the same way. Imagine an activist group launching an attack on your company, to which the CEO responds by asking employees to articulate their arguments against the group’s point of view. “I"ve opened a page on my CEO wiki. Please write an argument that puts our opponent’s argument in its proper place.”

The day may be coming. Reading through the contributions of Lessig’s readers makes it clear that there’s a lot of sound thinking out there. There’s no reason companies can’t benefit from the collective knowledge of their employees the way Lessig is from the collective intelligence of his readers.



  • 1.I found this inspirational, Shel, particularly your point about companies turning to their employees in the same way. While I am skeptical about our company's willingness to do so, we are right now considering our "Internet Strategy", a concept I find somewhat laughable as the internet is simply a set of great channels through which you might accomplish your communications and business strategy. As part of that effort, I am helping to develop a more forward-thinking plan that includes the development of a true News and Information Center (rather than just the news archive page currently housed there) that might include occasional commentary from leading executives (one step closer to a blog?). Because we have a lot of debate surrounding our industry and our company right now on the Hill, I think the resounding chorus of proud and intelligent employees would be of value.

    I'd love to be able to serve up a successful case history in a year or so. I'll let you know how that goes.

    In the meantime, many excellent arguments on Lessig's wiki against Halprin's ill-thought proposal.

    michael clendenin | May 2007

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