Lessig At CERN: Scientific Knowledge Should Not Be Reserved For Academic Elite 19/04/2011 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch 3 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Free culture leader and Harvard University law professor Larry Lessig was at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) yesterday to talk about access to scientific knowledge on the internet. In the symbolic place where the World Wide Web was invented and where scientists are now trying to unravel the creation of the universe, Lessig praised CERN’s open access initiative and in this temple of reasoning, said the copyright architecture was on the edge of absurdity. [Update: the video of Lessig’s speech is now available here.] Although the major focus of copyright has been on entertainment, science is a field where internet access is unnecessarily restricted to privileged scholars, he said. The copyright architecture is obsolete and needs to protect copyright as an essential tool for creation, but recognise that sharing is at the core of the architecture of the internet. The fight over the scope of copyright has been almost exclusively centred on artists’ rights, in particular in music, he said, and although everybody agrees that copyright is essential for certain creative work, a “sensible” copyright policy should be developed to protect and encourage that creative work. “We’ve been fighting a battle in the context of copyright where copyright is essential,” and spending too little attention in a context where copyright is not essential, such as the context of science, he said. Most scientific resources are protected on the internet, Lessig said. It can only be accessed by professors and students in a university setting. If “you are a member of the knowledge elite,” he said, then there is free access, but “for the rest of the world, not so much.” The open access movement was inspired by the dramatic increase in prices for journals, he said. The market power of publishers had been exploding because the purchasers had no other choice than to buy those journals, he said. Publisher restrictions do not achieve the objective of enlightenment, but rather the reality of “elite-nment,” he said. YouTube Needs Clearer Legal Terms Lessig said that YouTube occupies a prominent place in knowledge access. “We should not minimise” the significance of YouTube in the infrastructure of culture right now, Lessig said. YouTube has 43 different languages and there is more uploading in one month than was broadcasted by major networks in the United States over the last 60 years, he said. The world has gone from a read-only culture to a read-write culture, he said. The system as it is, is not working, he said, as it lacks transparency and basic information so that people know where they stand. A sensible system should clearly state that it is plainly legal to make a remix, a non-commercial creation in which a user builds on something that already exists, even if it is not legal for YouTube to distribute it without paying some royalties to the copyright owner whose work has been remixed, he said. Reforms are needed, he said. In November, Lessig was invited to talk at the World Intellectual Property Organization (IPW, WIPO, 5 November 2010), where he proposed the creation of a “blue sky commission” that would work on copyright in the digital age, as the architecture of the 21st century does not make sense in this age, he said. The five elements of the copyright architecture that would make sense in the digital age should be the following, according to Lessig: 1) Copyright has to be simple. If it purports to regulate 15-year-olds, they have to be able to understand it. “They don’t understand it now” – nobody does, he said. 2) Copyright needs to be efficient. It is a property system, he said, but “happens to be the most inefficient property system known to man,” he said. “We can’t know who owns what under our system,” and there is a need to restore some kind of formality, such as a system to record ownership. 3) Copyright needs to be better targeted and should regulate selectively. For example, between copies and remix, between professional and amateurs. Copyright needs to efficiently regulate copies of professional work, but amateur remix need to be free of the regulation of copyright, not “even triggering a copyright concern.” Lessig proposed to deregulate a significant space of culture and focusing the regulation of copyright where “it can do some good.” 4) Copyright needs to be effective and provide revenue for artists, which is not the case today, Lessig said. 5) Copyright needs to be realistic. A war has been fought against peer to peer file sharing, where the so-called pirates are “our children,” he said, and that war “has been a total failure,” not achieving its objective of reducing illegal file sharing. Alternative solutions need to be used, such as compulsory licences, or voluntary collective licences. Had one of those alternatives been applied 10 years ago, artists would have more money because fighting the copyright war came with high legal costs, businesses would have had more competition, and “we would not have a generation of criminals who have grown up being called criminals because they are technically pirates” under the current copyright legislation. Academia’s Ethical Obligation In the context of academia, there is a need to recognise its ethical obligation of universal access to knowledge, “not American university access to knowledge, but universal access to knowledge in every part of the globe.” Academia should not practice exclusivity, Lessig said, and leadership in open access should be exercised by those who can “afford to take the lead,” such as senior academics, “those with tenure,” people who can help redefine what open access is, and support, respect and encourage it. Praise for CERN’s Open Access Work CERN “gave us” the World Wide Web, he said, and CERN has taken the lead supporting open access in a crucial space of physics. This work will have a dramatic effect on changing the debate in science. It remains to find a way to leverage this leadership into leadership for the globe, he said. CERN launched an open access initiative, to facilitate open access publishing in high-energy physics (IPW, Access to Knowledge, 5 January 2009). The Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) is a consortium of high-energy physics funding agencies, high-energy physics laboratories, and leading national and international libraries and library consortia, according to its website. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Catherine Saez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org."Lessig At CERN: Scientific Knowledge Should Not Be Reserved For Academic Elite" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.