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October 22, 2004
The Difference Between Larry and Siva
Neofiles has an interview with Siva Vaidhyanathan that sheds light on how he differs with Larry Lessig on a few key issues -- including the question of whether the recording industry lawsuits help or hurt the cause of copyright balance. Larry opposes the lawsuits; Siva approves -- in part because he believes that the suits represent a social and financial cost burden that the recording industry and the public will not agree to bear for long:
Neofiles:Lawrence Lessig clearly believes that copyright law is the greatest threat to free speech and discourse in America. You seem to agree with that view to some extent. How would you differentiate your views on this from his?
Siva: Copyright is the most pervasive threat to free speech in America. By that, I mean that it's the instrument of censorship most likely to stifle the most Americans. Other instruments of censorship -- USA PATRIOT Act, secret detentions of immigrants and uncharged terrorism suspects, restrictions on public demonstrations, the thugs who arrest mothers of soldiers at Laura Bush campaign stops -- are more acute and more deeply troublesome than copyright. But they are rather narrowly targeted and thus less influential within this big, teeming democratic culture as a whole. [...]
The only important difference between Lawrence Lessig and me involves our attitudes toward the civil courts. My basic complaint about the current copyright system is that Congress and the copyright industries have driven copyright regulation out of the domain of human interactions like courts and into machines themselves. They have tried to make copyright enforcement cost-free and risk-free. Taking someone to court costs money. I think this is a dangerous, technocratic trend. And Lessig agrees with me so far. But he thinks music companies suing potential infringers over peer-to-peer usage is a bad idea. I see the lawsuits as the proper way to deal with accusations of infringement. ...I don't like the idea of my students losing $3,000 for doing something relatively harmless. But over time, the industry will see that the public cost of the lawsuits outweigh the imagined deterrent effect of them.
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