Lessig on Interoperability at Wikimania 2006

Lawrence Lessig is giving a rousing lecture right now to a standing-room-only crowd in Ames Courtroom at Harvard Law School. It’s a plenary session of Wikimania 2006. He is in his element. It’s amazing to feel the energy in this room — unconveyable by blog or any other Internet-borne medium, but very very real.

Interoperability, he’s saying, is the key to the story — the Free Culture story — of which Wikipedia is such an illustrative chapter. The instinct to control a platform that you give (or sell) to other people is understandable, but it is also stupid. There needs to be interoperability and free standards that provide the widest range of freedoms for human beings to build upon the platform (sounds a lot like JZ’s Generativity).

We need to remember this lesson as we build a free culture. But we also need to make it possible for this platform to enable people to participate in a free culture. We need also to support the work of the Free Sofware Foundation and work toward free CODECs to allow content to flow across various platforms.

But we need to move past the technical layer, and enable a platform at the legal layer, too, one that protects free culture. The CC movement is an important piece of the story.

Yochai Benkler’s extraordinary book oozes with praise for Wikimedia. You are the central element, the central example, of Yochai’s wonderful argument. It is out of praise for all Wikimaniacs that Larry got on a plane at midnight, he says.

He’s also got a plea for everyone at Wikimania 2006: enable free culture, generally. There are two ways, he says, to do that:

1) Help others to spread the practice with your extraordinary example. There’s a CC/Wikimedia project — PDWiki — to help do this. It will put works in the hands of Canadians in digital form. Beyond demonstrating what you can do with works, it will help to establish what’s in the public domain and what’s not.

2) Demand a user platform for freedom. It came from a conversation with Jimbo Wales; they were drinking awful coffee in Europe. The problem was a lack of interoperability among islands of free cultures. We need interoperability among licenses that are allowing you to do the same thing with the content. We need to support an ecology of different efforts seeking to achieve the same functional outcomes — just as the original web was architected, only this time for cultural works, for content, not for code.

The way it work work is not that CC would have control, but rather that Eben Moglen’s Software Freedom Law Center would be in charge of running the federation of free licenses. The outcome should be that you can say: Derivatives of works under this license can be used under other equivalent licenses.

If we do not solve this problem now, we will face an ecological problem. These islands of free culture will never become anything but silos. We could do good here; we should do good here. Keep practicing the same kind of Wikimaniacal citizenship, he urges, that you’ve practiced to date, and get others to join you.

[Loads of applause.]

* * *

Elsewhere: CNet picks up the event itself as well as a wiki-photo-stream. Artsy, and nice.  And Martin LaMonica has covered Lessig’s talk.
Dan Bricklin, David Isenberg, David Weinberger, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, Mitch Kapor, Wendy Seltzer, Yochai Benkler, many other great people are in the room. An old-home week for Berkman Center.

And what a happy picture this is, taken by Dave (he also has a movie of it): a group posing on the steps of the Old Berkman Center (we’ve just moved across campus).

2 thoughts on “Lessig on Interoperability at Wikimania 2006

  1. […] Why might it not be so great? Well, I think it is a great thing, and not just because we at the Berkman Center have been looking into interoperability, with support from Microsoft and others, and learning more about how companies are taking novel steps in this sort of direction. Its limitation might take a few forms, I suppose. The promise itself has limitations — it applies to some specifications and the promise extends only to some possible IPR-related claims, of course, but that seems natural, especially with such a first step. Other possible limitations: 1) Will developers pay attention to it, and in fact believe it? 2) Will this promise itself be interoperable with other such promises? I am reminded of Prof. Lessig’s speech at Wikimania last month, when he talked about interoperable licenses. Hopefully, others will either follow this lead or help developers to understand how this meshes with other similar promises of forebearance in the marketplace. 3) I don’t know well enough whether these are the right specifications to be included in such a promise. Are there other specs that developers would like to see opened up in this fashion? […]

  2. […] Another part of the answer to this digital copyright issue might be provided by the market. One might imagine a process by which citizens who create user-generated content (think of a single YouTube video file or a syndicated vlog series, a podcast audio file or series of podcasts, a single online essay or a syndicated blog, a photo covering the perfectly captures a breaking news story or a series of evocative images, and so forth) might consistently adopt a default license (one of the CC licenses, or an “interoperable” license that enables another form of commercial distribution; I am persuaded that as much interoperability of licenses as possible is essential here) for all content that they create, with the ability also to adopt a separate license for an individual work that they may create in the future. […]

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