Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Copyright is cool

This morning the highly affable Michael Geist spoke at the informative Mesh08 conference in Toronto. Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor and copyright expert, made a very persuasive case that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other Web 2.0 tools are very effective at influencing governments, companies, and communities.

Geist asserted we are in the midst of a “New Normal” where advocacy empowered by mashups and social networks is impacting public policy. But despite this New Normal, politics drives policy even as politicians are increasingly paying attention to the political ramifications of online advocacy. Geist cites the Canadian blog Angry in the Great White North, Fair Copyright for Canada, Wikileaks, and Open Net Initiatives.

Geist argues that people are interested in copyright because it impacts their daily lives, whether they use the Web for general use or as consumers. For example, hyperlinking to content is potentially libelous, as Geist himself found out last year (Geist v. Crookes), and the use of orphan copyrighted material (or material seemingly out of copyright) can also bring legal challenges.

More significantly for music and other digital media fans, Geist is on a Richard Stallman-like crusade against DRM. He managed to convince many Canadians to oppose the government's anticipated copyright legislation (Fair Copyright for Canada – the FaceBook global group he formed has 40,000 members) and government officials ended up withdrawing the proposed law. DRM isn't dead yet, though.

With all these activities, and especially his fair copyright work, Geist looks like the Larry Lessig of Canada. I suspect that’s a moniker that he would embrace.

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