4.13.1 Self-assessment Questions (SAQs)

1. Does the apparent expansion in the scope and term of copyright law raise as many concerns as Lessig suggests? Say why you think it does or doesn't.


Copyright law is an immensely complicated area. It is impossible to say what the long-term outcome of increases in scope and term will be. The Eldred and The Wind Done Gone cases do raise important questions about the downside of increasing the term of copyright.

For example, what incentive can extending the term of copyright of Gone with the Wind provide to the now-dead author, Margaret Mitchell?

It is clear that large copyright holders have been very concerned about the development of technologies such as Napster, which they see as tools for undermining their businesses. One response has been to encourage legislators, through intensive lobbying, to increase scope and term in order to compensate for their potential losses.

So there are concerns on both sides – those in favour and those against copyright expansion.

2. Did Napster have any real value other than as a tool for stealing music? Say why you think it did or didn't.


The Future of Ideas makes a strongly reasoned argument that Napster had substantial non-copyright infringing uses. Technologies like Napster could facilitate a celestial jukebox.

3. Do you agree with Lessig that decentralised innovation, facilitated by P2P technologies, will be more productive than controlled innovation? Explain your answer.


This again is not an easy one to answer. Lessig's analysis of the history of the internet demonstrates the value of decentralised innovation as a result of the internet's innovation commons. Beyond the internet, there is a vast amount of empirical evidence about corporations that started out as small innovative ventures in somebody's garage, to demonstrate the value of decentralised approaches. The basic argument is the old one we saw in relation to the value of a commons: if there are gatekeepers, they will stifle innovation that they don't perceive to be in their best interests. This means incremental innovation but especially disruptive innovation.

Established actors not recognising their own best interests was demonstrated in the movie industry's original response to the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR). Universal sued Sony for copyright infringement and eventually lost on a split vote in the US Supreme Court in 1980. Then at congressional hearings in 1983, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, testified that the VCR's effect on the industry would be equivalent to that of the Boston strangler to a woman home alone. It turned out that sales of video cassettes of films became the industry's biggest revenue generator.

Too many billions of dollars are invested in research every year by large companies, however, to assume that the decentralised approach is the only one.

Which is the more productive, centralised or decentralised? You'll need to decide for yourself, but I would say that we probably need both.

The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins.

(Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr)

Make sure you can answer these questions relating to Section 4 before you continue:

  • What kinds of innovation has the internet enabled, and why?

  • Why do we need balance in intellectual property law and the deployment of valuable resources?

Record your thoughts on this in your Learning Journal.

4.13 Summary and SAQs

4.14 Study guide