August 4, 2006 1:04 PM PDT

Lessig seeks legal ground for content exchange

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--High-profile legal scholar Lawrence Lessig on Friday called for an initiative to create compatible content licenses as a way to exchange content and promote "free culture."

Lessig spoke at the Wikimedia 2006 conference here, where he heaped praised on the people who contribute to the Wikipedia online encyclopedia.

He said that free exchange of information, particularly in digital form, is enabling a free culture that invites more participation from people.

Lessig said Wikipedia is one of the most visible examples of what he called "read-write culture" where people not only "consume" content, such as movies and books, but also make contributions to cultural works as well. For example, he demonstrated Japanese anime videos that had been "remixed" with different music.

Wikipedia is an online encylopedia where anyone can make edits to pages. The guiding philosophy behind Wikipedia is to give all people access to as much knowledge as possible, according to its co-founder, Jimmy Wales.

"More than anything else in the world, you have ignited this belief" in read-write culture, Lessig said. "Use the great capital you have created to go far beyond where you have demonstrated the success of freedom."

To avoid "islands" of online content, Lessig proposed that licenses that allow people to redistribute and use content in derivative works become interoperable.

He noted that there are licenses that are similar to the Creative Commons license, which Lessig helped create, that allow people to redistribute and reuse creative works.

Lessig proposed that the Software Freedom Law Center, which provides legal advice for free to open-source software organizations, certify equivalent content licenses.

Thus far, no agreement has been reached to bridge the Creative Commons licenses and the GNU Free Documententation License, said Eben Moglen, counsel for the Free Software Foundation, on Friday. He said bridging the two could be the step to broader content licenses.

Lessig said the idea would be that a content creator could say that a derivative work can be used freely using a choice of equivalent licenses, which ultimately will promote exchange of content and thwart digital-rights management schemes.

"If we don't solve this problem now, it's an environmental problem we'll be faced with three, five, eight years for now. As islands of creativity, we now have no simple ways of interoperating," Lessig said.

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