Foreign Affairs

One of the most satisfying things about the reception of Free Ride is the way it has reached people around the world. When I decided to do the book, I set out to write it from a more international perspective than I see in most technology writing. And while a tight deadline and budget meant I couldn’t get as many perspectives as I wanted, I’m thrilled that I was able to travel to London, Brussels, and Copenhagen; do some reporting in Berlin, where I live; and hire researchers to provide material on France and Sweden.

Reading recent books by Lawrence Lessig and other “copyleft” pundits, you could get the sense that the entire world is subject to U.S. law, where copyright exists to incentivize creativity. That’s not generally true outside of the Anglo-American world, which has a legal system based on U.K. law. In the Continental European tradition, copyright is a more fundamental right. Not only do artists get a limited monopoly over what they create, they also get “moral rights” – to the “paternity” and “integrity” of their work. This gets complicated very quickly, but in practical terms, this means they may very well have the right not to be remixed. Rather conveniently, Lessig does not mention this in any of his writing on the subject.

Other laws are also very different in Europe. In Germany, privacy is a fundamental right, to the point that tabloids often blur out the faces of celebrities’ children. (For historical reasons, German attitudes on privacy differ as well: The “Wi-Spy scandal,” in which Google cars gathering images for the company’s Street View service accessed open Wi-Fi networks, was a minor story in the U.S. but a very big deal here.) Attitudes toward freedom of speech differ as well. In France, the British designer John Galliano convicted and fined for his anti-Semitc tirade; in the U.S., what he did would be legal, although it would obviously have professional consequences.

Vive la différence. Personally, I have a hard time with the idea of laws against “hate speech,” partly because I worry that they might make martyrs of drunken morons like Galliano. But I’m fairly sure the French don’t  care what I think: They’re French! They voted for these laws (indirectly, at least), and they tend to take a dim view of Americans trying to impose their values on the rest of the world. (It’s one thing to protest the laws of countries that violate basic human rights or those where the government is not democratically elected; that’s not what I’m talking about here.) Given the state of the U.S. economy, why wouldn’t they?

I’ll write more about the differences in global copyright laws tomorrow, as I just returned from the You Are In Control conference in Iceland. Today, I wanted to share some of the interviews with me that have recently run in a few international publications.

Folha de S.Paulo, one of the most important newspapers in Brazil, recently ran an interview that got at some of my views on technology. It’s also available in Portuguese (obviously) and Spanish but here’s the English version.

Grapevine, an Icelandic publication, recently ran an interview where I was pressed on some of my views by a skeptical reporter. I enjoyed it because I think that this kind of questioning helps me clarify my own arguments. Also, I love the title.

Considerati, a Dutch think tank, recently ran an interview with me as well. There’s also an interesting discussion below the piece where some very smart commenters and I are exploring some of the issues it raises.



4 thoughts on “Foreign Affairs

  1. Since 1988, at least, there have also been ‘moral rights’ for authors and performers in UK law. (See here: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/copy/c-otherprotect/c-moralrights.htm ) These include the right not to have one’s work subjected to ‘derogatory’ treatment. I don’t know of any actual cases on this point, but presumably it would be an obstacle to some kinds of ‘remix’ treatment; e.g. a rapper who used a sample of someone else’s music as a background to his own obscene or racist lyrics. (Not an entirely hypothetical example!) The recent Hargreaves report proposes to introduce some special protection for ‘parodic’ uses (such as the YouTube sensation video ‘Newport State of Mind’), but the report doesn’t discuss how, if at all, this would affect ‘moral rights’.

    Posted by David | October 17, 2011, 12:12 pm
    • moral rights might include “i don’t want my music playing background to a porno movie”, or for a policital cantidate that i totally disagree with (by having my music playing, it may imply that i agree with said politician), an ad to sell cigerettes to children, ect. I have a right to not have my work used in ways that may either disgrace myself, or hurt the ability for me to expliot my own work.

      P.S. Rick:
      The ‘Considerati’ Dutch interview link is broken. (at least from my computer)

      Posted by James_J | October 18, 2011, 1:26 am
      • Link is fixed, thanks.

        I think parody _could_ be consistent with moral rights. If you’re commenting on the work itself, that seems like fair game, since it involves free speech. If you’re using the work to endorse something without the artist’s permission, that shouldn’t be allowed. I think this is something most reasonable people would agree with.

        Posted by roblevine1 | October 18, 2011, 6:28 am
  2. Moral rights are extremely important here in the Netherlands. I remember that my university had to consult with the architect of the ugly seventies building our department was in when they wanted to do paint the walls in some more cheerful colour than gray, because otherwise it could be considered damage to the integrity of his creation.

    Americans usually think this is ridiculous, but strangely enough the most well known advocate for moral rights was an American: JD Salinger (although it’s a bit strange to call someone who refused to talk to any media an advocate.)

    Posted by Martijn | October 18, 2011, 2:01 pm

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