Core Copyright

Copyright essentials for everyday creators

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Yochai Benkler & Why Copyright Matters

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Yochai Benkler is one of the nation’s leading communications and intellectual property scholars. A law professor at Harvard University, Benkler’s areas of scholarship and expertise include collaboration, social networks, open access, network theory, and the commons. Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006, Yale University Press), has been widely acclaimed as one of this decade’s most important works about the World Wide Web.

The Wealth of Networks is an important book, but it also is a dense tome that is not easily accessible to people that do not have legal, technological or (most importantly) economics backgrounds. Fortunately, Benkler’s core thesis in Wealth (and a good synopsis of much of his recent scholarship) is summarized in a brief lecture he gave at the TED Conference in 2005. If you have any interest in business, economics or law — especially as they apply to the Web — the lecture, which is available from YouTube below (as well as from the TED Web site) is well worth your 18 minutes.

One of Benkler’s quotes in this lecture seems particularly appropriate to the Core Copyright mission, and echoes what I have written previously about the contemporary importance of copyright and other intellectual property issues to the average citizen:

Social production is a real fact not a fad. It is the critical long-term shift caused by the Internet. Social relations and exchange become significantly more important than they ever were as an economic phenomenon. In some contexts, it’s even more more efficient because of the quality of the information, the ability to find the best person, the lower transaction costs.

It’s sustainable and growing fast, but — and this is the dark lining — it is threatened by … the incumbent industrial systems. So next time you open the paper and you see an intellectual property decision, a [telecommunications] decision, it’s not about something small and technical. It is about the future of the freedom to be as social beings with each other, and the way information, knowledge, and culture will be produced. It is in this context that we see a battle over how easy or hard it will be for the industrial information economy to simply go on as it goes, or for the new model of production to begin to develop alongside that industrial model, and change the way we begin to see the world and report what it is that we see.

On the surface, Benkler’s words seem dramatic, almost dire. And Benkler was talking broadly about intellectual property, not just copyright. (I trust readers now recognize the distinction.)

I agree with Benkler, however, that currently there is a battle taking place that generally concerns the scope and parameters of information use, sharing, and protection. Core Copyright is not the place within which I will debate the merits of any particular perspective within this battle. Instead, what we are attempting to provide here is usable, accurate, and accessible information about the U.S. copyright system so you can make your own reasonably informed decision about whether any single perspective is true or acceptable.


Yochai Benker at TED 2005:

Text: © Copyright 2009, Core Copyright. On Twitter @corecopyright

Written by K Matthew Dames

12/29/2009 at 15:30