Music online: U.S. copyright law author concedes failure

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

A post on Michael Geist's blog alerted us to a conference on music and copyright [68 kb PDF file] hosted at McGill University in Montreal last week. During the course of the conference, one of the speakers, Bruce Lehman – the architect of the often criticized and much-maligned U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and WIPO Internet Treaties – effectively admitted that his approach had been wrong.

In a session called Musical myopia, digital dystopia, Lehman makes some startling admissions. "Our Clinton administration policies didn't work out very well," Lehman said about the DMCA, adding that "our attempts at copyright control have not been successful."

In the fight for online rights, Lehman largely blames the recording industry's resistance to the internet for the indifferent attitude most young people have for copyright, and thinks the world has entered a "post-copyright" age in which industry patrons will shoulder the yoke of paying for music.

According to Geist, later in the day, he said Canada should experiment with a new approach to copyright that doesn't emulate past mistakes, indicated that he's not a fan of the country's Bill C-60.

In a subsequent blog post, Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow – a former director of the Electronic Frontier Foundationthrew cold water on some of Lehman's assertions:

I think that Lehman is still out of it. Patronage? Has he missed the fact that there are tons of new, copy-friendly artists who are making a good living from touring (using free copies to bring people to gigs), from direct sales of MP3s, from merch, and so on? Sure, these people aren't supporting a label that takes $0.92 out from every buck they earn, but should the law concern itself with full, permanent employment for middlemen? If they add value, they'll survive. If the market doesn't support them, they'll go broke. The point of copyright is to support creativity, not Fortune 100 entertainment giants.

A Windows Media video and slideshow of the earlier session has been posted online, along with the video stream alone, a Google Video version of the full talk and a clip of Lehman's remarks.