Left wing copyright, intellectual copyright scholars?
April 22, 2014 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Who are the most well known academics in the field of intellectual property, and especially copyright law? Especially academics active in the last 5-10 years? The more radical, the better.

I've been looking for left of center legal academics, but not finding much. I'm familiar with Chris Sprigman, Mark F. Schultz, Jonathan Barnett, and a few others who have been writing about fields where there is little protection for intellectual property but still have high production rates (fashion, stand-up comedy, etc.). Their work leans left by and large, at least as far as legal IP academia goes.

But what I haven't found, is much in the way of "tear this system down, reduce copyright on books and TV, who cares if it destroys the record companies". Is there just no one in academia making these arguments? Or just not in academic journals?
posted by skewed to Law & Government (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Not a lot of people in IP academia are seriously making that argument AFAIK. (I worked in IP law until a year ago.)

He doesn't have the politics you're looking for but the most well-known intellectual property academic at the moment is this guy.
posted by eugenen at 11:42 AM on April 22, 2014

Best answer: Lawrence Lessig, perhaps? He's written some books (and maybe some in journals, but I'm not in that audience). He's not as radical as you'd like, but he has advocated for some rather aggressive copyright reforms (e.g., dramatically reducing the duration of copyrights) and regards the record companies as actively harmful. In recent years he's taken an interest in money in politics, after making little progress in reforming copyright. But some of his less-recent work (but still within your specified time frame) has been on copyright and may be of interest to you.
posted by ddbeck at 11:44 AM on April 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: When I think of this (as more of a librarian and less of an academic) I think of the people who are involved with or at least tangential to the Free Culture Movement. So people like Larry Lessig, Rick Prelinger and also Fair Use advocates like Peter Jaszi and (MeFi's own) James Grimmelmann. In the library world there are people like Peter Hirtle (who worked to make many of Cornell's library items officially public domain) and Peter Suber who is a big Open Access proponent. I also think of the non-academic folks at Public Resource who I think have a principled approach to freeing up more information that is nebulously copyrighted. Add to this the work that the people (including me) at the Open Library do and I think there are a lot of people going in this direction but usually it's one of a few things that they do. I went to a conference a few years back with a lot of these sorts of folks and you can see the speaker list here. Some folks on it worth checking out include Niva Elkin-Koren from the University of Haifa, Ariel Katz from the University of Toronto and Pamela Samuelson, University of California at Berkeley.
posted by jessamyn at 11:51 AM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Lessig is a voice of reason, but not particularly radical. He just looks radical in comparison to the current "IP 4 lyfe" cartels.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:51 AM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Michael Geist is probably close to what you're looking for, although he's a Canadian and mostly deals with Canadian issues. He is an academic (law professor) but I believe he mostly blogs and works in the mass media rather than publishing in academic journals.
posted by pocams at 11:56 AM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is there just no one in academia making these arguments? Or just not in academic journals?

Not in the legal academy anyway. There's probably two reasons for this, one theoretical, one practical.

The theoretical reason is that copyright serves a very important function in information economies entirely separate from whatever impact it might have upon publishing/media companies' bottom lines. Simply put: copyright is a really big contributor to the reliability and stability of texts. Copyright isn't just about money. It's at least partially about maintaining the integrity of the relationship between author, publisher, and reader. It's how you know that a book you pick up (or article you read online, whatever) was written by whom it purports to have been written, published when it purports to have been published, and is identical to all other copies of the work. That's really important. Before copyright came into its own as a legal doctrine, this sort of thing was an enormous problem. An early-modern English monarch (Henry VIII, I think) actually imposed a temporary ban on the publication of legal texts because the publishers were involved in a piracy war which resulted in a flood of error-ridden law books. Regulation of copyright is part of what put an end to that sort of thing.

The practical reason is that, in the US anyway, copyright is actually enshrined in the Constitution. Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 8.. Congress has the power to issue and regulate copyright. To change that you'd need to amend the Constitution, which isn't a realistic goal at this point. As such, arguing that copyright be abolished is sort of a non-starter. Anyone sufficiently radical to want to completely eliminate copyright is probably also sufficiently radical to want to get rid of the entire Constitution anyway, and that's not really a viable position for a law professor.
posted by valkyryn at 12:06 PM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all, I'm not really looking for the reasons why Copyright is good or bad, I would just like to know who in legal IP academia is considered the most radical, and see what they have to say.

Answers have been very helpful so far, thanks very much.
posted by skewed at 12:10 PM on April 22, 2014

Julie E. Cohen, but law professors tend toward conservatism, even the radical ones.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:11 PM on April 22, 2014

Best answer: The wikipedia entry on the topic lists the following scholars and commentators as being opposed to copyright: Lawrence Liang, Jorge Cortell, Rasmus Fleischer, Stephan Kinsella, and Siva Vaidhyanathan.
posted by Area Man at 12:27 PM on April 22, 2014

Best answer: The practical reason is that, in the US anyway, copyright is actually enshrined in the Constitution. Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 8.. Congress has the power to issue and regulate copyright. To change that you'd need to amend the Constitution, which isn't a realistic goal at this point. As such, arguing that copyright be abolished is sort of a non-starter.

This is an absurd argument. The patent and copyright clause does not require Congress to provide for copyright protection any more than the "raise and support Armies" clause requires Congress to maintain a standing army (which clearly it didn't do for much of US history). The same is true of every other enumerated power.

Anyway, to actually answer your question: Steven Shavell has argued that it would be socially beneficial to abolish copyright protection for academic works. Steven Shavell, Should Copyright of Academic Works be Abolished?, 2 J. Legal Analysis 301 (2010) (pdf link). Boldrin and Levine have famously argued against all forms of intellectual property. Michele Boldrin & David K. Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly (2008) (pdf link).

This page lists about 20 legal scholars that are in favor of "IP abolition or something close to it". I should emphasize the "or something close to it" because the list includes Justice Stephen Breyer, who has explicitly rejected the idea of copyright abolition even if he isn't in favor of extending the scope of copyright protection.
posted by jedicus at 2:00 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Bob Bone.

(And he's a genuinely awesome person to boot!)
posted by sevensnowflakes at 2:24 PM on April 22, 2014

Best answer: As far as scholars and influential "thought leaders" (hate that expression) who are definitely supporting open expression, sharing IP, etc, and influencing rank and file in academia (not merely other scholars, but the administrators and counsel calling shots on these questions)...

How about "Property Outlaws" authors Sonia Katyal and Eduardo M. Penalver? Their book argues that transgressing property (including IP) law actually strengthens it? He's at Chicago, she's at Fordham. His work appears to be more weighted toward tangible property, land, etc., while hers is much more about IP.

Patricia Aufderheide at American University. Peter Jaszi is her colleague there; Jaszi is law faculty, Aufderheide has the media and journalism background; she runs the Center for Media & Social Impact.

Wendy Seltzer at Harvard. She's interested in IP online, technology. Like Aufderheide, I think she reaches many more people outside traditional academic circles, due to her creation, the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse.

Eric Faden of Bucknell
fired off quite a shot with his Disney copyright video. He focuses on some other research interests - but a point here - he's written a manifesto about moving away from papers and creating more multimedia. If you are limiting your materials to traditional journal articles and books, maybe there's someone who is extremely well known - Faden's video is sold on DVD and has been viewed by millions - but who isn't going to appear in a journal.

At Iowa, Kembrew McLeod is an activist who sassed Michelle Bachmann as "Roboprofessor" (the footage is hilarious), but also a theorist and documentarian who has written, cowritten, or produced several books and documentaries on IP.

A affliated scholar at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society is Yana Welinder. She's now legal counsel for Wikimedia Foundation, and pushed for an open trademark there, which could influence other companies, organizations etc. down the road.

These people are also fairly interdisciplinary in their research and activism, and their influential thoughts are not necessarily going to be found in traditional journal articles, but instead qualify as journalism, documentary, public policy, creative video art, etc.
posted by mitschlag at 3:38 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

James Boyle has written critical stuff about IP in general; as I recall, Terry Fisher is skeptical of a lot of copyright too.
posted by paultopia at 3:59 PM on April 22, 2014

Eben Moglen at Columbia Law. He wrote The dotCommunist manifesto.
posted by shivohum at 8:27 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola aren't as far left as Lessig and co. but they are pretty convincing about the need for pervasive, and far more liberal reforms. They're specifically interested in the issues of copyright/IP in relation to digital sampling in music, and provide a historically grounded intro to how we got to the mess we're in now as well.
posted by dr. boludo at 8:27 PM on April 22, 2014

Mod note: Stop arguing about copyright here, take it to MeMail.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:46 AM on April 23, 2014

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