Experts: Copyright law hinders scholarship

Day two of the annual EDUCAUSE higher-education technology conference in Denver, Nov. 3 through 6, saw at least two presenters speak out about the unfair application of strict copyright protections to scholarly journals — a practice, they said, that hinders academic endeavors.

Stanford law professor and activist Lawrence Lessig told the gathering of campus technology chiefs Nov. 5 that restrictive copyright laws are "destructive of science and education," because academia has adopted a copyright model that largely mimics that of the entertainment industry.

Copyright law has expanded over the past century so that it "reaches across the spectrum" of modern culture, controlling which artists and companies can use what music and images for any kind of media production, Lessig said.

"The law now is reaching in ways never intended, never planned, by the framers" of the Constitution, he said. "We should be skeptical."

Entertainers who depend on copyright laws to prohibit unfettered, free access to their works advocate for strict enforcement that has become accepted in many parts of American society, whereas reform advocates desire little or no copyright protection, which Lessig said could serve as a disincentive to artists fearful that their work would be copied without credit.

Lessig, founder of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society and chair of the Creative Commons project, pushed for a middle ground between these two extreme views of copyright policy.

In a separate session on the future of campus computing, George O. Strawn, CIO for the National Science Foundation and a former computer science faculty member at Iowa State University, predicted that within 10 years, all scholarly material will be freely available online–a departure from today, when copyright laws prohibit online access to the vast majority of scholarly journals. Publishers’ blockades, he said, eventually will crumble under public pressure.

"Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle," he said of opponents of free access to web-based articles.

Strawn also predicted that cloud computing will be the campus norm in 10 years, and students soon will have access to PCs that execute a trillion instructions per second.

For more on Lessig’s presentation on copyright law and its effects on research, click here.

To read all of Strawn’s predictions for the future of campus computing, click here.