In this final bonus Walled Culture podcast episode – recorded mid-2022 and kept under wraps as a special 1st anniversary episode, we welcome Fred von Lohmann, former Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Google copyright counsel. Our conversation starts with recalling how he got intrigued by copyright, crediting John Perry Barlow, and explaining how he was at the right juncture to become a tech enthusiast.
Fred talks about his role at EFF during what was a unique time from a copyright perspective, characterised by pivotal court cases in the 2000s. He looks back at the impact and effects of the rights holders’ battle against peer-to-peer (P2P) technology. Their fierce resistance against anything related to P2P, in his view, crippled the potential transition towards a decentralised Internet back then. He did see one silver lining from the aftermath: the P2P revolution opened music fans’ eyes to what could be, pressuring the music industry to start meeting consumers’ demand.
Fred highlights the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) (invisible) role in shaping our daily lives. On the one hand, the DMCA gave a legal justification to rights holders’ control over technology beyond the copyright realm by providing legal protections for Digital Rights Management (DRM). This has impacted various types of content, be it (now old-school) DVDs, eBooks or games. On the other, the DMCA boosted the Internet’s success through the safe harbour regime, offering a shelter from the ‘open sea’ with hurricanes of lawsuits.
The latter troubled rights holders, leading Fred to discuss the emergence of (imperfect) copyright filters. In this context, he touches upon Google’s Content ID, rights holder abuses, and the EU Copyright Directive’s questionable filtering obligations. He puts forward a crucial, yet unanswered, question in this debate: “how do you build filters that are fair to users and also don’t constrict creativity too much?”
Finally, Fred briefly shares his insights on how copyright intersects with competition and innovation, especially in the context of software interfaces. In his closing remarks, he echoes some of Cory Doctorow’s wisdom, as he emphasises the need to think about copyright’s impact on fans and innovators.
Ready to watch our passionate interviewee talking about the 21st-century walls blocking access to culture? Then check out the vlog below.
Video highlights with timestamps:
01:42 The conversion moment: a Stanford Law student triggered by John Perry Barlow
05:09 A tech enthusiast: the ARPANET days and tech exposure in the San Francisco Bay area
10:16 A unique period from a copyright perspective: joining the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
14:46 Pivotal court cases in the 2000s: from MGM v. Grokster to JibJab’s ‘This Land is Your Land’ parody
22:34 The knock-on effects of rights holders’ P2P battle: a missed opportunity for a decentralised Internet
29:00 No iTunes without Napster: the music industry’s path to meeting consumers’ demand
31:06 The Internet’s ‘invisible’ part shaping our reality: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) safe harbour vs. the ‘open sea’ with hurricanes of lawsuits
34:28 The DMCA & Digital Rights Management (DRM): a legal justification to rights holders’ control over technology beyond the copyright realm
37:00 DRM: rights holders dictating the rules, from (now old-school) DVDs to eBooks and games
44:11 The DMCA’s safe harbour: boosting the Internet’s success, while troubling rights holders
47:25 (Imperfect) copyright filters: from Google’s Content ID, rights holder abuses, to the EU Copyright Directive’s questionable filtering obligations
53:12 Filters vs. the remix culture: allow people to engage with culture for the benefit of rights holders
57:20 Software interfaces: copyright raising important questions for competition and innovation
01:03:11 Echoing Cory Doctorow’s wisdom: think about copyright’s impact on fans and innovators