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Lessig, Fair Use, and Open Video Alliance

The Open Video Alliance, which pushes for more and better open-source tools to make, edit, showcase and access video, held a dramatic demonstration of the power of open source on Feb. 25. A speech by copyright guru Larry Lessig was beamed via open-source codec Ogg Theora to more than 40 venues around the world. American University was one of them; a group of the copyright-curious gathered to watch the speech, which was only occasionally garbled. Lessig spoke passionately about the vitality of remix, or read-write culture, and the need for "free/fair" copyright policies. He then urged people to work to get corporate money out of Congress, so that better copyright policies could be passed.

I was thrilled to see the Center's logo within Lessig's presentation, as he saluted those who are working on fair use, the major tool copyright gives us today to quote copyrighted material without permission or payment. I was less thrilled to hear him repeat a now-outdated phrase, "Fair use is the right to hire a lawyer," in his responses to questions. These days, for a growing number of creator and user groups, fair use is a right made easy to use by consulting a code of best practices. Both documentarians and K-12 English teachers use their codes to work without fear, and their insurers and librarians agree with them. Remixes all over YouTube cheerfully assert their fair use rights, and even link to the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video. This is change we not only can believe in, but we can actually see. Maybe we're seeing a glass half full here at the Center, but as powerful a persuader as Larry Lessig needs to at least see a glass half empty, not just an empty glass!

I was also thrilled, following the speech, to be present at the birth of the first American University chapter of Students for a Free Culture, and to sign up as a faculty advisor for it-especially since it is a precedent-setting example of students in our law school, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Communication and School of International Service all working together! Write socialmedia at american dot edu for more information.