June 8, 2003
Fools Rush In
Vincent Gallo: "If a fat pig like Roger Ebert doesn't like my movie, then I'm sorry for him."
Roger Ebert: "It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of 'The Brown Bunny.'"
That Roger Ebert, he's growing positively Churchillian in his old age.
So last Tuesday Lawrence Lessig sent me an email asking me and most everyone else in his address book to sign the "Reclaim the Public Domain" petition.1 Now, ordinarily I'm dubious about online petitions. Take the recent media deregulation debacle: the FCC received on the order of twenty comments for and 200,000 comments against, and Michael Powell went ahead and did it anyway. Hey, who knows -- maybe each pro-deregulation comment was on average 10,000 times more persuasive than its anti-deregulation counterpart. If the bulk of the anti-deregulation comments came from where I think they came from, that ratio wouldn't be surprising.
Nevertheless, the "Reclaim the Public Domain" campaign is a good idea, and it does come from one of my personal heroes, and it was, as Lessig pointed out, his birthday. So how could I say no? More to the point, how could anyone say no? Unless you think the proposed statute doesn't go far enough. Otherwise, if you want perpetual copyright protection over your work, is paying one dollar after the first fifty years too much to ask? (It appears that hordes of well-heeled2 lobbyists are already answering, "Yes.")
This is the kind of thing that just makes me want to rush off to law school, damnit. The problem is that maybe I could get involved in some activism as a student, but by the time I graduate it will be the year 2008. At the rate things are going, by then the battle will be over and I'll just be another debt-ridden young IP lawyer trying to get a job. I imagine it's rather hard to convince a company that you'll fight tooth-and-nail to protect their intellectual property when deep down you don't think fighting tooth-and-nail is always the ethical thing to do. Now is intellectual property a good thing? Absolutely. My mother is an author; my dad's company makes innovative cancer treatment machines. Their livelihood depends on protection for their intellectual property. But do I believe in intellectual property über alles? Hell, no.
I suppose all lawyers struggle with this issue: how to best serve your client while adhering to your own personal ethics.3 Obviously there's no magic formula, but it seems that most lawyers can find a niche if they look hard enough. Some lawyers want to be public defenders. Others want to be prosecutors for the state of Texas. There's something for everybody.
I'm just wondering if the choices are a little more limited for IP lawyers. How many openings does the EFF have, anyway?
1. I should point out that "Lawrence Lessig sent me an email..." might give you the false impression that we, like, hang out and drink beer and stuff. No, no. The reason I meandered my way into his address book is because I recently asked him a couple of questions over email about law school, to which he graciously responded.