No Subject

Mahatma Kane-Jeeves mkj at
Tue Sep 7 12:46:19 PDT 1999

Has anyone here seen the so-called Lehman Panel report?  It is
available by ftp from, in the directory /pub/nii-ip.  It
is offered there in several formats.  The deadline for comments is
September 7th.  (Sorry about the short notice, but I've only just
recently discovered the report myself.)

The Lehman Panel is more officially known as the "Working Group on
Intellectual Property Rights", a subcommittee of President Clinton's
"Information Infrastructure Task Force".  The Lehman Panel report
makes a number of recommendations concerning changes to current
intellectual property law, in light of challenges presented by the
National Information Infrastructure (NII) project.

This appears to me to be quite an important report, which could play a
major role in shaping vital aspects of our near-future society.  I
find the whole approach taken by the panel disturbing, though perhaps
not surprising.  Very briefly, my general concerns are these:

There appears to be a natural tension between current intellectual
property law and the widespread deployment of computer networking.
(John Barlow has put it more simply: "Copyright is dead".)  The Lehman
panel's report, rather than trying to accomodate and adapt to the
inevitable effects of the NII, instead recommends tightening up
existing laws, and expanding their scope, in an attempt to preserve
the status quo and protect established interests.  It seems to me that
this approach would dramatically undercut the potential of the NII,
making many of its most natural uses and benefits illegal.  Worse, I
believe this approach would create a body of law which will make speed
limits look well-respected by comparison, and any attempt to enforce
these laws is likely to be destructive and unpleasant for all of us.

There are numerous other, more specific things in this report which
make me unhappy, too -- such as the presumption that the NII should be
little more than a new marketplace for old businesses; the creation of
gratuitous new rights for major record labels which would hurt
artists, and would enable the record companies to control the digital
audio server industry; and most frightening of all, the shameless
suggestion that the public schools should be used to pound these new
rules into the heads of children as early as Kindergarten.

I've obviously considered firing off a letter of comment myself, but
after I calmed down I realized how little impact that would be likely
to have.  So I decided the most constructive thing I could do would be
to post this "alert" here, in the hope that someone with better
qualifications and resources than myself might pick up the ball.

Thanks for your attention.

                                        ---  mkj

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