In chapter 14 of his The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, Lawrence Lessig suggests that "the net has created a world where content is free." This is essentially true, especially regarding music - both in the gratis (free beer) and libre (free speech) sense. Copyright is intended to protect the rights of copyright owners by preventing the gratis definition of "free." However, with the rise of the internet, it seems the only way to enforce copyright is to limit the access of the music altogether. Is there a way to maintain the libre sense of freedom and still prevent "theft," or the gratis freedom?
Lessig suggests that there is a difference between "music being 'free' and music being available at zero cost." But is this the case? Below, I have attempted to embed two videos featuring "La Vie Boheme" from the movie Rent. The second wouldn't play on this site, so I have posted a link to it. The first, a YouTube video, is a clip of the song taken directly from the movie, a clear case of copyright infringement. The second, however, is a montage of clips from the first four Harry Potter films. Because the video uses both the clips and the song in a new context, it falls under the category of fair use. The user even clearly states:
Despite this disclaimer, YouTube still blocked the video until the user reposted it with different music. Granted, I can understand to some extent why the video was removed. After all, there is a lot of free software I could use to extract the audio from that video. However, I could extract this audio from the first video, or from several other videos. So what exactly is the point of copyright here? How does blocking one video help the owners when I can still extract the audio from any of the other videos?
Even if YouTube managed to block every video with the film version of "La Vie Boheme," it would then clearly be blocking items that are legitimately fair use. How do you protect the rights of the original creators without infringing on the rights of others to recreate and reimagine? However, if YouTube keeps those videos which fall under fair use, how can they prevent me or another user from extracting the music from that video? The short answer - they can't. Lessig fails to address this issue in the text. Though he suggests shorter copyright periods (which would be helpful with older songs), he doesn't address the issue of current, somewhat popular music being available on the web.
Adjusting the copyright terms does nothing to prevent content to be freely available on the internet. Although larger, corporate-sponsored sites like YouTube might block content, other sites, like the site currently hosting the Harry Potter/"La Vie Boheme" video don't censor. With the vastness of the internet, there is virtually no way for copyright enforcers to block every instance of their music from being freely available online. Thus, with the extended nature of the internet, is there even a place for copyright? Does it, or can it, still serve a purpose?