Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

Praise for NZ from information freedom pioneer

American law professor and author Lawrence Lessig. File photo / tecklesphoto.com
American law professor and author Lawrence Lessig. File photo / tecklesphoto.com

Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig told an audience this morning that it was New Zealand's exceptional qualities that made him so willing to travel halfway across the world to speak in front of them.

"As hard as it is for you guys to recognise there's something really special here. Relative to everywhere else, there's a high-functioning democracy. Although you argue and bicker about which party should be in control you really need to recognise an extraordinary fact about your country - this is a democracy that works," he said.

Lessig is the founder of the Creative Commons model and a well known advocate of "free culture" - the view that information should be free for all to access, distribute and modify.

He touched down in Auckland for a 48-hour trip to give the keynote address at NetHui, a three-day gathering of the internet community in Auckland.

While showering New Zealand with praise, Lessig said local lawmakers still make mistakes, but that these could be fixed more easily than in his home country due to the lack of corporate lobbying.

"New Zealand and the United States make a [legislative] mistake, New Zealand corrects the mistake, the United States ignores the mistake because lobbying pressure is too strong. The world misses how profoundly bad government in the United States is," he said.

Copyright has been a talking point at NetHui this week, with no shortage of opinions from either speakers or the audience.

Some commentators have gone as far to say that copyright is dead and "needs to be put down".

Weighing in on the debate himself, Lessig suggested the solution is in the middle ground between the music and movie industry's crack-down on illegal file-sharing and those wanting to abolish intellectual property laws.

"[Copyright is] an essential part of the creative industries but it's a crazy system right now and it needs reform and we need to have sensible policy makers who push for that reform so we can isolate the extremists on both sides," he said

Although not perfect, he said the Government's recent Copyright (Infringing File-Sharing) Amendment Bill was a step in the right direction to enacting sensible legislation.

While saying politicians could go further to make intellectual property law more progressive, he called on New Zealand to continue resisting extreme copyright policies.

"Get together with like-minded rational, sensible democracies and begin to articulate firmly why this extremism makes no sense. Make it clear to the world that when you talk about balance in terms of intellectual property, you're not saying abolish copyright," he said.

New Zealand's "three-strikes" copyright policy, which could see those caught downloading copyrighted material receive a fine of up to $15,000, comes into effect on September 1.

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