Lessig In SL: Free Doesn’t Always Work *Update*

Noted Stanford law professor, author and copyleft celebrity Lawrence Lessig made his virtual appearance in Second Life this evening. For many anti-intellectual property activists, some of his comments might come as a surprise. Truth is, he sounded more like Richard Epstein in my opinion than some legal guy supporting music piracy. Don’t believe me? Read the unedited transcript yourself (Link – text file). Here’s one brief excerpt (Note: edited for punctuation and readability):

Lawrence Lessig: In South Africa, there is a research council called something long and too hard to type. They had about 200 researchers in 15 different programs. They wrote books which they then sold. In 2001, they decided to stop publishing books by default. Instead, they published everything for free in electronic form and then they sold print-on-demand books to anyone who wanted.

In 2005, they evaluated the effect of this. Remember: before they sold everything; now they gave everything away for free. Consequence — book sales had gone up by 300%… for obvious reasons: more people knew about the work. And most people (in real space at least) don’t want to read a book on a computer. So making it free made it easier to sell books.

I don’t think that works always, but it does work for some. And all I argue for is the right of creators to make that choice.

Just wait for when electronic paper technology makes print-on-demand books obsolete.

{C|Net, who actually had a journalist watching the event, has posted an article about it. You can read that Here.}