Posted by: Ellie Kutz | May 4, 2010

Claiming Educational Fair Use: Lewis Hyde’s Thoughts on Copyright in a Digital Age

Lewis Hyde is a renowned poet and essayist, the former director of undergraduate creative writing at Harvard, and the current Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College.  But he is also a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, thinking about the ways in which art and the commercial world intersect in the digital age, the role that copyright plays, and how the fair use exceptions to copyright might be claimed/reclaimed by a community of artists, scholars, and teachers.  He has been invited to share his thinking about these issues at the Educational Technology Conference on May 13. 

Hyde has been teasing out these concerns for some time.  In his 1983 book, The Gift, he explored the tension between conceiving of artistic endeavor as a gift and as a commodity, and in the 2006 Afterword to a new edition, he identifies the problem that creative work is not well supported by market forces (<>). In a 2005 essay for the Berkman Center, he traces the history of how intellectual property was seen by the framers of the constitution as they addressed the problem of “how to create a public sphere, a realm, that is, of thought and deliberation independent of the government, the aristocracy, and the church,” how others have negotiate the territory between individual rights and the common good and how this history shapes the current tensions over copyright between in the music industry, for example (<>).  In a recent contribution to a blog on the Expressive Life (< > ), he reiterates the understanding of blog contributors that “our default conceptions of ‘art’ and ‘culture’ leave us blind to and powerless before many of the forces that in fact affect expressive/cultural/artistic life.” 

Currently Professor Hyde is working with colleagues at the Berkman Center on the Freedom to Teach project, an initiative to create a consensus in the academic community “about the scope and limitations of users rights in a contemporary culture that is, on the one hand, increasingly participatory and technologically innovative and on the other hand increasingly marked by the expansion and tightening of traditional copyright”  (< >).  This work provides the underpinnings for the thoughts he will share with us at the conference.


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