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Industry Rule #4081: Don't Mess With Harvard Prof Lawrence Lessig

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on August 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If we were a record company, the last person we'd pick a fight with would be Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig. With four degrees from Ivy League Schools, clerkships with Judge Posner and Justice Scalia, and a noted copyright expert, he seems like the last person you would accuse of copyright infringement.

But that's precisely what Australian company Liberation Music did, reports The Boston Globe.

Lawrence Lessig & "Lisztomania"

At a 2010 Creative Commons conference in Seoul, Korea, Professor Lessig gave a presentation called "Open," which talked about the "call and response" phenomenon as it plays out online, reports The Daily Online Examiner. The presentation included clips of Phoenix's "Lisztomania," as well as other YouTube users' copycat videos. The lecture was posted online on

Liberation Music threatened to sue Professor Lessig for his use of "Lisztomania" because they owned the license. Taking the threat of litigation seriously, Professor Lessig filed a complaint in district court seeking a declaratory judgment.

The Complaint

In an 11-page complaint, Professor Lessig is seeking relief, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, for a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and damages. Lessig argues that his use of the "Lisztomania" video is permitted as "fair use" under the Copyright Act. He further claims he is entitled to damages because Liberation Music's "knowing and material representation" that Professor Lessig violated their copyright interests.

Professor Lessig argues that "illustrative use of the clips in question, particularly in the context of a public lecture about culture and the Internet, is permitted under the fair use doctrine and, therefore, does not infringe the defendant's copyright." He further bolsters his argument by stating that his purpose was "non-commercial and highly transformative," he used a "minimal amount" in his presentation and there is "no market harm."

The Outcome?

The court has not yet issued an opinion, but to us, this seems like a textbook example of the "fair use" doctrine. We're betting on Lessig.

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