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Lessig preaches openness to Flash faithful

Copyright reformer Lawrence Lessig urges the creation of free content on the proprietary Flash platform.

SAN FRANCISCO--Copyright reformer Lawrence Lessig gave Flash developers an earful Wednesday about how their platform of choice is perceived in the free-software world.

"Flash is the enemy," said Lessig, a Stanford University professor and board member of the Free Software Foundation, as he described the opinions of leading free- and open-source-software advocates. These advocates "hate Flash. They think that by participating in the Flash community, you are feeding the devil."

Lessig, addressing attendees of the Flashforward2005 conference here Wednesday, sounded familiar themes in his talk, titled "The Costs of Copyright." He argued that the digital age has created new demands for the sharing of content that old-media copyright law cannot meet. As a result, he said, outdated copyright law is casting a pall over creative expression and education.

Despite the antipathy to Flash prevalent in open-source circles, Lessig called himself a Flash fan and implored designers and artists using the technology to free their work from conventional copyright protections.

Lessig chairs the Creative Commons organization, which offers a variety of intellectual property licenses less restrictive than the standard "all rights reserved." He cited a recent surge in Creative Commons licenses, as well as Yahoo's launch late last month of a search engine specifically for content released under such licenses.

The format for Macromedia's Flash animation software--.swf--has long been open. That means that other developers can create software tools that produce Flash content.

But the technology itself remains under Macromedia's proprietary control. And unlike HTML, which lets anyone inspect a Web page's underlying source code, Flash movies keep that information under wraps.

On that note, Lessig said Macromedia should study the explosive growth of HTML, which created a vast community of Web developers by allowing them to "steal" from one another and expand on each other's work, as compared with the less spectacular growth of Apple Computer's AppleScript scripting language, which hides its code.

"Flash has got to learn this lesson," Lessig said.

Lessig argued that proprietary platforms like Flash had a rightful place on the Internet, but that developers of such technologies ought to loosen restrictions on their creative property.

"It is absolutely critical that we begin to support the development of free content built on proprietary platforms," he said.

He applauded Adobe's Extensible Metadata Plaform (XMP), which allows developers to embed creative commons licenses in every format the company supports.