Silicon Valley needs to step up and protect the open traditions that have helped build the high-technology industry or run the risk of being dominated by “IP extremists” whose restrictions on the use of intellectual property (IP) would stifle innovation, Stanford Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig told an audience of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, lawyers, and venture capitalists at the Open Source Business Conference here Tuesday.

Citing a decision last year by the World Intellectual Property Organization to cancel a meeting on the role of open source in world intellectual property law, Lessig said that the argument over intellectual property law has become unnecessarily polarized because entities such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claim that there are only two choices when it comes to IP: maximum copyright protection or anarchy.

In reality, Lessig said, the U.S. has long held a balanced approach to intellectual property. Until 1891, for example, the United States did not observe international copyright laws, and until 1976, the vast majority of intellectual property created in the U.S. was not protected by copyright, he said. “We were born a pirate nation,” he said.

Lessig is one of the founders of the Creative Commons, a project aimed at increasing the amount of copyrighted work that is available to be shared. In 2002 he argued unsuccessfully before the U.S. Supreme Court that the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, a U.S. law extending the terms of copyright, should be ruled unconstitutional.

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