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Lawrence Lessig

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Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig
Born (1961-06-03) June 3, 1961
Rapid City, South Dakota, U.S.
Alma mater
Occupation academic and political activist
Known for
Spouse(s) Bettina Neuefeind
Interview with Lawrence Lessig in 2009

Lawrence "Larry" Lessig (born June 3, 1961) is an American academic and political activist. He is a proponent of reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark, and radio frequency spectrum, particularly in technology applications, and he has called for state-based activism to promote substantive reform of government with a Second Constitutional Convention.[1] In May 2014, he launched a crowd-funded political action committee which he termed Mayday PAC with the purpose of electing candidates to Congress who would pass campaign finance reform.[2]

Lessig is director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and a professor of law at Harvard Law School. Previously, he was a professor of law at Stanford Law School and founder of the Center for Internet and Society. Lessig is a founding board member of Creative Commons and the founder of Rootstrikers, and is on the board of MapLight.[3] He is on the advisory boards of the Democracy Café,[4] Sunlight Foundation[5] and Americans Elect.[6] He is a former board member of the Free Software Foundation, Software Freedom Law Center and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.[7]

Academic career

Born in Rapid City, South Dakota, Lessig grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and earned a B.A. in Economics and a B.S. in Management (Wharton School) from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Cambridge (Trinity) in England, and a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School in 1989. After graduating from law school, he clerked for a year for Judge Richard Posner, at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, Illinois, and another year for Justice Antonin Scalia at the Supreme Court.[8]

Lessig started his academic career at the University of Chicago Law School, where he was Professor from 1991 to 1997. From 1997 to 2000, he was at Harvard Law School, holding for a year the chair of Berkman Professor of Law, affiliated with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.[8] He subsequently joined Stanford Law School, where he established the school's Center for Internet and Society.[9]

Lessig speaking with Harvard internet law professor Jonathan Zittrain

Lessig returned to Harvard in December 2008 as Professor and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.[10] In 2013, Lessig was appointed as the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership; his chair lecture was titled "Aaron's Laws: Law and Justice in a Digital Age."[11][12] In 2013, Lessig was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the Faculty of Social Sciences at Lund University, Sweden.[13]

Political activism

Lessig is currently considered politically liberal. As a law clerk, however, he worked for both Judge Richard Posner and Justice Antonin Scalia, two influential conservative judges.

Lessig has emphasized in interviews that his philosophy experience at Cambridge radically changed his values and career path. Previously, he had held strong conservative or libertarian political views, desired a career in business, was a highly active member of Teenage Republicans, served as the Youth Governor for Pennsylvania through the YMCA Youth and Government program[14] in 1978, and almost pursued a Republican political career.

What was intended to be a year abroad at Cambridge, convinced him instead to stay another two years to complete a graduate degree in philosophy and develop his changed political values. During this time, he also traveled in the Eastern Bloc, where he acquired a lifelong interest in Eastern European law and politics.

Lessig refuses to embrace conventional libertarianism. While he remains skeptical of government intervention, he favors regulation by calling himself "a constitutionalist." In his blog, Lessig came out in favor of then Democratic primary candidate Barack Obama, citing the transformative nature of the Obama campaign as one of his chief reasons. On one occasion, Lessig also commended the John McCain campaign for discussing fair use rights in a letter to YouTube where it took issue with YouTube for indulging overreaching copyright claims leading to the removal of various campaign videos.[15]

In a speech in 2011, Lessig revealed that he was disappointed with Obama's performance in office, criticizing it as a "betrayal", and he criticized the president for using "the (Hillary) Clinton playbook".[16] Lessig has called for state governments to call for a national constitutional convention,[17] and that the convention be populated by a "random proportional selection of citizens" which he suggested would work effectively. He said "politics is a rare sport where the amateur is better than the professional."[17]

In 2013 he was an attendee of the 61th Conference of the Bilderberg Group, which took place in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, on 6–9 June.[18]

Money in politics

Lessig having a discussion with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff

At the iCommons iSummit 07, Lessig announced that he will stop focusing his attention on copyright and related matters and will work on political corruption instead.[19] This new work may be partially facilitated through his wiki, Lessig Wiki, which he has encouraged the public to use to document cases of corruption.[20] Lessig criticized the revolving door phenomenon in which legislators and staffers leave office to become lobbyists and have become beholden to special interests.[21]

In February 2008, a Facebook group formed by law professor John Palfrey encouraged him to run for Congress from California's 12th congressional district, the seat vacated by the death of U.S. Representative Tom Lantos.[22] Later that month, after forming an "exploratory project", he decided not to run for the vacant seat.[23]

Lessig speaking before Change Congress and the Sunlight Foundation

Despite having decided to forgo running for Congress himself, Lessig remained interested in attempting to change Congress to reduce corruption.[23] To this end, he worked with political consultant Joe Trippi to launch a web based project called ", a nonprofit research group illuminating the connection between money and politics.

Lessig has known president Barack Obama since their days of both teaching law at the University of Chicago, and had been mentioned as a candidate to head the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the telecommunications industry.[26]

At his talk at the 2009 Aspen Ideas Festival, Professor Lessig talked about Forbin Problems in a talk entitled Will Technology Change Our Lives?[27] and also about his idea that the American public has lost faith in the central institution of our democracy, Congress.[28]

Constitutional convention

In 2010, Lessig began to organize for a national constitutional convention.[29] He co-founded Fix Congress First! with public campaign financing and electoral college reform to establish the one person, one vote principle.[36]


Dylan Ratigan’s Get Money Out campaign.[39][40]

NH Rebellion

From January 11th until January 24th, 2014, Larry Lessig and many others, like New York activist Jeff Kurzon, marched from Dixville Notch, NH to Nashua NH (a 185 mile march) to promote the idea of tackling "The Systemic Corruption in Washington." He chose this language over calling it "Campaign Finance Reform," stating that "Saying we need campaign finance reform is like referring to an alcoholic as someone who has a liquid intake problem." The walk was to continue the work of NH Native Doris "Granny D" Haddock. The NH Rebellion will march again on July 4 and 5.

Internet and computer activism

Lessig with fellow Creative Commons board member Joi Ito

"Code is law"

In computer science, "code" typically refers to the text of a computer program (the source code). In law, "code" can refer to the texts that constitute statutory law. In his 1999 book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lessig explores the ways in which code in both senses can be instruments for social control, leading to his dictum that "Code is law." Lessig later updated his work in order to keep up with the prevailing views of the time and released the book as Code: Version 2.0 in December 2006.

Legislative reform

Despite presenting an anti-regulatory standpoint in many fora, Lessig still sees the need for legislative enforcement of copyright. He has called for limiting copyright terms for creative professionals to five years, but believes that creative professionals' work, many of them independent, would become more easily and quickly available if bureaucratic procedure were introduced to renew trademarks for up to 75 years after this five-year term. [41] Lessig has repeatedly taken a stance that privatization through legislation like that seen in the 1980s in the UK with British Telecommunications is not the best way to help the Internet grow. He said, "When government disappears, it's not as if paradise will take its place. When governments are gone, other interests will take their place," "My claim is that we should focus on the values of liberty. If there is not government to insist on those values, then who?" "The single unifying force should be that we govern ourselves." [42]

Free Culture

Lessig and Aaron Swartz in 2002 at the launch party for Creative Commons

In 2002, Lessig received the Award for the Advancement of Free Software from the Free Software Foundation (FSF), and on March 28, 2004 he was elected to the FSF's Board of Directors.[43] In 2006, Lessig was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[44] Lessig is also a well-known critic of copyright term extensions.

He proposed the concept of "Free Culture".[45] He also supports free software and open spectrum.[46] At his Free Culture keynote at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention 2002, a few minutes of his speech was about software patents,[47] which he views as a rising threat to both free/open source software and innovation.

In March 2006, Lessig joined the board of advisors of the Digital Universe project.[48] A few months later, Lessig gave a talk on the ethics of the Free Culture Movement at the 2006 Wikimania conference. In December 2006 his lecture On Free, and the Differences between Culture and Code was one of the highlights at 23C3 Who can you trust?.[49]

Lessig claimed in 2009 that, because 70% of young people obtain digital information from illegal sources, the law should be changed.[50]

In a foreword to the Freesouls book project, Lessig makes an argument in favor of amateur artists in the world of digital technologies: "there is a different class of amateur creators that digital technologies have... enabled, and a different kind of creativity has emerged as a consequence."[51]

In 2014 Lessig received Lifetime Achievement at the 2014 Webby Awards as cofounder of Creative Commons.[52]

Net neutrality

Lessig and Jimmy Wales at the iCommons iSummit07 in Dubrovnik

Lessig has long been known to be a supporter of Net Neutrality. In 2006, he testified before the US Senate that he believed Congress should ratify Michael Powell's four Internet freedoms and add a restriction to access-tiering, i.e. he does not believe content providers should be charged different amounts. The reason is that the Internet, under the neutral end-to-end design is an invaluable platform for innovation, and the economic benefit of innovation would be threatened if large corporations could purchase faster service to the detriment of newer companies with less capital. However, Lessig has supported the idea of allowing ISPs to give consumers the option of different tiers of service at different prices. He was reported on CBC News as saying that he has always been in favour of allowing internet providers to charge differently for consumer access at different speeds. He said, "Now, no doubt, my position might be wrong. Some friends in the network neutrality movement as well as some scholars believe it is wrong—that it doesn't go far enough. But the suggestion that the position is 'recent' is baseless. If I'm wrong, I've always been wrong." [53]

Combating sexual abuse

In May 2005, it was revealed that Lessig had experienced sexual abuse by the director at the American Boychoir School which he had attended as an adolescent.[54] Lessig reached a settlement with the school in the past, under confidential terms. He revealed his experiences in the course of representing another student victim, John Hardwicke, in court.[55] In August 2006, he succeeded in persuading the New Jersey Supreme Court to restrict the scope of immunity radically, which had protected nonprofits that failed to prevent sexual abuse from legal liability.[56]

Legal challenges

External video
Q&A: Lawrence Lessig (58:48), C-SPAN[57]
Larry Lessig: Laws that choke creativity (19:08), TED talks[58]
TEDxNYED – Lawrence Lessig (19:07), TEDx talks[59]

Lessig's political opinions on copyright law have led to legal challenges where he has attempted to put them into action without legislative change. In March 2003, he acknowledged severe disappointment with his Supreme Court defeat in the Eldred copyright-extension case, where he unsuccessfully tried to convince Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who has sympathies for de-regulation, to back his "market-based" approach to intellectual property regulation.[60]

In August 2013, Lawrence Lessig brought suit against Liberation Music PTY Ltd., after Liberation issued a takedown notice of one of Lessig's lectures on YouTube which had used the song "Lisztomania" by the band Phoenix, whom Liberation Music represents.[61][62] Lessig sought damages under section 512(f) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which holds parties liable for misrepresentations of infringement or removal of material.[63] Lessig was represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Jones Day.[64] In February 2014 the case ended with a settlement in which Liberation Music admitted wrongdoing in issuing the takedown notice, issued an apology, and paid a confidential sum in compensation.[65][66]

Notable cases

Personal life

Lessig is married to Bettina Neuefeind, and is the father of three children (Willem, Teo, and Tess).[71]

In popular culture

Lessig was portrayed by Christopher Lloyd in "The Wake Up Call", the February 9, 2005 episode of The West Wing.[72]



See also


  1. ^ Alesh Houdek (November 16, 2011). "Has a Harvard Professor Mapped Out the Next Step for Occupy Wall Street?". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 17, 2011. Lawrence Lessig's call for state-based activism on behalf of a Constitutional Convention could provide the uprooted movement with a political project for winter 
  2. ^ Naureen Khan, May 2, 2014, Al Jazeera, May Day PAC wants to end all Super PACs, Accessed May 7, 2014, "kick-start May Day PAC, which, if successful, will help elect enough like-minded lawmakers to Congress in 2014 and 2016 to pass campaign finance reform.... 'Yes, we want to spend big money to end the influence of big money,' Lessig said"
  3. ^ Maplight. "Board Members" at
  4. ^ Penn Alum Lawrence Lessig to Speak at National Constitution Center for Democracy Café Penn News, March 14, 2013
  5. ^ Board and Advisory Board Sunlight Foundation, February 14, 2011
  6. ^ Americans Elect. List of "Leadership" at
  7. ^ Lessig, Lawrence. "In Defense of Piracy". The Wall Street Journal. October 11, 2008.
  8. ^ a b Lawrence, Lessig. "Curriculum Vitae". Retrieved July 25, 2010. 
  9. ^ Lawrence, Lessig. "Short Biography". Retrieved July 25, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Lawrence Lessig named professor of law at HLS, director of Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics". Harvard Law School. December 12, 2008. Retrieved July 25, 2010. 
  11. ^ Lessig on "Aaron's Laws – Law and Justice in a Digital Age". YouTube (2013-02-20). Retrieved on 2013-09-19.
  12. ^ Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review – A summary of Lawrence Lessig’s Chair Lecture at Harvard Law School. Retrieved on 2013-09-19.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "YMCA Youth and Government Pennsylvania (PA State YMCA)". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  15. ^ Lessig, Lawrence (2008-10-13). "McCain/Palin to YouTube: Get real (Lessig Blog)". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  16. ^ Lawrence Lessig (Nov 16, 2011). "Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It". Google, YouTube, Huffington Post. Retrieved 2011-12-13. (see question & answer session near the end of the video; see 50:30+) 
  17. ^ a b Lawrence Lessig (Nov 16, 2011). "Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It". Google, YouTube, Huffington Post. Retrieved 2011-12-13. (see 32.06 minutes into the video) 
  18. ^ Bilderberg Meetings Hertfordshire. England: 6-9 June 2013. Final list of Participants, form the official website of the Bilderberg Group.
  19. ^ Lessig, Lawrence (2007-06-19). "Required Reading: the next 10 years (Lessig Blog)". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  20. ^ "Lessig’s blog July 29, 2007 11:55pm". 
  21. ^ Lawrence Lessig (February 8, 2010). "How to Get Our Democracy Back". CBS News, The Nation. Retrieved 2011-12-14. 
  22. ^ "Draft Lessig – Change Congress". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  23. ^ a b Lessig, Lawrence (2008-02-25). "On why I am not running (Lessig Blog)". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  24. ^ Previous post Next post (2008-03-20). "Stanford Law Professor Larry Lessig Bets 'WorldHeritage' Approach Will Transform Congress | Threat Level from". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  25. ^ "Sunlight Foundation Webcast". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  26. ^ Kumar, Vishesh; Rhoads, Christopher (December 15, 2008). "Google Wants Its Own Fast Track on the Web". The Wall Street Journal. 
  27. ^ "AIF 09: Will Technology Change Our Life? (2)". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  28. ^ "Aspen Ideas Festival 2009". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  29. ^ "Call a Convention". Call a Convention. Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  30. ^ About, Fix Congress First!
  31. ^ "The Movement to Organize the Call for a Convention"
  32. ^ Conference on the Constitutional Convention, Harvard University, September 24-5, 2011
  33. ^ Lessig, L. (2011) Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It (New York City: Hachette/Twelve) excerpt
  34. ^ Tackett, C. (October 19, 2011) "Could #OccupyWallStreet Become a Constitutional Convention?" Discovery /
  35. ^ Froomkin, Dan (October 5, 2011) "Lawrence Lessig's New Book On Political Corruption Offers Protesters A Possible Manifesto" Huffington Post
  36. ^ Hill, Adriene (October 4, 2011) "Campaign finance, lobbying major roadblocks to effective government" Marketplace Morning Report (American Public Media)
  37. ^ Who We Are, Rootstrikers
  38. ^ About Us, Rootstrikers
  39. ^ Rootstrikers and United Republic, Lawrence Lessig, United Republic, November 16, 2011
  40. ^ About Us, United Republic
  41. ^ Drew Clark. Software Freedom Fighters. The National Journal 33(30), July 28, 2001.
  42. ^ Elinor Mills. Domain games: Internet leaves the U.S. nest. InfoWorld Daily News. October 13, 1998.
  43. ^ "Leadership – Free Software Foundation". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  44. ^ "Eight scholars elected to academy of arts and sciences". 2006-04-24. Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  45. ^ "free_culture". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  46. ^ "Spectrum Policy: Property or Commons?". 2003-03-02. Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  47. ^ - he discusses software patents from time 17:38 to 20:38 of the audio recording
  48. ^ "Digital Universe Adds Leading Internet Expert Lawrence Lessig to Board of Advisors". California: 2006-03-13. Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  49. ^ "commons". 2011. google video docid=7661663613180520595. Retrieved 2014-02-07. 
  50. ^ Lawrence Lessig (January 8, 2009). Colbert Nation. Comedy Central. Event occurs at 2:16. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  51. ^ Freesouls Forward, Lawrence Lessig
  52. ^ "The Webby Awards Gallery". 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-30. 
  53. ^ CBC NEWS. Google accused of turning its back on net neutrality. December 15, 2008.
  54. ^ Heilemann, John (2005-05-21). "Lawrence Lessig and John Hardwicke Fight Sexual Abuse and the American Boychoir School". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  55. ^ Lessig, Lawrence (2005-05-25). "living with ghosts (Lessig Blog)". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  56. ^ "Hardwicke v. American Boychoir". 
  57. ^ "Q&A: Lawrence Lessig".  
  58. ^ "Larry Lessig: Laws that choke creativity".  
  59. ^ "TEDxNYED – Lawrence Lessig".  
  60. ^ Lessig Backs Away From Copy Fights In Courts, Congress. Washington Internet Daily 4 (42). March 4, 2003.
  61. ^ "Lessig v. Liberatino Music - Complaint". Electronic Frontier Foundation website. United States District Court. 22 August 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  62. ^ Laura Sydell (27 September 2013). "Record Label Picks Copyright Fight—With The Wrong Guy". Retrieved 28 September 2013. 
  63. ^ "17 U.S. Code § 512 - Limitations on liability relating to material online". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  64. ^ Brandle, Lars (28 February 2014). "Liberation Resolves Copyright Issue with Lawrence Lessig, Admit 'Mistakes' Were Made". Billboardbiz. Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  65. ^ "Twórca Creative Commons wygrał sprawę o bezprawne skasowanie filmu z YouTube’a". Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  66. ^ Sydell, Laura (27 February 2014). "A Win For Fair use After Record Label, Copyright Lawyer Settle". All Tech Considered. NPR. Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  67. ^ [1]
  68. ^ "USCA-DC Opinions – Released On 1/21/2011". Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  69. ^ Lessig blog
  70. ^ [2]
  71. ^ [3]
  72. ^ Lessig portrayed on tonight's West Wing

External links

  • "Official website".  (includes Lessig blog 2002–2009)
  • "Official blog".  Lessig Blog, beyond 2009
  • "Lawrence Lessig". Harvard Law School Faculty Directory. 
  • "Faculty Profile: Lawrence Lessig". Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. 
  • "Rootstrikers". 
  • "Lawrence Lessig: Big Brother’s Prying Eyes". Bill Moyers. 
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
  • Lawrence Lessig at the Internet Movie Database
  • Works by or about Lawrence Lessig in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Lawrence Lessig. "Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It". Youtube. 
  • Lawrence Lessig. "We the People and The Republic We Must Reclaim". TED Talks. 
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