Lester Lawrence “Larry” Lessig III (born June 3, 1961) is an American academic, attorney, and political activist. He is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and is a member of the Illinois Bar. Lessig is a candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Lessig is a proponent of reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark, and radio frequency spectrum, particularly in technology applications. In 2001, he founded Creative Commons, a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon and to share legally. Prior to his most recent appointment at Harvard, he was a professor of law at Stanford Law School, where he founded the Center for Internet and Society, and at the University of Chicago. He is a former board member of the Free Software Foundation; Software Freedom Law Center; the Washington, D.C. lobbying groups Public Knowledge and Free Press; and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
As a political activist, Lessig has called for state-based activism to promote substantive reform of government with a Second Constitutional Convention. 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. Lessig is also the co-founder of Rootstrikers, and is on the boards of MapLight and Represent.us. He serves on the advisory boards of the Democracy Café and the Sunlight Foundation.
In August 2015, Lessig announced that he was exploring a possible candidacy for President of the United States, promising to run if his exploratory committee raised $1 million by Labor Day. After accomplishing this, on September 6, 2015, Lessig announced that he was entering the race to become a candidate for the 2016 Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Lessig has described his candidacy as a referendum on campaign finance reform and electoral reform legislation. He originally stated that, if elected, he would use that mandate to pass his proposed reforms, and then immediately resign the office and transfer power to his vice president. In October 2015, he modified his position and promised to serve a full term as president with these issues as his legislative priorities.
Interview with Lawrence Lessig in 2009
Lessig was born in Rapid City, South Dakota, the son of Patricia, who sold real estate, and Lester L. "Jack" Lessig, an engineer. He grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Lessig 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. Academic career
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. He subsequently joined Stanford Law School, where he established the school’s Center for Internet and Society.
Lessig returned to Harvard in July 2009 as Professor and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. 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.” Political activism
Lessig speaking with Harvard internet law professor Jonathan Zittrain
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 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 an undergraduate 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 remains skeptical of government intervention but favors some regulation, 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.
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". Lessig has called for state governments to call for a national constitutional convention, 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.”
In 2013, he was an attendee of the 61st Conference of the Bilderberg Group, which took place in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, on June 6–9. Money in politics
Lessig having a discussion with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff
At the iCommons iSummit 07, Lessig announced that he would stop focusing his attention on copyright and related matters and work on political corruption instead. 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. Lessig criticized the revolving door phenomenon in which legislators and staffers leave office to become lobbyists and have become beholden to special interests.
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. Later that month, after forming an “exploratory project”, he decided not to run for the vacant seat.
Despite having decided to forgo running for Congress himself, Lessig remained interested in attempting to change Congress to reduce corruption. To this end, he worked with political consultant Joe Trippi to launch a web based project called “Change Congress”. In a press conference on March 20, 2008, Lessig explained that he hoped the Change Congress website would help provide technological tools voters could use to hold their representatives accountable and reduce the influence of money on politics. He is a board member of MAPLight.org, 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.
At his talk at the 2009 Aspen Ideas Festival, Professor Lessig talked about Forbin Problems in a talk entitled Will Technology Change Our Lives? and also about his idea that the American public has lost faith in the central institution of their democracy, Congress. Constitutional convention
Lessig speaking before Change Congress and the Sunlight Foundation
Main article: Second Constitutional Convention of the United States
In 2010, Lessig began to organize for a national constitutional convention. He co-founded Fix Congress First! with Joe Trippi. Lessig called for a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution in a September 24–25, 2011, conference co-chaired by the Tea Party Patriots’ national coordinator, in Lessig’s October 5, 2011, book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It, and at the Occupy protest in Washington, DC. Reporter Dan Froomkin said the book offers a manifesto for the Occupy Wall Street protestors, focusing on the core problem of corruption in both political parties and their elections. Lessig’s initial constitutional amendment would allow legislatures to limit political contributions from non-citizens, including corporations, anonymous organizations, and foreign nationals, and he also supports public campaign financing and electoral college reform to establish the one person, one vote principle. Rootstrikers
Main article: Rootstrikers
Change Congress, founded by Lessig and Joe Trippi, the Fix Congress First project, and the Rootstrikers project were created to help volunteers to address the problem of money in politics. In November 2011, Lessig announced all three projects would become part of the United Republic organization, along with Dylan Ratigan’s Get Money Out campaign. NH Rebellion
The New Hampshire Rebellion is a walk to raise awareness about corruption in politics. The event began in 2014 with a 185-mile march in New Hampshire. In its second year the walk expanded to include other locations in New Hampshire.
From Jan 11 until January 24, 2014, Larry Lessig and many others, like New York activist Jeff Kurzon, marched from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire to Nashua NH (a 185-mile march) to promote the idea of tackling "The Systemic Corruption in Washington." Lessig chose this language over the related term “campaign finance reform,” commenting 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, and in honor of deceased activist Aaron Swartz. The New Hampshire Rebellion marched 16 miles from Hampton to New Castle on the New Hampshire Seacoast. The initial location was also chosen because of its important and visible role in the quadrennial “New Hampshire primaries”, the traditional first primary of the presidential election. 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.
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.  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.” Free Culture
Lessig and Aaron Swartz in 2002 at the launch party for Creative Commons
On March 28, 2004 he was elected to the FSF's Board of Directors.
He proposed the concept of "Free Culture". He also supports free software and open spectrum. At his Free Culture keynote at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention 2002, a few minutes of his speech was about software patents, which he views as a rising threat to both free software //www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html and the open source software https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html and innovation.
In March 2006, Lessig joined the board of advisors of the Digital Universe project. 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?.
Lessig claimed in 2009 that, because 70% of young people obtain digital information from illegal sources, the law should be changed.
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."
Lessig is also a well-known critic of copyright term extensions.
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." Killswitch
Main article: Killswitch (film)
In October 2014, Killswitch, a film featuring Lawrence Lessig, as well as Aaron Swartz, Tim Wu, and Edward Snowden received its World Premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Editing. In the film, Lessig frames the story of two young hacktivists, Swartz and Snowden, who symbolize the disruptive and dynamic nature of the Internet. The film reveals the emotional bond between Lessig and Swartz, and how it was Swartz (the mentee) that challenged Lessig (the mentor) to engage in the political activism that has led to Lessig's crusade for campaign finance reform.
In February 2015, Killswitch was invited to screen at the Capitol Visitor's Center in Washington DC by Congressman Alan Grayson. The event was held on the eve of the Federal Communications Commission's historic decision on Net Neutrality. Lessig, Congressman Grayson, and Free Press (organization) CEO Craig Aaron spoke about the importance of protecting net neutrality and the free and open Internet.
Congressman Grayson states that Killswitch is "One of the most honest accounts of the battle to control the Internet — and access to information itself.". Richard von Busack of the Metro Silicon Valley, writes of Killswitch, “Some of the most lapidary use of found footage this side of The Atomic Café”. Fred Swegles of the Orange County Register, remarks, “Anyone who values unfettered access to online information is apt to be captivated by Killswitch, a gripping and fast-paced documentary.” Kathy Gill of GeekWire asserts that “Killswitch is much more than a dry recitation of technical history. Director Ali Akbarzadeh, producer Jeff Horn, and writer Chris Dollar created a human centered story. A large part of that connection comes from Lessig and his relationship with Swartz.” 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. 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. 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. Legal challenges
External video Lawrence Lessig (10).jpg
Q&A: Lawrence Lessig (58:48), C-SPAN Larry Lessig: Laws that choke creativity (19:08), TED talks TEDxNYED – Lawrence Lessig (19:07), TEDx talks
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 had sympathies for de-regulation, to back his "market-based" approach to intellectual property regulation.
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. 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. Lessig was represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Jones Day. 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. 2016 presidential candidacy
Main article: Lawrence Lessig presidential campaign, 2016
Lessig announced the launch of his presidential campaign on September 6, 2015.
On August 11, 2015, Lessig announced that he had launched an exploratory campaign for the purpose of exploring his prospects of winning the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States in the 2016 election. Lessig pledged to seek the nomination if he raised $1 million by Labor Day 2015. The announcement was widely reported in national media outlets, and was timed to coincide with a media blitz by the Lessig 2016 Campaign. Lessig was interviewed in The New York Times and Bloomberg. Campaign messages and Lessig’s electoral finance reform positions were circulated widely on social media. His campaign is focused on a single issue: The Citizen Equality Act, a proposal that couples campaign finance reform with other laws aimed at curbing gerrymandering and ensuring voting access. As an expression of his commitment to establishing citizen equality first, Lessig has said he will resign once the Citizen Equality Act becomes law and turn the presidency over to his vice president, who would then serve as a typical president pursuing legislation on a variety of issues. Notable cases
Golan v. Gonzales (representing multiple plaintiffs)
Eldred v. Ashcroft (representing plaintiff Eric Eldred) Lost
Kahle v. Ashcroft (also see Brewster Kahle) Dismissed
United States v. Microsoft (special master and author of an amicus brief addressing the Sherman Act)
Lessig was appointed special master by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson in 1997; the appointment was vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; the appellate court ruled that the powers granted to Lessig exceeded the scope of the Federal statute providing for special masters; Judge Jackson then solicited Lessig’s amicus brief
Lessig said about this appointment: "Did Justice Jackson pick me to be his special master because he had determined I was the perfect mix of Holmes, and Ed Felten? No, I was picked because I was a Harvard Law Professor teaching the law of cyberspace. Remember: So is 'fame' made." MPAA v. 2600 (submitted an amicus brief with Yochai Benkler in support of 2600)
Awards and honors
In 2002, Lessig received the Award for the Advancement of Free Software from the Free Software Foundation (FSF). He also received the Scientific American 50 Award for having “argued against interpretations of copyright that could stifle innovation and discourse online.” Then, in 2006, Lessig was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 2011, Lessig was named to the Fastcase 50, "honoring the law's smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries, and leaders." Lessig was awarded honorary doctorates by the Faculty of Social Sciences at Lund University, Sweden in 2013 and l’Université Catholique de Louvain in 2014. Lessig received the 2014 Webby Lifetime Achievement award for co-founding Creative Commons and defending Net Neutrality and the free and open software movement. Personal life
Lessig is married to Bettina Neuefeind, a Harvard University colleague. He and Neuefeind have three children (Willem, Teo, and Tess). In his free time he also enjoys playing poker. In popular culture
Lessig was portrayed by Christopher Lloyd in "The Wake Up Call", the February 9, 2005 episode of The West Wing.
Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (2000) ISBN 978-0-465-03913-5
The Future of Ideas (2001) ISBN 978-0-375-50578-2
Free Culture (2004) ISBN 978-1-59420-006-9
Code: Version 2.0 (2006) ISBN 978-0-465-03914-2
Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (2008) ISBN 978-1-59420-172-1
Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It (2011) ISBN 978-0-446-57643-7
One Way Forward: The Outsider's Guide to Fixing the Republic (2012) ISBN 978-1-61452-023-8
Lesterland: The Corruption of Congress and How to End It (2013, CC-BY-NC) ISBN 978-1-937382-34-6
The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, 2014 documentary film
Killswitch (film), 2015 documentary film