Lessig, Lawrence 1961-

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LESSIG, Lawrence 1961-


Born June 3, 1961, in Rapid City, SD. Education: Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, B.A. (economics), B.S. (management), 1983; Trinity College, Cambridge University, M.A. (philosophy; first class honors), 1986; Yale Law School, J.D., 1989.


Home—559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, CA 94305.


Attorney, educator, author, and lecturer. U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, law clerk to Judge Richard Posner, 1989-90; United States Supreme Court, law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, 1990-91; University of Chicago Law School, Chicago IL, assistant professor, 1991-95, professor of law, 1995-97, codirector of Center for the Study of Constitutionalism in Eastern Europe; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Program on Ethics and Professions fellow, 1996-97; Harvard Law School, Cambridge, professor of law, 1997-2000, Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, 1998; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, professor of law, 2000—, Center for Internet and Society, executive director, 2000, Wilson faculty scholar, 2002, John A. Wilson Distinguished Faculty Scholar, 2003—. CEU Budapest College, Budapest, Hungary, lecturer, summers, 1992, 1993, and 1995, Moscow, 1994; Yale Law School, New Haven, CT, visiting professor, 1995. Member of board, RedHat Center for the Public Domain, Public Knowledge, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Library of Science, and Creative Commons.


Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin fellow, 1999-2000; named Top eBiz Leader, Business Week, 2000, 2001; named one of 100 Most Influential Lawyers, National Law Journal, 2000; World Technology Award for law, 2001; Editors' Choice Award, Linux Journal, 2002; named one of Fifty Top Innovators, Scientific American, 2002; Free Software Foundation Award, 2003; World Academy of Art and Science fellow, 2003—.


Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.

Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock down Culture and Control Creativity, Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to books, including The Place of Law, edited by Austin Sarat and Martha Merrill Umphrey, 2002, and Government Policy toward Open Source Software, edited by Robert W. Hahn, 2002. Contributor to law journals and periodicals, including Foreign Policy, American Prospect, Financial Times, Guardian, New York Times, Newsday, Washington Post, Time, Wall Street Journal, New Republic, and Slate. Columnist for Industry Standard, 1998-2001, Red Herring, 2002-03, CIO Insight, 2002-03, and Wired, 2003—. Member of editorial advisory board, Lexis-Nexis Electronic Authors Press, 1995-97.


Lawrence Lessig is a professor of law who has taught and written widely on the subjects of constitutional law, contracts, and the law of cyberspace. Lessig was born in South Dakota and raised in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. His politics became more liberal following the Watergate scandal and a summer trip to Eastern Europe that revealed the ways in which laws can control freedom. After graduating from Yale Law School, Lessig clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, where he had considerable opportunity to debate Constitutional interpretation.

Lessig began his teaching career in 1991, incorporating the legal issues surrounding cyberspace into his courses, and he was called upon by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 because of his expertise. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor cited an article Lessig had written in which he denounced the anti-free speech "Communications Decency Act" and the provisions that would require software to screen pornography. The court agreed with Lessig and overturned the act. He was then appointed special master in the Microsoft antitrust suit, acting as a consultant to the court, but his appointment was criticized and a suit to remove him was filed by Microsoft on the grounds that Lessig was biased against the company. While Lessig had joked to a friend about the difficulty he was having installing Microsoft Explorer, the court did not deem this sufficient reason to dismiss him.

Although Lessig had previously argued against government control of Web content, in this case he felt that Microsoft had violated antitrust laws by bundling their Explorer software with Windows, thus excluding other browsers such as Netscape from gaining a foothold in the market. In the 2003 case Eldred v. Ashcroft, Lessig unsuccessfully challenged the 1998 "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act."

Lessig has written a number of books, including Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, in which he envisions "a future of control in large part exercised by technologies of commerce, backed by rule of law." He emphasizes the need for defining the values of structure and substance that are necessary to the Internet, including those that impact free speech, privacy, intellectual property, and commerce. He particularly notes that if the government and capitalist interests combine to control cyberspace, the character of the Internet could be negatively changed.

He notes that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had instructed the Internet Engineering Task Force, which is responsible for Internet protocols, to change them in order to make wiretapping easier. Before the dawn of the new century, Lessig recognized the trend of data collection by commercial Web sites of personal information, which they use to market their products and from which they otherwise benefit. He argues that the manipulation of the Internet economy could lead to its becoming the vehicle for the ultimate sales pitch, a concept that was beginning to play out at that time. Many of the ideas Lessig promotes in the book have become reality. He wants individual users to be able to control how much of their information is released and collected, and he advises that sites be set up with identification systems to prevent access by children. But he is opposed to excessive filtering. Cass R. Sunstein noted in the New Republic that one of Lessig's main points is that "the law should allow individuals 'fair use' notwithstanding code innovations that would prevent it. He claims that code should not be allowed to prevent an 'intellectual commons;' he wants the law to prevent authors from having perfect control over who has access to their writings."

Gary Chapman wrote in the American Prospect that Lessig "is clear-headed enough to see some long-term social trends emerging from the Internet's development and … can write about these trends in a way that is engaging, compelling, and richly detailed. Lessig has the uncommon ability to sort through the endless spew of talk and news about the Internet to find what matters and why we should care." John Leslie King noted in Issues in Science and Technology that "Lessig's main thesis is rooted in the touchstone of the Enlightenment: that power corrupts."

In The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World Lessig continues his argument for innovation and loosening of intellectual property laws. As Ian Hosein wrote in Ethics and International Affairs, Lessig "shows how various private and government interests are damaging the commons, a space where resources are shared by the many. Borrowing from institutional economists, he warns of the potential for tragedy if the commons are poorly managed. Lessig's argument hinges on the idea that free use of resources is crucial to innovation and creativity." A free resource, in these terms, does not mean a resource without cost, but rather one that can be used without the permission of another party or with permission that is granted by open access, and it is these free commons that Lessig argues must be maintained.

Steven Johnson wrote in the Nation that The Future of Ideas "is the story of the triumph of the commons—free of both government and corporate control. Its principles animate nearly every page of Lessig's book: a mix of the libertarian's contempt for centralized control and the socialist's belief in the power of communal property. This would sound schizophrenic and impractical if it weren't for the empirical success of open-source projects like Linux, or the widely used Web server Apache—or indeed the Web itself, which was founded on nonproprietary standards."

Johnson noted that Lessig "is not optimistic about the cable companies' ability to adapt to the open-access neutrality that has been a founding principle of the Internet to date—particularly when those companies are part of massive content empires like AOL Time Warner." Lessig writes that cable companies, for example, limit video streaming, since it is seen as competition, and sites are shut down when bots that scan for such misuse find copyrighted content. Lessig feels that this shrinking of the public domain is restrictive to creative expression and calls it "copyright control out of control."

Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock down Culture and Control Creativity includes the topic of music downloading and the efforts of the music industry to stop file-sharing sites like Napster and Kazaa. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Lessig "debunks the myth that draconian new copyright enforcement is needed to combat the entertainment industry's expanded definition of piracy, and chillingly assesses the direct and collateral damage of the copyright war." As Lessig points out, the twenty-eight years of copyright protection that applied in the nineteenth century has been extended, in some cases, to as long as ninety-five years.

Lessig notes that piracy has a long history, that radio stations at one time played music without compensating the artists, and consumers have been taping television programs since the 1970s. These misuses have been resolved by licensing, however, not by control. He uses Mickey Mouse as an example of an icon that cannot be used in any manner without the permission of the Disney Corporation. He notes that while Walt Disney was a man who surely drew on the ideas and creations of others, the tightening and extensions of the copyright laws have impoverished our culture. Reviewing Free Culture, Business Week critic Heather Green wrote that "although this book is far from a breezy read, it offers an accessible and compelling case for the need for balance: The power that copyright holders have over their works must not limit the ability of others to produce related new creations."

In keeping with his philosophy, Lessig made Free Culture available online for noncommercial use at no cost, as well as in a number of other formats, including audio. An Economist reviewer concluded that "ultimately, Free Culture is about neither law nor technology, the author's areas of expertise. It is about power. Specifically, it concerns the way in which financial and political power are used by corporations to preserve the status quo and to further their own commercial interests. This may be to the detriment of something more socially valuable: a loss of creativity that can never be measured."



American Prospect, June 5, 2000, Gary Chapman, review of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, p. 52; January 28, 2002, George Scialabba, review of The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, p. 36.

Booklist, December 1, 1999, Vanessa Bush, review of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, p. 675; February 15, 2004, Vanessa Bush, review of Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock down Culture, and Control Creativity, p. 1008.

Business Week, December 10, 2001, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 20; April 5, 2004, Heather Green, review of Free Culture, p. 24.

Duke Law Journal, Daphne Keller, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 273.

Economist, June 17, 2000, review of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, p. 4; April 17, 2004, review of Free Culture, p. 82.

Ethics and International Affairs, April, 2003, Ian Hosein, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 184.

Futurist, September-October, 2003, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 60.

Information Technology and Libraries, September, 2000, Tom Zillner, review of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, p. 159; September, 2002, Tom Zillner, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 135.

Issues in Science and Technology, spring, 2001, John Leslie King, review of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, p. 90.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2001, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 1403; January 15, 2004, review of Free Culture, p. 71.

Knowledge Technology and Policy, spring, 2000, John Magney, review of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, p. 104.

Library Journal, January, 2000, Philip Y. Blue, review of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, p. 134; November 15, 2001, Rob Martindale, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 84; April 15, 2004, Richard Drezen, review of Free Culture, p. 103.

Michigan Law Review, May, 2000, Steven Hetcher, review of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, p. 1916.

Nation, December 17, 2001, Steven Johnson, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 25.

New Architect, July, 2002, Lincoln D. Stein, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 54.

New Republic January 10, 2000, Cass R. Sunstein, review of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, p. 37.

Publishers Weekly, January 26, 2004, review of Free Culture, p. 240.

Stanford Law Review, May, 2000, David G. Post, review of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, p. 1439.

Washington Monthly, November, 2001, Nicholas Thompson, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 58.

Whole Earth, winter, 2002, Kevin Kelly, review of The Future of Ideas, p. 41.*

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