Lessig '08: The First Reasonoid Interview

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Over at Ars Technica, reason Contributing Editor Julian Sanchez has the first long interview with Larry Lessig about his possible run for Congress. (Sam Gustin has another chat here.)

One simple means of reducing the political power of campaign cash, Lessig says, "could be done tomorrow." He wants to ban legislative earmarks, those juicy morsels of targeted federal funding legislators direct toward pet projects and political supporters. Lessig also hopes to encourage more robust public financing of campaigns, noting the salutary effect such policies appear to be having in states like Maine and Arizona. Most immediately—and perhaps most radically—Lessig says he will swear off contributions from lobbyists or political action committees, and he hopes to bring grassroots pressure to bear on other candidates to follow suit. (Prospective opponent Jackie Speier, he notes in passing in his online video, does accept such contributions.)

"This is about building a parallel to Creative Commons in Congress," Lessig explains, referencing the popular legal license he created to help authors and artists make their work available for free distribution and modification. Just as creators under a Creative Commons license cede some control over their works in order to promote a robust open-source culture, Lessig's political vision entails "people in power, legislators, voluntarily waiving that power in order to build a better system." If politicians begin foreswearing PAC money, the theory runs, voters may come to see the failure to refuse lobbyist dollars as a badge of shame rather than simply the way things are done.

Good supplemental reading for this: Reihan Salam's critique of Lessing's CFR views, which must be the first semi-critical take on the Lessig boom. Still, I can't get excited about Lessig's public finance views because the tide is sweeping that vision of electioneering away. Lessig is far more interesting as a thinker on copyright who would run circles around the silly arguments of RIAA and MPAA lobbyists.

"Silicon Valley needs a representative who can speak for the interests of the Internet, of making it flourish," he says. "As we're leading into this moment when the owners of telecommunications platforms are trying to leverage their ownership into control of the Internet, yammering about the need to turn it into the old Bell System, we need someone in Washington who's going to be able to stare them down."

But while Lessig wryly notes that the RIAA and MPAA "won't be excited to have an opponent of extremist copyright legislation in Congress," he also stresses that a congressional run would not be some kind of crusading extension of his work on "free culture." For Lessig, the central policy question will be, "Who ultimately controls innovation on the Internet? That's the net neutrality fight; that's the open spectrum fight."

More Lessig here.

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  1. I’ve been a fan of his ever since Code: and other laws of Cyberspace. Will be interesting to see where she shakes out on the meat & butter stuff; probably a bit too uncomfortably liberal. He did clerk for Posner and Scalia, though…

    Ah well, I think the battles he fights (on cultural commons and reasonable copyright law) are just as important as many of the current more partisan issues, and congress would definitely be the place to be to fight it.

  2. He sounds too smart to be in Congress.

  3. He sounds too smart to be in Congress.

    He is. I don’t think anybody is smarter than he is. And it is hard to get excited about him as a politician for precisely that reason (although I think he may be a stealth antitrust guy, in which case I say Feingold/Lessig ’16). Somebody has been whispering in Mr. Sanchez’s ear about antitrust lately, I think. Now we have a suspect.

    For anybody who hasn’t read Prof. Lessig’s Future Of Ideas, please, please, please, do yerself a favour:

    http://www.the-future-of-ideas.com/

  4. Lessig’s political vision entails “people in power, legislators, voluntarily waiving that power in order to build a better system.”

    Well, I used to think Lessig was a good guy, but that quote shows that he’s delusional.

  5. Well, I used to think Lessig was a good guy, but that quote shows that he’s delusional.

    Not delusional – lying. He’s a politician now.

    So he never was a good guy.

  6. I predict he’ll have the same success he’s had actually arguing cases in court.

  7. He won the negligence immunity case in New Jersey. Say “hi” to Timothy and the Smackster 4 me!

  8. Lessig’s political vision entails “people in power, legislators, voluntarily waiving that power in order to build a better system.”

    I’m trying to think of a historical example of a power structure voluntarily giving up power.

    Nope. Drawing a blank. As far as I can recall, its always involved either actual armed revolution or a very credible threat thereof.

  9. I don’t know where he stands on most issues, but in regards to the internet, Larry is an outright socialist. He wants “public” ownership and control of the internet. If he can’t get the socialist solution, he will settle for the fascist solution, which is government control over the internet. His unwavering insistance on net neutrality shows that he does not want the owners of networks to have control over their network properties.

    The internet is an extraordinary market success, not a market failure. Net neutrality is only an issue because the government has rigged the game to favor large telecommunication corporations. The solution is not more government, but less.

  10. I’m trying to think of a historical example of a power structure voluntarily giving up power.

    Nope. Drawing a blank. As far as I can recall, its always involved either actual armed revolution or a very credible threat thereof.

    George Washington

  11. Okay, I finally stumbled over to his site. What do I find there? A video in a proprietary format requiring proprietary software to view. I will let most candidates get away with not using free and open source software, but not Lessig. Yeah, I can always use a different browser and search around for an extension that will extract the FLV out of the stream, but that’s still now excuse for Lessig using a froma

  12. Lessig strikes me as a one trick pony. He’s good on some aspects of copyright, but doesn’t have a coherent political viewpoint besides trying to find a way to apply internet buzzwords to politics. Lessig is the guy congress should be calling on for advice when dealing with technology issues, but I see him as someone who would try to come up with a grand new system to replace whole portions of copyright law instead of making the appropriate fixes to the current (understood, planned for, and mostly working) system.

    I’m hoping he will in fact run so that he can pull enough votes from the lead democrat to prevent it from being decided at the primary. If he doesn’t file by Monday at 5pm he will not be on the ballot.

    I’m the Libertarian candidate in this race, and I’m definitely interested in hearing from anyone who hangs out at Reason with ideas for how to get the word out. (click on name)

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