Lessig '08: The First Reasonoid Interview


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.