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Finding a new windmill to tilt at…

September 25th, 2007

Scott Reents sent me an email with just a single link, and man did it bum me out.

Lawrence Lessig is a famous constitutional law scholar who teaches now at Stanford Law School. For the last ten years, he has led the charge to redefine copyright in the Internet age as the founder of Creative Commons. Recently, all of us suffered a major setback when he lost a (literally) ‘Mickey Mouse’ Supreme Court case. And now this cause is losing its principal advocate, who has found a new windmill to tilt at: corruption. (He says: “I am 99.9% confident that the problem I turn to will continue exist when this 10 year term is over. But the certainty of failure is sometimes a reason to try.“)

For someone who is so admired and successful, I found Lessig’s inspirations really depressing for this decision in his announcement (“Required Reading“). His three inspirations are (1) obama; (2) gore and (3) an unnamed prominent republican who called him a “shill” for google.

Working backwards: first, please don’t accept the “shill” charge, Professor Lessig! Or tell me: how did you get duped into being an accomplice in corrupting the system? These charges really got to hurt an advocate who devoted a decade to an issue. I think that he should rather reconcile his views on the particular issue in question — network neutrality — where he should explain where his principled position does indeed differ from google’s largely correct but somewhat self-interested position.

Second, Al Gore is valiantly pursuing the global warming issue. But he is a sad hero: don’t you think he’d much rather have been President? And as a serious Washington insider for decades, it seems a little late and convenient to start blame the system now. It’s especially disingenuous because the environment also has its own interest groups that pray on emotional responses.

Third, he says that Obama is running for Presidency because of a ten-year “up or out” strategy. It’s a terrible parallel because Obama is riding at the top of his wave and Lessig is adrift after recent serious setbacks. So, claiming success (“we are going to prevail in these debates. Maybe not today, but soon.“) is decidedly weak. In fact, the weakness of this argument by such an admired thinker leads to question whether my own support of Obama is foolish too!

That said, Lessig is an *amazing* person so I wish him all the luck in the world in this new endeavor as well as those who will remain in the copyright arena. Lessig, here’s a message for you in the unlikely event you read this post: please understand that it is written with the same honest candor that your post was written and that I have the utmost respect for everything that you’ve accomplished. Corruption is a terrific new windmall to tilt at….good luck!

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