Lawrence Lessig

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Lawrence Lessig
Birthname Lawrence Lessig
Date of Birth June 3rd, 1961
Birth Place Rapid City, South Dakota
Nationality American
Occupation Professor of Law at Harvard Law School

Lawrence Lessig is a Professor of Law most noted for his activism for copyright reform, his advocacy for net neutrality, and his commentary on government corruption within the US. Lessig has published several popular books on these topics including Code and other Laws of Cyberspace, Free Culture, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, and Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It. Lessig is a board member of Creative Commons, MapLight, Research Fund,, and is also on the advisory board of the Sunlight Foundation.[1] Lessig is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post [2] and has appeared on popular television shows including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart[3] and The Colbert Report. [4] Lessig’s book “Remix” is seen to many as the manifesto of the new “Remix” culture that has emerged as a result of the digital age.[5] In the realm of government corruption, Lessig’s book “Republic, Lost” has been considered a guidebook to protesters of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. [6] Lessig is currently the Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University and a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.[7]

Early Life

Lessig was born on June 3rd, 1961 in Rapid City, South Dakota. He grew up in a church-going, “right-wing lunatic Republican” family in Williamsport, PA where his father started a steel-fabrication business. As a teenager, Lessig served as the president of the Pennsylvania Teenage Republicans. During the 1980 election, Lessig served as the youngest member of a delegate in the Republican convention supporting Ronald Reagan for president. Lessig remained politically active before attending college by running the campaign of a Republican candidate for state senator who was later beaten.[8]

College and Higher Education

Lessig went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated with a B.A. in Economics and a B.S. in Management. Upon graduating, Lessig attended Trinity College at the University of Cambridge in England to study philosophy. After graduating from Trinity College with an MA in Philosophy, Lessig went on to attend Yale Law School to earn his Juris Doctor. While at Yale, Lessig clerked for Judge Richard Posner in Chicago and then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Lessig passed the bar in the state of Illinois and began a professorship at the University of Chicago Law School. He began to show his interest in cyberspace in spring 1995 where he created one of the first classes on cyberspace law as a visiting professor at Yale University.[8]

Cyberspace and Copyright Activism

While teaching his class on cyberspace law at Yale, a student-written paper motivated him to reflect on the meaning of “code” from a technological and legal standpoint as the 21st century approached. He concluded that constricting code had the potential to threaten the sanctity of liberty and freedom that was available with the internet. This train of thought prompted Lessig to write his book Code and other Laws of Cyberspace in 1996 while he was at Harvard Law School for a fellowship. Lessig work took the forefront of cyberspace law after the Supreme Court cited a 1996 article he wrote dealing with the Constitution and cyberspace in a ruling. Lessig received much attention after his book and was appointed as the lead professor at the new Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. In 1997, Lessig was appointed Special Master of the Microsoft Antitrust case by by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. However, Microsoft objected Lessig’s role on the claim that there was no legality to Lessig’s position. Microsoft successfully removed Lessig from the case. However, the attention garnished from the controversy drew much attention to Lessig, causing him to gain mainstream attention as a cyberspace lawyer.[8]

Lessig stated that the day the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (which extended copyright terms by 20 years) was signed was the day “[He] became a copyright activist.” Lessig moved to California to join Stanford University Law School; an appropriate progression for him to practice cyberspace law since he was located in the tech capital of the US, Silicon Valley. In 2001, Lessig and company created Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that provided a copyright “middle ground” for creators. During the turn of the new millennium, Lessig became very vocal about copyright issues. Lessig argues that perpetual copyright harms, rather than supports, innovation and that Congress has extended copyright terms 11 times in 4 decades. Lessig formally challenged the Sonny Bono CTEA by assembling a legal team to challenge the Act. The team was led by Eric Eldred, former computer programmer who at the time was building an online library of works for the public domain. After reaching the Supreme Court in October 2002, the court ruled in favor of the government. Regardless of the outcome, Eldred vs. Ashcroft proved to be a hallmark case for Lessig’s copyright movement. The case also prompted Lessig to write his book Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity, which discussed the outcome of the case and the issue of overreaching copyright extensions.[8] Lessig's book Remix:Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy was a major influence on the open-source documentary RiP! A Remix Manifesto by Brett Gaylor. [5][9]

According to Lessig, if one is a producer of culture who does not have the same funds and resources as highly-successful producers who own the rights to valuable materials, the monopoly aspect of copyright is particularly limiting. The limitations copyright laws introduce into today’s cultural melting pot spawned the profession “intellectual property lawyer,” whose roles Lessig explores in “The Future of Ideas.” Copyright restricts many people’s creative efforts. This is evident particularly in the online video industry, where Youtube videos can be quickly and easily copied and reuploaded for views. While a young artist may want to use a particular product in their piece to elicit an emotion or insinuate something about their characters in a film, typically permission to use well-known products comes with a hefty price tag. These kinds of artists are in the majority, which those who own the rights to represent and distribute top content and products that are recognized by the public are in the minority. This causes an imbalance of power in the sphere of digital culture, and restricts the majority so that they must solely utilize free sources. [10]

Activism against Government Corruption

In 2007, Lessig diverted his attention away from copyright reform to government corruption, stating that “we will not solve the IP related issues until these ‘corruption’ related issues are resolved.” Lessig’s most recent book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It addresses corruption in government by illustrating how special interest groups corrupt Congress, causing disillusionment amongst the people and their government. [8]

On October 8th, 2012, Lessig spoke at The Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan on the issue of how money corrupts congress. Lessig revealed that in 2010, .26% of Americans contributed $200 or more in the congressional election, .05% of Americans contributed the maximum amount possible to any congressional candidate, .01% of Americans gave $10,000 more, and .000015% of Americans contributed to 42% of Super PAC contributions that have been used by presidential candidates thus far. [11] Lessig also noted that candidates running for congress spend between 30-70% of their time raising money to stay in office and keep their party in power.


  1. Lessig, L. (2012). Republic, Lost (1st ed.). Twelve.
  5. 5.0 5.1
  7. [1]
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 [Felicelli, A. (2012). Lawrence Lessig: A Biography. Hyperlink]
  10. Lessig, L. (2002). The future of ideas: The fate of the commons in a connected world. New York, N.Y: Vintage Books.