Lawrence Lessig

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Lawrence Lessig [1]

U.S. lawyer, who has devised the Creative Commons licensing system, has written landmark books about the importance of open code, and is a great advocate of free culture.

Wikipedia bio at Also see [2]


In 2002, Lessig was awarded the FSF Award for the Advancement of Free Software from the Free Software Foundation (FSF), and on March 28 2004 he was elected to the FSF's Board of Directors [1]. Lessig is also a well-known critic of copyright term extensions.

He proposed the concept of "Free Culture" [2]. He also supports free software and open spectrum [3]. He is founder and chairman of the Creative Commons and a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. At his "Free culture" keynote at OSCON 2002, half of his speech was also about software patents, which he views as a rising threat to both open source and innovation. Lessig is on the board of directors of Software Freedom Law Center, launched in February 2005.

Lawrence Lessig (born June 3, 1961) is an American academic. He is currently professor of law at Stanford Law School and founder of its Center for Internet and Society. He is best known as a proponent of reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and radio frequency spectrum, particularly in technology applications.

Prior to joining Stanford he taught at the Harvard Law School, where he was a faculty director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and the University of Chicago Law School. Lessig is considered a liberal, but he clerked for two influential conservative judges: Richard Posner and Justice Antonin Scalia.

Professor Lessig earned a B.A. in economics and a B.S. in management (Wharton School) at the University of Pennsylvania, an M.A. (an undergraduate degree) in philosophy from the University of Cambridge (Trinity) in England, and a J.D. from Yale Law School

Lessig has emphasized in interviews that his philosophy experience at Cambridge radically changed his values and career path. Previously, he had held strong conservative or libertarian political views, desired a career in business, was a highly active Teenage Republican and almost pursued a Republican political career. What had intended to be a year abroad at Cambridge convinced him instead to stay another two years to complete an undergraduate degree in philosophy there and develop his new liberal political values. During this time, he also travelled in the Eastern Bloc, so acquiring a lifelong interest in Eastern European law and politics.

(bio from )

Background on the Creative Commons License

Source: Business 2.0 [3]

"At a cafe near his San Francisco home, Lessig explains the economic logic that underpins Creative Commons. He draws a timeline on a napkin, labeling one point "1888." "That's when the first Kodak camera was introduced," he says. "And around this time, a legal question arises: Do I need your permission to capture your image? The courts say no, I can pirate your image in most cases." Lessig then draws a line that spikes upward, representing the boom in photo equipment and processing sales that resulted from the liberalization of image content."Imagine if the decision went the other way, so that I had to get permission every time I took someone's picture," he says. "The growth of the photography industry would have been very different." And much less lucrative.

Lessig, since the age of 42, has spent the better part of the last decade battling legal decisions that "went the other way" in the digital age. A specialist in policy development for cyberspace, his career has taken him from the Supreme Court (where he clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia), to the University of Chicago, to a tenured position at Harvard Law School, and finally to Stanford, where he founded the law school's Center for Internet and Society. He made headlines in 1997 when he briefly served as a special master in the Microsoft antitrust case. (Microsoft launched a successful appeal to have him removed.)

In the 2002 Supreme Court case of Eldred v. Ashcroft, Lessig challenged Congress's 1998 decision to extend copyright protection to 70 years after an author's death. In that case, nicknamed the "Mickey Mouse trial" because it coincided with the Disney character's impending transition to the public domain, Lessig argued that most creativity--including Disney movies like Snow White, which was adapted from a Grimm fable--builds on previous work, and that the extension hurt society by limiting the amount of raw material available for creative reinvention. He lost.

The defeat triggered a change in tactics. Unable to reform copyright law, Lessig focused instead on facilitating contractual arrangements between sharers that could be implemented directly in HTML. That's the primary tool artists use to attach Creative Commons licenses to their work. Thanks to the Copyright Act of 1976, as soon as an original work is "fixed"--i.e., takes tangible form--it's automatically protected by copyright. Absent language to the contrary, distributing, copying, or performing that work without permission then becomes illegal. But with Creative Commons, an artist can place a link next to the work--or even embed a license in, say, an MP3 or PDF file--to explicitly grant the permission in advance. (

Key Books

  • Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (2000)
  • The Future of Ideas (2001)
  • Free Culture (2004). Lessig released this work under the Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial.

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