Bring Your Questions for Lawrence Lessig


Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig has spent much of his career focused on technology and the law, and how the two affect copyright. He represented internet publisher Eric Eldred in Eldred v. Ashcroft, wherein Eldred and others challenged the constitutionality of the Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended terms of copyright protection in the United States by 20 years. Eldred lost the case.

Over the last few years, Lessig has proposed several copyright reforms which he says were opposed by special interests in Congress. In 2002, he launched the non-profit organization Creative Commons, which lets people make their work freely — and legally — available for public consumption (allowing us, for instance, to use Flickr images on this blog).

But last April, Lessig switched his focus from copyright issues to another quagmire-y crusade: political corruption. He partnered with Joe Trippi to found Change Congress, which recently launched a political donor strike against congressional candidates who don’t support campaign finance reform.

Lessig is founder of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. Before joining the Stanford faculty, he was the Berkman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and a Professor at the University of Chicago (where one of his colleagues was Barack Obama). He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.

He is the author, most recently of Remix, and has been a columnist for Wired, Red Herring, and the Industry Standard.

Lessig has agreed to answer your questions, so ask away in the comments section below. As with past Q&A’s, we will post his answers here in a few days.

Addendum: Lessig answers your questions here.


View All Comments »
  1. Sam Carter says:

    In Eldred v. Ashcroft, why didn’t you argue the retroactive nature of the copyright extension was directly contrary to the constitutional requirement to “promote progress of science”?

    Surely, when Disney created Mickey, he had no expectation that the future law would be changed to retroactively extend the existing 14 year copyright to a much longer time period. The retroactive nature of copyright extension has nothing to do with promoting progress (since it can’t be relied upon), and everything to do with maintaining current monopolies.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  2. Samser says:

    Professor Lessig, I read “Free Culture” in a business law class at the suggestion of my professor and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book was an excellent read.

    In the contents of the book you talk about the rise of P2P file sharing and its impact on the music industry. File sharing and music piracy has sparked some interesting debates in the last decade as “leaked” material is shared all over the web. What, if any, solution do you deem plausible for the current state of the music industry?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. Bob Brown says:

    What should the public school system do to help people learn how to tell right from wrong and then do the right thing?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. Sam Carter says:

    You’ve spent most of your life studying, researching, and teaching about “copyright in the digital age”. “Political corruption” strikes me as a radically different field from that. What was your motivation for switching fields of study? Or are these areas more related than they appear on the surface?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Sam Carter says:

    Political corruption seems to be something that’s inherently difficult to solve with market-based solutions (which tend to be favored among the Freakonomics crowd). Are you aware of some good market-based proposals to address political corruption? What are the tradeoffs that they offer?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Ryan Moreno says:

    Do you see Congress being able to pass any substantial legislation in the future without any kind of event or catalyst attracting the nation’s attention beforehand (i.e. Enron and Sarbanes-Oxley)? It seems like most of the major legislation of the past decade or so has been hastily done in the face of visible public demand and without much thought beforehand.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. Dave says:

    The trend of ever-increasing copyright periods seems as if it will continue unabated until copyright protection has no end date.

    What will happen if copyright continues to expand? How will fairuse be expanded to allow for the creative/scientific basis on which copyright law is built?

    Also, there is the issue of technologies that alter films for specific content during a viewing (software and DVD players). Copyright owners protest this type of technology as an unlicensed copy/edit of their original work. Will this technology be subsumed under the Rewind/FasForward exception, or will new exceptions need to be developed.

    I would argue where a technology makes something easier that would otherwise be legal – these functional equivalents should be allowed. I.e. Software that automatically skips graphic language, violence, and nudity is merely performing the functional equivalent of a very fast father with a remote control and should therefore be immune from copyright liability.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. Dave says:

    I recently passed the bar exam in Maryland and am very interested in copyright, trademark, and technology law.

    Unfortunately, I have no real background in these areas. I have found it incredibly difficult to get my foot in the door.

    What would you suggest as a possible way into this area of the law?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0