Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig has for a decade worked in the area of that great oxymoron, "intellectual property," but last week he announced that he will no longer focus on IP issues. He isn't leaving "the movement," he wrote in his blog, ". . . but I have come to believe that until a more fundamental problem is fixed, 'the movement' can't succeed either." The problem? The corruption of the political process by corporationsLessig is the founder of Stanford's Center for Internet and Society. He has written and spoken and been involved with organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Open Software Foundation and he has become what I consider to be a human-rights advocate trying to turn back a big-business-rights tsunami that is making we, the people of the United States of America, into second-class citizens with pernicious incursions against our rights like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act.
The problems are legion - not just with copyright law, but with patent law and Internet neutrality and many other issues. Over and over again we find the political/regulatory system not just failing to support the public interest, but actively working to undermine it. The FCC and the SEC come to mind, in addition to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Lessig describes it as "corruption" of the political process. He writes, "I don't mean corruption in the simple sense of bribery. I mean 'corruption' in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money that it can't even get an issue as simple and clear as [copyright] term extension right. Politicians are starved for the resources concentrated interests can provide. In the U.S., listening to money is the only way to secure re-election. And so an economy of influence bends public policy away from sense, always to dollars."
So he's going spend the next decade, he says, trying to solve the problem: "I do this with no illusions. 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. That's true in this case."
I'd agree that until government, and Congress in particular, gets treatment for its abuse problems, we'll continue to get a lot of bad law. But I am heartened by the mere fact that someone as insightful and effective as Lessig is paying attention to the problem. In fact, I have some hope that with people of the intellect and character of Lessig and Bill Moyers paying increasing attention to this corruption problem, we may be within range of a tipping point toward real change.
All you have to do is read Lessig's "Disclosure Statement and Statement of Principle, 1.1 to know that if we could get a few congressmen to even consider that kind of ethical behavior we'd be making progress.