Lessig: Don't fall into the four-year trap Video
Lessig: Don't fall into the four-year trap Video Transcript
>>One thing you talked about in your presentation this morning was that corruption in the government was even more rampant in the 19th century than it is now and you gave some examples of some "founding fathers" who were pretty sleazy. Is there anyone who you think is worth bringing up as a good example from the earlier days of the nation?
>>Yes, I talked about the example of Daniel Webster who, while he was a Congressman voting on issues about the Bank of the United States, was also paid by the Bank of the United States to represent their interests in ways that was not necessarily in the public interest. This is not a surprising statement. Many people who have studied history would agree that the 19th century was a century filled with cruder form of corruption where members were trying to feather their own nests against the public interest. I genuinely believe we have much less of that now, there's some exceptions, Duke Cunningham was an exception and Jack Abramoff, obviously was leveraging power in that direction, but we don't have that problem right now. What we have right now are members of congress who are so focused on raising the money they need to get into Congress that they allow the interests of the fundraising to shift their interest or their particular policies and how they legislate, and that obviously is not the same, it's not about somebody diverting the public interest for their private benefit. But, in reality it's just as bad because they're still being diverted from the public interest, now for the purpose of being reelected.
>>So, is there anyone worth talking about in the 19th century when it comes to an exemplary figure in government corruption rather than someone to hold up as someone who was doing the wrong thing?
>>Well, I think American history is filled with these cycles of efforts at reorienting democracy so that Jacksonian, the Andrew Jackson and the rise of Jacksonian politics was all about eliminating the corruption of what we would recognize as special interest/corporate interest right now. At that time, to get a corporation, you would get a special charter from the state and the corporation was given special powers. His insight, well the Jacksonian's insight was let's just have general incorporations so you don't need special power to get the privilege of being a corporation. And then they were attacking the crude corruption I was talking about. Same thing happened in the progressives, with the rise of the progressive movement in the late part of the 19th century. So I think you see this cycle of reform and then reprise and reform and reprise and I hope we're seeing the beginning of another reform cycle right now. Focus on a different problem, but again as I said today, actually a more significant problem because you know when you have a government as big as our government is and touching so many parts of our life, the opportunity for this kind of subtle corruption to work its way into the system is much greater and the potential harm is much greater as well.
>>And so your new project "Change Congress" leverages the kind of Google mash up model that we've seen in a lot of these Web 2.0 startups to address the grassroots anti-corruption and transparency movements that are already out there, how are you going to make it so that Change Congress is something that reaches and appeals to the entire American voting bloc rather than just the political junkies who are on political blogs?
>>Right. So that's the hardest challenge and frankly, we're in the process of building the infrastructure so I can do that. But what we've been inspired by are sites that seem to leverage work from the public to a public end in very surprising ways. I mean think about Wikipedia, most of the editing, most of the work done on Wikipedia is not the sort of glamorous writing of an article, it's actually the quite narrow and tedious work of checking commas and formatting and all that sort of stuff and you think of the thousands, literally thousands of people who spend 10 minutes or a half an hour or two or three hours a week doing that kind of work because they want to build a resource that gives free knowledge to the world. We want to tap into exactly that sensibility so if we can build a structure that people see that they can come to in their pajamas for 10 minutes a week or a couple hours a month and actually make a contribution to making the system work better then we can inspire a larger number of people to do it. Now it'll never be 50 million people who are doing this but the reality is 50 thousand people could change this government and that's what we're looking for, 50 thousand people to get engaged in this system so that we begin to create the pressure inside of government to support this fundamental reform.
>>And in order to found or co-found Change Congress you left your post as founder and CEO of Creative Commons. How is Creative Commons doing under Joi Ito's leadership?
>>Joi Ito's the CEO and Jamie Boyle's the chairman, and I just came from a Board meeting and they're doing extremely well. I envy that life. That's at a later stage of development where things are really kicking and funding is there and things are really working. So I've been really pleased to see how well it has continued and I will stay on the Board of Creative Commons to support it as long as I can. But this movement I think is ultimately going to be more important to the wide range of issues that democracy faces.
>>So you think it is going to make inroads into big media in a way it has gained acceptance in the tech community?
>>I think you're already seeing that. I think, for example, you know Nine Inch Nails just released their latest album under a Creative Commons license and in the first week they sold 1.6 million dollars of albums, more than Nine Inch Nails ever sold before, so as there are more examples of this, big media, as you describe it, will see it not as in competition with their ultimate objective, but just as a way to make it easier for the content to connect to the wide community that wants to do things with it. We're already seeing that. Sony in Japan, for example, the Ebio [phonetic] which is their equivalent to YouTube, integrates Creative Commons into the system and when you use a Sony device to upload to Ebio it requires you to affirm a Creative Commons license attached to the particular content. Again because they see it as a way of adding value. That was our objective from the beginning. Creative Commons is not about creating a conflict with media, but it was about providing a wider range of options.
>>On the topic of big media, do you think that John Stewart and Steven Colbert are doing a service or disservice to American political awareness?
>>Oh I think a very big service. If you look historically, there are these periods where it is only humor or comics that can get people to think about really important political issues. You can't get them to focus on it directly; you can only do it indirectly. So more power to the people that get us to think about these interests indirectly because at least we think about them, at least we see them. So with the subtle humor of Colbert or John Stewart that gets you to recognize something that otherwise you would never listen to somebody telling you about it is fantastic and I hope that it continues to grow.
>>What do you think is one thing that you see as not going right or as even going wrong and people not getting it in the space of new media blog startups on the politics side?
>>Well I think that we've got to develop our immune system better to deal with crazies, to deal with not crazy people but crazy manipulation that goes on out there. It's a dangerous cycle right now because you have stories that pop up in the blogosphere or in new media sphere that take on such a life that the main stream media can't avoid talking about them but they can't address them in a way that's really intelligent so it creates these cycles of misinformation. I think that we've got to become better at exercising a kind of restraint. I recently had a conflict about this with Judge Kazinski [assumed spelling] who ran a personal file server that was improperly set up and one of the litigants who was angry at him spent their time searching on the server and finding content that might be objectionable to some people and then going to the news media and getting the news media to write about it and that created this huge firestorm around as it was characterized Judge Kazinski's website with pornography. All these characterizations were totally fabricated, totally false. There was no website, it was not pornography but it gets spread out there on this federal judge in a way that is really destructive. I think what we need to do is exercise the kind of judgment that says it's inappropriate to enter into somebody's private space in this way, it's inappropriate to force them to justify what books are on their shelves. Unless we develop that as an immune response to this developing system I think we're going to lose some of the potential.
>>On some more current events, actually right now there, as you know, there's been an ongoing court battle between Facebook and a couple of the founder, Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard classmates who claim that they came up with the idea first. Right now there is, there was a court hearing in a San Jose court room and the judge closed the hearing, and actually this is a personal interest to me because my employer, CnetNews.com, is considering legal action to reverse the judge's decision to close the courtroom. It was probably closed because they're apparently incriminating message chats involved and they want to keep those under seal. What is your take on especially for cases that involve technology intellectual property, the phenomenon of courts sealing it off to the public and the press?
>>Well, it's going to be a hard balance because there's no simple answer, it's not the case that you can always close courtrooms, that would be outrageous, not the case you can actually keep all information public if you're going to protect interests of privacy or other valid interests. I think what's essential is that whenever the line is drawn people on both sides need to push it so I hope Cnet does bring steps to try to force the judge into a position of needing to justify the steps that have been taken to close it off because, obviously, I don't know anything about the particulars here, and I don't want to prejudice what the judge has done, but obviously there are judges who prefer to just avoid that struggle, the hassle and they are overly protective, but it's not going to be the case that every single thing should be out in the public for people to view, especially when it puts people into this very awkward position which is something I actually came to know a decade ago when I was appointed special master in the Microsoft case. When people look at a lot of these issues they'll give the issue maybe 10 seconds of attention or 5 seconds of attention and they'll get an impression after just 5 seconds of attention of what the story is when it might take a minute to understand the story, it might take 2 minutes to understand the story so you know you're going to produce misimpression out there when you cover or talk about certain facts given the world will not pay attention enough. I think that's a legitimate concern for courts to take into account when they're deciding what's the appropriate line to draw.
>>On another much more national issue right now, what do you think of the Associated Press saying that fair use allows it to ban online news sources and bloggers from quoting its articles?
>>I think they're going to be shown to be wrong. My center for internet and society at Stanford has a [inaudible] project and we're now in negotiation about defending one of the claimants in that case. But no private organization gets to define fair use. Fair use is defined by the law and it's defined in a way that facilitates criticism and the spread of information consistent with necessary incentives of copyright and I think AP is overreaching in this case.
>>What is one technology-related policy issue that no one is talking about that should be talked about?
>>Spectrum. I think spectrum has the greatest potential to revolutionize access to the internet and it's now so radically controlled that its potential is being destroyed. It's like a race horse which we're chopping up to sell off the meat rather than making it accessible in an unlicensed way in a much wider way. It's a very geeky technical issue, takes a lot to understand why it's important and maybe that's why nobody's talking about it.
>>And sort of as a follow up, do you think that there is a way that these much more as you said geeky policy issues like net neutrality, that you don't see politicians talking about because people just don't know what it is, do you think they will come to the forefront or are those going to stay sort of the domain of a more tech savvy intellectual set?
>>Well network neutrality is a good example of an issue that really took off. This issue began about a decade ago, people were talking about what we called then end-to-end which was the design architecture of the internet to guarantee the network owner didn't have control over what happened in content or applications. Tim Wu named it around 2002 to be Net Neutrality and you've seen an explosion of people who have begun to recognize this issue, not just geeks but a wide range of artists and consumer activists. Our hope is we can do that more generally. I think Free Press on whose Board I sit has been instrumental in getting a lot of these issues out there. I hope we can do it with spectrum too, but I think it's actually a harder one to get because people's intuition about spectrum is pretty bad. ^M00:14:27
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