“It’s like an alcoholic that you realize, he’s not just getting drunk on the weekends, he’s got the bottle in his desk,” said Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig before a cheering (and pretty drunk, on a top-shelf open bar) crowd at the W Hotel in San Francisco last night. The alcoholic referred to is the federal government, and its drug of choice is corporate contributions; Lessig says he learned from Davis Guggenheim, director of An Inconvenient Truth, and advisor on tonight’s Obama informercial, that money tends to distort our democratic process, not only with Lessig’s self-described “niche, libertarian” pet issues of intellectual property and creative expression online, but also regarding important stuff, like global warming.
Lessig was describing how he moved from intellectual property issues, exemplified by his founding of the Creative Commons flexible licensing project, to a more quixotic quest against an enemy even more formidable than Mickey Mouse: The US Congress. (Change Congress is Lessig’s movement to push candidates to renounce lobbyist funding and earmarks.) The occasion of the gathering was Lessig’s brand-new book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, which in some sense combines the two crusades. Roughly, Lessig wants kids to be free to rip, sample and digitally collage without the big bad corporations coming after them under dinosaur copyright laws. He speaks glowingly of a “sharing economy” where freedom reigns and artists get the support they need.
Lessig definitely has a posse. The room was packed with the likes of Silicon Valley innovation scout Sylvia Paull, as well as youthful representatives from both of his organizations and from Stanford, who created a tribute video that referenced the Colbert Report. Whether the latest book will feel urgent in these times is another story. At 8 pm SF time many of the crowd drifted away to watch Obama’s program, made possible, of course, by his rejection of public financing.