Carey Lening (a fellow member of the group DC CopyNight) pointed out some news to me: Lawrence Lessig has announced he is “shifting gears” and moving on to devote his “next ten years” to a different set of issues from those that have consumed him for the past decade. His new focus: Corruption.
Here’s how he defines it (you should read the full announcement that I have linked above):
That the real problem here was (what I will call a “corruption” of) the political process. That our government can’t understand basic facts when strong interests have an interest in its misunderstanding.
One “corruption” Lessig speaks of is related to the way strong financial and political interests influence national legislatures to put business interests ahead of the interests of society. Examples include regular extensions of copyright term way beyond individual lifetimes, laws that forbid using technology to exert “fair use” rights, delaying “a la carte” cable TV channel offerings, and support for digital display devices that are designed to degrade signals that do not have certain “approved” characteristics.
What we have are systems that have replaced “promotion of science and the useful arts” with “protection of old and outmoded business models.” Lessig sees corruption of the political process as an underlying cause of such excesses.
The ironic thing about Lessig’s conversion is that the mechanisms to fight corruption in the political process are the same mechanisms used by “the bad guys”: public information, lobbying, grassroots activism — the usual suspects when it comes to influencing public opinion (and national legislatures).
One might think that with all the tools we now have available for educating and influencing public opinion (such as social media and social networking) the job would be easier for justice to triumph. But it’s not.
Part of the reason is plain old politics. You can never get 100% agreement on any issue. It’s natural for people to organize to promote their agendas. Current technologies make that easier than ever to do — at least in free societies where the government is not aggressively censoring Internet based communications.
The other reason is that, at least regarding intellectual property law such as patents and copyright, the systems, processes, and regulations that have sprung up around IP have become so complex and obtuse that it is difficult to have a meaningful public discussion without recourse to legal and regulatory minutiae.
So good luck to Lessig. I have not always agreed with his viewpoints, but I sympathize with his perceptions of root causes, even though I fear that the targets for his attention will become even more diffuse than they are currently.