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Interview with Lawrence Lessig
By jonas, Section Interviews
Posted on Wed May 7th, 2003 at 05:15:35 GMT
With the upcoming "Software Patents and European Small/Medium Enterprises" conference in Brussels, GNU-Friends lent a few minutes from Professor Lawrence Lessig. In this short interview, he tells of his work and about his attendance in Brussels.


This week you will be participating / have participated in conferences in Brussels, one of the topics being software patents. Could you explain why you go there, what you hope to accomplish and how it is that you, as a US citizen, is so interested in these European events?

I'm an American lawyer with a guilty conscience. I think the US has pushed a harmfully extreme intellectual property regime, and I am eager that others not make the mistakes we have.

Recently, you were awarded the Free Software Foundation Award for the Advancement of Free Software. What were your thoughts about receiving this award, and can you show how the issues faced by Free Software relates to the issues that you are working on, for example on the issue of copyright?

It was easily the best award I have, or could ever, receive. I have always consider my work simply derivative of the lessons the FSF has taught. I'm carrying them into other contexts, but it is the same point.

Some people might not know the full extent of the work that you've done, so we should travel back in time to somewhere around 1998. At that time, you were helping Judge Jackson with the case against Microsoft. In a surprisingly short amount of time (I thought), Microsoft was able to get you off the case. Some time later, you were arguing before the surpreme court in the Eldred vs. Ashcroft case, which was subsequently lost.

Those two being perhaps the highest profiled cases you've been active in. For anyone else, those two incidents would have been devastating. Could you explain briefly the issues faced in those two cases and your thoughts about the outcome of them?

Both results were of course disappointments -- painfully so. The hardest part of both losses was that most don't really know the facts. Most believe MSFT got me removed because the court held I was biased against them; that's not what happened. And most think we lost in Eldred because the court endorsed perpetual copyright. That too is not correct. In MSFT, the court held it was not appropriate to have a special master in a case like that was. That is a fine decision, in my view, even though it meant I was removed. And in the Eldred case, the court held that however silly perpetual extensions of copyright was, the court was constrained not to second-guess congress. Restraint by courts is a good thing generally, so again, not an awful decision, but disappointing.

It is the second decision however that has affected my life. The first has not. The second has driven me to help push this matter politically. We will win this issue. The question is just when.

If we were to look at the overall picture of things; what would you say is the general goal of the work that you do, if you have one?

That the law not be corrupted. Some think that's silly, because the law is necessarily corrupted. I don't believe that. Some think that's silly because those who pervert the law are so powerful. We'll see if they're powerful enough.

And finally, on a lighter note, will you have time for any vacation this year, and if so, will it head towards the mountains or the beach, or somewhere in between?

Yes, my wife and I are expecting a child in August, so we'll take some zero work time together -- finally.

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