Lessig campaigning to be the first IP Czar?

October 22, 2008

In what might be the first major newspaper editorial ever written in praise of a lawyer, The UK Guardian joined a chorus of voices calling for Stanford law Professor Larry Lessig to play a role in the next U.S. administration.

Superlawyer (geek-tastic photo by ekai, cc-by-nc-sa

Larry Lessig: Superlawyer (geek-tastic photo by ekai, cc-by-nc-sa

Consider the Guardian piece together with Lessig’s own timely op-ed in today’s NYT (following a similar piece in the WSJ two weeks ago) and it’s hard not to wonder if the politicized professor isn’t pursuing a careful game plan.

In both of his articles, Lessig urges bi-partisan action towards reforming the over-reaching intellectual property regulations of the United States. By publishing them now, he also positions himself as an ideal candidate to enact such views when a new President takes office in 2009.

If I’m right, then these high-profile op-eds will be seen as crucial tactical moves in a Lessig bid to become the country’s first cabinet-level “IP Czar.” The position will be mandatory for the next administration as a result of the so-called PRO-IP Act that was signed last week. The act was passed (against President Bush’s wishes) as a result of heavy lobbying on the part of the notorious film and recording industry groups, the MPAA and RIAA.

Even though the two industry groups had their usual agenda of strict rights and tough enforcement in mind when they spurred lawmakers to create the post, no justice could be more poetic than to have the job go to Lessig, a long time critic of the lobby groups’ unbalanced and draconian approach.

I may be exaggerating when I call this a campaign on Lessig’s part as he is already a very well-connected advisor to Barack Obama on IP and technology policy issues and has also been mentioned as a potential CTO in a hypothetical Obama administration. Nevertheless, the articles confirm that if Obama winds up in the White House, I would not be surprised to see Lessig join him.


4 Responses to “Lessig campaigning to be the first IP Czar?”

  1. robert1964johnson Says:

    Lessing is more likely compaigning for the sale of his book. He may well get some postition in the new administration but I can’t imagine it would the piracy czar, which incidentally was demoted in the final legislation and is no longer accurately called a “cabinet” level position. Moreover, this would be akin to hiring James Watt and Anne Gorsuch to administer (aka undermine if not dismantle)the EPA and Deptatment of Interior. One might not share the goals of the legislation that created the piracy czar, but the reality is that is was passed by a Democratic majority in Congress (over objections by some Bushies). It is hard to imagine that Obama would use the appointment to turn the express purpose of the legislation on its head and affirmitively undermine it the same way that Reagan undermined environmental legislation by the aforementioned appointments or in the same way that Bush II undermined civil rights legislation by his Justice Department picks.

  2. aaron Says:

    Thanks for the update on the status of the IP Czar position, robert1964johnson. I appreciate the points, but disagree with a major piece of what you said:

    “this would be akin to hiring James Watt and Anne Gorsuch to administer (aka undermine if not dismantle)the EPA and Deptatment of Interior.”

    Lessig is absolutely not, as you suggest here, “against” intellectual property. In his books and presentations, he supports a nuanced set of reforms to existing IP laws and jurisprudence which, if implemented, would establish a balance between the interests of the content industry, consumers, artists and society as a whole. Furthermore, Creative Commons, Lessig’s primary effort to reform IP thus far, relies on a strong notion of author’s rights and copyright for its existence.

    The idea that Lessig would “dismantle” IP is absurd.

  3. robert1964johnson Says:

    Aaron: According to Wiki (as of this date): “He [Lessig] is best known as a proponent of reduced legal restrictions on copyright [and] trademark ….” The point of the recently enacted legislation creating the IP czar position was to increase and enhance enforcement of existing IP protections (as those protections were strengthened by the legislation itself). It is self-evident that the Democratic Congress that drafted and enacted the legislation and the industry that supported it are not “proponent[s] of reduced legal restrictions on copyright [and] trademark.” A policy of reducing legal restrictions on IP is in no way embodied in that legislation. The legislation creating what many reports refer to as the “Ant-Piracy Czar” was not enacted “In Defense of Piracy” — the title of Lessig’s recent Wall Street Journal article. Nor is the IP czar intended by the statute to “reform” IP, as you put it (or at least not in the way you are using that verb). If Lessig were appointed, the drafters and proponents of the legislation plainly would feel at least as swindled as environmentalists were by the appointments of James Watt and Anne Gorsuch. Note that to state that Lessig would be antithetical to the legislation that created the IP czar, one need not say that Lessig does not recognize any rights of authorship worthy of legal protection. However, the legislation does establish increased protections and more effective enforcement of those protections that Lessig wants to reduce. While an appointment that is antithetical to the legislation’s express purpose may be conceivable by Bush in an 11th hour pick, Bush presumably would have simply vetoed the legislation if he wanted this result. Still, that is more plausible than Obama thwarting the statute and, by so doing, poking as sharp stick in the eye of both Congress and his friends in Hollywood. I think those who have not read the legislation are confused by the press characterization of this newly created enforcement position as a “czar.” In fact, that term was stricken from the statute and, unlike the connotations of that name in recent years, this is clearly not a broad delegation of policy-making legislative power to an individual. The policy, for better or worse, is already established in law. If Lessig got the job, he would follow the legislative mandate and do something he presumably does not want to do (enforce anti-piracy law even more effectively that it has been enforced in the past) or, alternatively, he would do what he professes to want to do (reduce legal restrictions on copyright and trademark) and undermine the legislation.

    • aaron Says:

      Appreciate the continued back and forth here, robert1964johnson, but I’m not sold that an unattributed statement about Lessig’s interests on Wikipedia trumps other views of his writing and his work. As it happens, I agree with the Wikipedia assessment that Lessig supports reduced restrictions on copyright and trademark; however, I do not draw the conclusion that this position places him at odds with the PRO-IP Act.

      In any case, it looks like the question is moot since he is taking this new Harvard gig…

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