Transcript of Lessig's talk: "Aaron's Law"

On Naked Capitalism, The Unknown Transcriber has transcribed the full text of Lawrence Lessig's Aaron's Law talk, which was one of Larry's finest moments.

So Aaron was a hacker. But he was not just a hacker. He was an Internet activist, but not just an Internet activist. Indeed, the most important part of Aaron’s life is the part most run over too quickly – the last chunk, when he shifted his focus from this effort to advance freedom in the space of copyright, to an effort to advance freedom and social justice more generally.

And I shared this shift with him. In June of 2007 I too announced I was giving up my work on Internet and copyright to work in this area of corruption. And I’m not sure when for him this change made sense, but I’m fairly sure when it made sense for me. Happened in 2006. Aaron had come to a conference, the C3 conference, the 23rd C3 conference in Berlin, and I was with my family at the American Academy in Berlin and Aaron came to visit me. And we had a long conversation, and in the course of that conversation Aaron said to me, how are you ever going to make progress in the areas that I was working on, copyright reform, Internet regulation reform, so long as there is, as he put it, this, quote, “corruption” in the political field. I tried to deflect him a bit. I said, “Look, that’s not my field.” Not my field. And he said, “I get it. As an academic, you mean?” And I said, “Yes, as an academic, that’s not my field.” And he said, “And as a citizen, is it your field?” As a citizen is it your field?

And this was his power. Amazing, unpatented power. Like the very best teachers, he taught by asking. Like the most effective leaders, his questions were on a path, his path. They coerced you, if you wanted to be as he was. They forced you to think of who you were and what you believed in and decide, were you to be the person you thought you were? So when people refer to me as Aaron Swartz’s mentor, they have it exactly backwards. Aaron was my mentor. He taught me, he pushed me, he led me. He led me to where I work today.

Transcript: Lawrence Lessig on “Aaron’s Laws – Law and Justice in a Digital Age”: Section I



  1. Question – at 32:30 the camera shifts to an audience member. Who is that?

    I ask only because it’s out of tune with the rest of the way the talk is filmed, so I think I’m missing an important context. Is that someone who was key to the fight against COICA, someone involved in writing it, or merely a bemused faculty member at Harvard Law?

    edit – nevermind… later there are a few more “crowd reaction” shots, so I inferred meaning without grounding.

    Really excellent talk. Informative, with the heartbreak of the events hovering in the background but not obscuring the details of the work Aaron was doing, its meaning, and the comparison of his treatment to the legal impact suffered by other civil disobedients.

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