Lessig switches from copyright to corruption

Last week, at the International Creative Commons Summit in Dubrovnik, Croatia, Lawrence Lessig made a stunning announcement: he is going to retire from copyfighting and take up a new career, fighting for a new issue. He's going to stay involved with Creative Commons as its CEO, but from now on, he's working to fry a bigger fish: the corruption that leads countries to make bad copyright laws and other regulations, even when they know that the laws are bad for their society.

Larry has posted an expanded piece about this to his blog, explaining his decision to move on after ten years. He suggests that the open Internet and a culture of sharing and remix will make it easier to fight the bigger problem of corruption.

Lessig inspired me — his writing and work changed my life forever, and I'm not the only one. It's amazing to see him moving on to tackle this new issue. I'm looking forward to following where he leads.

From a public policy perspective, the question of extending existing copyright terms is, as Milton Friedman put it, a "no brainer." As the Gowers Commission concluded in Britain, a government should never extend an existing copyright term. No public regarding justification could justify the extraordinary deadweight loss that such extensions impose.

Yet governments continue to push ahead with this idiot idea — both Britain and Japan for example are considering extending existing terms. Why?

The answer is a kind of corruption of the political process. Or better, a "corruption" of the political process. I don't mean corruption in the simple sense of bribery. I mean "corruption" in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money that it can't even get an issue as simple and clear as term extension right. Politicians are starved for the resources concentrated interests can provide. In the US, listening to money is the only way to secure reelection. And so an economy of influence bends public policy away from sense, always to dollars.

The point of course is not new. Indeed, the fear of factions is as old as the Republic. There are thousands who are doing amazing work to make clear just how corrupt this system has become. There have been scores of solutions proposed. This is not a field lacking in good work, or in people who can do this work well.