Lawrence Lessig Quotes

You can't incent a dead person. No matter what we do, Hawthorne will not produce any more works, no matter how much we pay him.

There was a major debate about Congress changing the copyright law. Copyrights always had a life of 26 years and could be renewed once giving 52 years of monopoly protection. However, the copyright on Mickey Mouse was running out since it had been created 51 years earlier by Walt Disney. The modern Walt Disney company lobbied heavily for a change in the law. Other publishers joined them. Their major argument was that authors and creators of material need to have a strong incentive to write and do all the creative work to produce great materials. The change they wanted was to protect the work for the life of the author PLUS 100 years. The example that was given was the great American writer Nathanial Hawthorne who could not earn much money writing and spent part of his career doing other things. London publishers ripped off his popular books, but we did not have a copyright treaty with England. Valenti, a former eloquent politician and the spokesperson for Hollywood, observed that if Hawthorne had been better protected he might have written many more great works. However, Lessig turned the tables on him by pointing out that the 100 years after the death of the author during which the industry wanted protection would have no possible effect on the writing productivity of the creator. Dead people do not respond to economic incentives. It became clear that the argument of the industry that the change would protect authors and encourage them to create more, was a red herring and the only benefit would inure to the copyright holders and controllers and the author would not benefit at all. It was pure commercial desire to use the Federal law to get something valuable that they never had and the public would have gotten. However, the lobbying campaign was one of the best in American history and a benefit was taken away from the public and awarded to a small group of companies who paid handsomely with campaign contributions. A monopoly that no one could obtain in over 200 years of American history suddenly was obtained by a change in the copyright law.
Lawrence Lessig
Lawrence Lessig
  • Born: June 3, 1961
  • Nationality: American
  • Profession: Educator

Lester Lawrence Lessig III is an American academic, attorney, and political activist. He is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the former director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Lessig was a candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but withdrew before the primaries.