Lawrence Lessig is a legal professional specializing in what is commonly called cyberlaw as well as constitutional law . He is not only a lawyer but is also a commentator, theorist, writer and philosopher.

Biographical Information

Lawrence Lessig was born in Rapid City, South Dakota on June 3, 1961. Not long after he was born, his family moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania where his father had purchased a steel milling company. His political stance in his youth was far to the right, largely influenced by his father and his community. In high school, he served as the chairman for a group named Teenage Republicans for the State of Pennsylvania. He dabbled in politics, going so far as to run the unsuccessful campain of a Republican state senate candidate in 1980.

He earned his BA in economics and his BS in management from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983. He went on to earn an MA in philosophy from Trinity College in 1986 and a JD from Yale Law School in 1989. He has been a clerk for a Supreme Court Justice (1990-1991), a professor at the law school of the University of Chicago (1991-1997), a professor at Harvard (1997-2000) and a fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (1999-2000). Not to mention being a columnist for The Industry Standard (1998-2001) and a board member at the RedHat Center for Open Source (2000-2001).

He currently resides in Stanford, California with his wife Bettina Neuefeind who is also a lawyer. He is a professor of law and the director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. He is also a member of the board at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and chairman of the board for Creative Commons.

Major Media Exposure

On December 11, 1997 he was appointed "special master" in the Justice Department v. Microsoft antitrust case. He was chosen by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson for his knowledge of constitutional law and economics. For the next 54 days, Lessig logged over 278 hours working on the case. Microsoft contended that Lessig has a bias in the case due to his correspondence with an employee of Netscape. I've included the relevant portion of the email below, taken from the affidavit Lessig filed on January 14, 1998 in responce to Microsoft's allegations of bias.

"Ok, now this is making me really angry, and Charlie Nesson thinks we should file a law suit. But please tell me whether this is true. When I installed Internet Explore 3.0 on my Mac system (only because I wanted to be entered into the contest to win a 3400) ("sold my soul, and nothing happened"), the next time I went into Netscape, all my bookmarks were screwed up. Did IE do this?"

Microsoft contended that the email exchange demonstrated bias on Lessig's part. Lessig contended that the email exchange appeared to be biased as he was anticipating the employee of a company who was a friend to tease him for installing a competitor's product. On February 3, 1998 the Federal Court of Appeals went with Microsoft and dismissed Lessig as "special master" in the case.

One step back, two steps forward

While this was a defeat for Lessig it could be argued that the publicity more than made up for it. Since that time in the lime light, he's published two books: Code, and Other Laws of Cyberspace in 1999 and The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World in 2001. In 2000 he was named in National Law Journal's "100 Most Influential Lawyers" and BusinessWeek's "25 Top eBiz Leaders." In 2001 he was awarded the World Technology Award for Law and was once again named in BusinessWeek's "25 Top eBiz Leaders." He's written articles and essays for a variety of publication and given speeches, seminars and workshops to an incredible variety of groups.

When this was first written, Lessig was preparing to argue Eldred v. Ashcroft before the Supreme Court. The complaint in the case was filed in January of 1999 and was argued on October 9, 2002. The case questioned the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended all past and future copyrights by 20 years. Unlike most constitutional copyright cases, it doesn't question Congresses ability to define what "limited" means in "for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries" but rather how extending the copyrights of people who are already dead fits in with copyright's stated goal: "to promote the progress of science and useful arts." The outcome of the case could have radically changed US copyright law. The most cited example of this is that without the 1998 copyright extension, Steamboat Willy would have passed into the public domain in 2003.

On January 15th, the Supreme Court rules on Eldred v. Ashcroft. They sided with Ashcroft 7 to 2.

I used a slew of sources while writing this, including:
Lessig's CV at
Steven Levy's article on Lessig at
Various other websites for fact-finding and -checking.
And finally, Eco for helping me put the whole thing in order.

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