MayDay PAC: Has Lawrence Lessig Become Silicon Valley’s Karl Rove?

2012 Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig

Photo Credit: Copyleft

Since it’s election season we thought we’d take a break from artists’ rights today and see what one of the “usual suspects” is up to this elections season.  In this case we look at Lester Lawrence Lessig III the piracy-defending-party-pokering-Harvard law professor and former Anton Scalia clerk.  Looks like he has a new Silicon Valley billionaires “grassroots” PAC that is aimed at getting “big money” out of politics by injecting “big money” into politics.  No this isn’t an Onion article although it should be.  

MayDay Pac: Has Lawrence Lessig Become Silicon Valley’s Karl Rove?

Short answer:  NO.   I doubt that Rove would be foolish enough to personally and repeatedly  taunt a sitting house committee chairman from his personal twitter account.  A Chairman that may very well survive the election.  But I’ll get back to this in a minute.

Long answer?

Ever since Lester Lawrence Lessig III launched the MayDay PAC -” the PAC to end all PACs”- I’ve been watching this with some interest.  Mostly because the whole proposition itself seems pretty suspect.  In order to “reform” campaign finance, in order to get billionaires and corporate interests out of politics he went out and collected millions from billionaires  and corporate interests?  Huh?  Especially suspect since one of the biggest donors (Peter Thiel) appears to oppose all campaign finance reform.

As the Huffington Post noted:

Support from Thiel for Lessig’s campaign to reform campaign finance laws is not only eyebrow-raising because of his libertarian politics — the Libertarian Party has called for the repeal of all campaign finance laws since at least the 1970s — but also because of a political treatise he penned in 2009 declaring, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

This is classic Lessig: co-opting a seemingly populist cause like copyright reform, while faithfully carrying forward a corporate agenda. In this case  the MacGuffin is campaign finance reform but to my eye the real plot line involves a clever new way for Silicon Valley to influence (or threaten)  our elected representatives with BIG money.  Just look at the list of donors  especially the big donors.  It’s a who’s who of Silicon Valley and anti-copyright ideologues. No surprise the serial innovator of artist rip-offs, Sean Parker (Napster, Facebook, Spotify), tops the list at $500,000! But something else becomes readily apparent when you dig down deeper into the midsize donors:  there sure are a hell of a lot of Google employees who’ve donated to this PAC.  So many that one shouldn’t be faulted for questioning whether this was coordinated.  I’ve helpfully compiled all the donors listed on the FEC documents  into a single Excel file that you can search and sort on 22 fields. Don’t believe me?  Dig in and draw your own conclusions.

Excel here: MayDay PAC addresses redacted


What is Lessig up to here?   On the surface he claims to be trying to clean up politics and get the “dark money” out of campaigns.  But is he really?   Here are some funny things I’ve noticed about the PAC.

1. Lessig promised total transparency and was supposed to  list the names of all his donors.  And then he didn’t.   Even the Sunlight Foundation (he is a board member) had to note the irony.

2. Of the more than 65,000 donors Lessig claims, less than 10% have been disclosed. (Lessig never really disclosed many of his donors and instead left it to the FEC and the FEC doesn’t require disclosure of small donors.)  This still means there are 59,000 undisclosed donors to a PAC that said it was gonna disclose it’s donors! MayDay PAC doesn’t know who it’s donors are? Why? Either you are against “anonymous  money”  in politics or you aren’t? Isn’t this your homework Larry?

3.  I conducted an experiment with the MayDay PAC website and it’s payment processor.  As a result I believe that you can donate repeatedly to the PAC using fake names and addresses and they will not catch it.  I have concluded the name and address a donor provides to the MayDay PAC does not have to match the credit card!  Thus it seems it’s possible that a big donor could avoid disclosing by repeatedly donating $100 under different names and addresses. I’m not familiar with FEC laws but this doesn’t seem right.

4.  On at least one occasion the experiment involved donating money using  a non-U.S. address while simultaneously using a VPN to make it appear like I was in that  foreign country. Didn’t the Watergate break-in have something to do with foreign donations to the Nixon campaign?

5. Why accept BitCoin donations? The whole point of BitCoin is it’s untraceable virtual cash.   Given the fact it’s the de facto currency of the “dark web” it’s by definition “dark money.” How does this fit with the  MayDay PAC dedication to “transparency” and opposition to “dark money?”

6. With all the Silicon Valley money in this PAC we can only assume they had some very bright people build their website.  Why would they leave what appears to be a “back door” (some would say barn door)  for anonymous donations? Was this intentional?

7. This is totally subjective but it seems incredibly bizarre that they would raise more than half their 5 million in small online donations over 4th of july weekend?  Much of that during the hours most people are cooking out and watching fireworks?

8.  Why is there now a “missing” 5 million dollars in the PAC?  Were they counting donations they hadn’t received?  Did they count some of the  big matching donations as part of the original “small donors?”  Why are public statements at odds with FEC documents?

Finally  shouldn’t a PAC that claims transparency have a transparent  process for how they decide to spend their  money? Who decides which candidates to support?   What is the process? For instance in California’s 17th district  Silicon Valley is backing the tech-buzzword-spewing Ro Khanna against the old pro labor democratic stalwart Honda.  Will MayDay PAC let their rank and file donors decide who they back?  Or will they just follow the big Silicon Valley money and back Ro Khanna?

So if this PAC isn’t really about transparency,  campaign reform or even the wishes of the  little donor what is it about?   Sadly I think this is about Lessig establishing himself as some sort of King Maker.  The guy who doles out the Silicon Valley money.   When I read Lessig or listen to him speak I don’t get the impression he is a humble guy.  This is a guy that wants to be in politics  (or on the Supreme Court like his former boss Antonin Scalia).  That is why he’s out there personally taunting candidates that he is spending against.

This is not the mark of a true behind the scenes power broker like Rove.   When an artists’ rights blogger who knows nothing about PACs and politics can find this many loose threads in an hour or two it’s definitely amateur hour.

Ultimately this whole thing is a tragedy. Thousands of small donors have been tricked into supporting a “grassroots” campaign finance reform PAC  that is not really what it seems.  I commend any real attempt to get big money out of politics and return to a government of the people, a government where the rich and powerful don’t get to choose who becomes Mayor, Governor, Congressman, Senator and President.   But MayDay PAC looks like the opposite of that.  This appears to be yet another clever way for the rich and powerful to co-opt a populist movement and use it to pick a candidate that will look after the narrow commercial interests of Silicon Valley.  Lessig should be called out for perpetrating this intellectual and political  fraud on the good people of this country.


PS. Lessig has a new book called “Lesterland.” It’s a sort of fable written in his overly pedantic style that tells the story of “Lesterland” which is just like the United States with it’s 311 million citizens but an elite 150,000  pick the candidates.   He calls this elite “Lesters”  because there are about 150,000 people named Lester in the U.S.

Including the author Lester Lawerence Lessig III.

Does anyone else find it incredibly weird?   It’s at least confusing.  Is he calling himself an “elite” or is he manifesting some sort of weird form of self-loathing?   Maybe there’s both a “Larry” and a “Lester” inside the old noggin. “Lester” supports “Citizens United” and was a clerk for Justice Scalia.   “Larry” is a liberal law professor and has started an Anti-Citizens United PAC to contain “Lester”.   This will make a great movie one day.  Maybe as good as the  Roy Cohn movie.

Government Capture and Google’s Crony Capitalism Assault on America

Originally posted on MUSIC • TECHNOLOGY • POLICY:

In case you haven’t noticed, Google has been conducting an all out assault on powerful positions in the U.S. Government.  Note that I say “the U.S. Government” and not “the Obama Administration” for a reason–it just happens, it is merely coincidental that President Obama is the occupant of the White House during Google’s rise to power.  Focusing on the political party of the White House misses the point–David Duke could get elected president and Google would still be playing the same game.  And it’s a game as old as mankind.  Using money to gain influence and using influence to gain power.

Because, as Erik Telford writes in Townhall, “Google [is] the Halliburton of the Obama Administration.”  Even Politico’s Google booster Tony Romm said “The Obama Administration recently plundered the search giant’s ranks.”  Andrew Orlowski wrote four years ago in the Register, “Google is Obama’s Halliburton: So Who’s…

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Blake Morgan Explains the #irespectmusic AND I VOTE! campaign and the Importance of @respectcreators at @thebitterend Show in NYC

Originally posted on MUSIC • TECHNOLOGY • POLICY:

On October 14, Blake Morgan and a great line up of performers hosted a sold out standing room only live show for the #irespectmusic AND I VOTE! campaign at the legendary Bitter End in Greenwich Village.  In addition to stellar performances by City of the Sun, Jus Post Bellum, Coyle Girelli and Janita as well as a rousing speech supporting artist rights by Congressman Jerry Nadler that brought the house down, Blake told the story of the #irespectmusic activism and the voter registration campaign.  (See event review here at Doo Bee Doo Bee Doo.)

I highly recommend watching this video of Blake’s inspiring short speech about the evolution of his activism, the voter registration drive and the Congressional Creative Rights Caucus.

Tell your friends, sign the petition and VOTE on November 4!


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Two Sincere Questions for The Future Of Music Coalition #SFMUSICTECH


Timely questions as the FOMC Policy Summit is one again upon us…

Originally posted on The Trichordist:

We notice that Future of Music Coalition has submitted testimony to congress asking that they “represent” artists in the Copyright Reform process begun by Congress.

So since they’ve  volunteered to represent us.  We feel it only fair that they answer these two questions:

1. Who selects your advocacy positions?  
AFM, AFTRA, NARAS, Nashville Songwriters Assn, and ASCAP all have democratically elected boards who set the organizations’ positions.  Do you have members who vote for leadership?  If not, who is making those decisions?

2. Who funds your organization?
Google is listed as your first sponsor of your primary event.

How much money do you get from Google?  Do you think you should be taking funding from a source many artists believe to be opposed to their interests?

FOMC Spondors

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The Paradox of Pirate Logic : Music Versus Music Software – Full Post


By simply adding the word “Software” to the word “Music” the rationalizations around stealing labor from musicians falls apart very quickly.

Originally posted on The Trichordist:

by Chris Whitten
(Copyright in the Author, Posted with Permission)

The bottom line for many in the often heated piracy debate is this: “Give us a good product at a fair price, make it convenient and easy to obtain and we’ll buy it”.

There is a digital product that ticks most of those boxes. So by comparing two products I wonder if we can learn anything about the chances of reducing music and movie piracy by making it better quality, more affordable and easy to download?

I’m of course talking about music production software.

About 7 years ago I was involved in creating a virtual drum instrument in collaboration with a Swedish music software producer Toontrack. Our product has been critically acclaimed, is a best seller, but is also unfortunately a favourite with software pirates. The pirate’s ‘advice’ to “adapt or die” appears then to ring hollow. As a performance…

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Shootout At the Fantasy Factory Part 2: What Should Streams Mean for Royalty Escalations?

Trichordist Editor:

If 100 streams = 1 Song Download, why doesn’t the money match?

Originally posted on MUSIC • TECHNOLOGY • POLICY:

As we noted in a prior post, Billboard reported on what might be called the “chart value” of streams compared to downloads.  To the extent that streams are counted in both the Billboard charts and the UK’s Official Charts, streams are valued at 100 streams to one permanent download.  This ratio was touted by Spotify at the recent artist meetings hosted by the Featured Artist Coalition in New York.

When you consider the royalty value of that ratio, however, those 100 streams are rewarded at a much, much lower penny rate than a download, even if you compare 100 streams to the $0.70 price of the lowest iTunes wholesale price of downloads.  As we noted previously, the 100:1 ratio implies a per-stream royalty of $0.007.

What About the Royalty Value?

Experience suggests that this seems high.  Quite high.  So just to confirm what Spotify representatives actually said at the…

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The Return of Brand Sponsored Piracy: Google’s Artist Shakedown Continues But This Time They Really, Really, Really Mean It

Trichordist readers will recall our many posts about how Google uses search to drive traffic to unlicensed sites where Google Adsense or Doubleclick serves the advertising that keeps the illegal site operating.  And turns a nice profit for Google.  This is the principal way Google profits from piracy as far as we can tell.

Today there’s a story in the BBC about Google’s latest charm offensive to try to demonstrate to the world–or at least to the European Commission antitrust regulators–that far from profiting from piracy, Google actually fights piracy.

This is, of course, utter bullshit.  We’re not going to go through the whole song and dance again, but take a look at this screen shot showing Google’s Doubleclick serving an ad to Grooveshark.  That would be the adjudicated infringer Grooveshark:

Google Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 9.37.22 AM

Here’s what Google told the BBC:

Google has announced changes to its search engine in an attempt to curb online piracy.

The company has long been criticised for enabling people to find sites to download entertainment illegally.

The entertainment industry has argued that illegal sites should be “demoted” in search results.

The new measures, mostly welcomed by music trade group the BPI, will instead point users towards legal alternatives such as Spotify [Google is on the Spotify board so presumably owns shares in Spotify] and Google Play [aka the Genco Pura Olive Oil Company 2.0].

Google will now list these legal services in a box at the top of the search results, as well as in a box on the right-hand side of the page.

Crucially, however, these will be adverts – meaning if legal sites want to appear there, they will need to pay Google for the placement.

The BPI said that while it was “broadly” pleased with Google’s changes, it did not think sites should have to pay.

“There should be no cost when it comes to serving consumers with results for legal services,” a spokesman told the BBC.

Well, allow us to retort:

This is a motherfucking shakedown.

We suspect that’s a more accurate assessment of what the BPI was probably thinking but felt constrained to say.

Combine this with thursdays Digital Music News story and we can only conclude:

Google drives traffic to illegal sites while forcing legitimate sites to pay!  How is this good news?


When Iggy Pop can’t live off his art, what chance do the rest have? | The Globe and Mail

But a new reality has tripped him up and it’s the same one shafting artists all across the world: Namely, that everyone wants to listen, and no one wants to pay. This week, Iggy gave a lecture for the British Broadcasting Corp. called Free Music in a Capitalist Society. Artists have always been ripped off by corporations, he said; now the public is in on the free ride, too: “The cat is out of the bag and the new electronic devices, which estrange people from their morals, also make it easier to steal music than to pay for it.”

To keep skinny body and maverick soul together, Iggy’s become a DJ, a car-insurance pitchman and a fashion model. If he had to live off royalties, he said, he’d have to “tend bars between sets.” As I listened to his enthusiastic stoner Midwestern drawl, I thought: If Iggy Pop can’t make it, what message does that send to all the baby Iggys out there? In a society where worth is judged by price, for better or worse, what are you saying to someone when you won’t pay for the thing he’s crafted?



Announcement From c3 (The Content Creators Coalition)

“Google is in the process of systematically destroying our artistic future… if the creative community doesn’t intervene now, and by now, I mean, fucking now — we will be bound to a multigenerational clusterfuck that will take 40 to 50 years to unravel.” - Kurt Sutter Attacks Google: Stop Profiting from Piracy (Guest Column) | Variety

when:  THIS SUNDAY, Oct 19th, at 4:30-5:00pm
where: Google 8th ave btwn 15th and 16th sts in Manhattan)

MARCH WITH US at 4pm sharp from Le Poisson Rouge
(158 Bleecker St., btwn Sullivan and Thompson in Manhattan )
MEET US at Kelly Park at 4:15 pm
(W 16th St., btwn 8th and 9th avenue in Manhattan)

This action is sponsored by the c3, the Content Creators Coalition, a non-profit organization dedicated to the achievement of economic justice in the digital domain.

*  Google: Stop the Attack on Artists’ Rights.
*  Google/YouTube: Pay Creators For All Use Of Copyrighted Materials: When Profit Is Being Made, The Artist Must Be Paid:  Support An Artists Right To Choose: Take-Down-Means-Stay-Down!
*  Google: Stop brokering ads to corporate black market sites.

Please Forward

SUPPORT ARTISTS RIGHTS! #supportartistsrights
Join Us:


Shootout at the Fantasy Factory: What’s the Value of a Stream?

Trichordist Editor:

Chris Castle at Music Tech Policy beats us to the punch on more Spotify shenanigans… if 100 streams = 1 song download, why don’t the economics match?

Originally posted on MUSIC • TECHNOLOGY • POLICY:

The erudite Harley Brown reported in Billboard about Spotify’s artist relations charm offensive in New York that:

[Blake Morgan's] main complaints were manifold, but two were based on the meeting’s central tenets: that the per-stream rate is never going to go up (70 percent of revenue goes to royalties) and 100 song streams equals a sale on the Billboard charts and the U.K.’s Official Charts Company. With regard to the former, both [Mark] Williamson [of Spotify] and [Paul] Pacifico [of the Featured Artist Coalition] stress that Morgan (and a few other malcontents) didn’t pipe down long enough to let Spotify help the uninitiated artists in the room understand their position.

“What I was trying to explain,” Williamson says, exasperation emanating from his voice over the phone, “Is that we’re a revenue share model. How do we increase the amount of revenue — the pot of royalties — which increases the amount we…

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