Lessig Defends Dotcom as Extradition Hearing Begins | Copyhype

Required reading regarding Larry Lessig’s pitch to help Kim Dotcom…

The second thing about Lessig’s declaration that jumps out is an apparent contradiction between Lessig and Dotcom’s defense team regarding the applicability of the DMCA safe harbors to Megaupload.

In the white paper, Dotcom’s defense team says

Even if the U.S. government’s wishful expansion of the criminal copyright law into the realm of secondary infringement were tenable (which it is not), Megaupload is shielded from criminal liability by specific “safe harbor” provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), included in the law to protect companies like Megaupload that make efforts to remove infringing material in response to “take-down” notices issued by copyright holders

But in his declaration, Lessig asserts “The DMCA is only a defense in the civil context”. The reversal is notable.




Larry Lessig is Wrong, and should “Get Over It”

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.  http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2014/08/06/mayday-pac-sheds-light-on-largest-donors/

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?  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/09/13/1329533/-Mayday-PAC-staffers-comment-on-missing-5-million-critics-holding-their-noses-and-more

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.

“Google & The World Brain” Airing Now on Al Jazeera America

This may be the single most important piece of work to date that explores the rights and concerns of creators in the digital age. The film details how Google has made plans to commercially monetize and monopolize all creative works for their own corporate profit.



The goal of accumulating all human knowledge in one repository has been a dream since ancient times. Only recently, however, has that dream become a reality. Quietly and behind closed doors, Google has been executing a project to scan and digitize every printed word on the planet. Working with the world’s most prestigious libraries, the webmasters are reinventing the limits of copyright in the name of free access to anyone, anywhere. What can possibly be wrong with this? As “Google and the World Brain reveals,” a whole lot.

Some argue that Google’s actions represent aggressive theft on an enormous scale, others see them as an attempt to monopolize our shared cultural heritage, and still others view the project as an attempt to flatten our minds by consolidating complex ideas into searchable “extra long tweets.”

At first slowly, and then with intensifying conviction, a diverse coalition mobilizes to stop the fulfillment of this ambitious dream. Incisive and riveting as it uncovers a high-stakes multinational heist, Ben Lewis’s film voices an important alternative to the technological utopianism of our time.

Lessig Mixes it Up | The Illusion Of More

David Newhoff at The Illusion Of More challenges Lawrence Lessig’s “Laws That Choke Creativity.”

So, as a legal layman but active observer of these things, it seems to me Mr. Lessig’s presentation, though charming, contains at least two fallacious premises.  The first is that the positive aspects of remix culture are actually threatened by the copyright system; and the second is that remix culture is universally positive.  I don’t know of any cases in which rights holders are stopping “the kids” from singing the songs of the day on YouTube.  But there are plenty of cases in which adults are profiting from remixing culture in ways that benefit neither fans nor creators. While it’s almost rote these days to call everyone a shill, I don’t think this is very helpful. I prefer to assume intelligent people mean what they say and believe in their positions, and Lawrence Lessig is certainly an intelligent man.  Of course, that might be why his ideas are ultimately so dangerous.


Second Nyan Cat Award Goes To The Fake Thomas Jefferson And His Copyleft Creators

This Nyan Cat awards are given for outstanding achievement in disinformation, web myths and general web based idiocy.  

One of the biggest and most important urban myths that the Copyleft loves to propagate is the one about Thomas Jefferson and copyright. Several times now I’ve had the following Jefferson quote thrown at me when I refer to the founding fathers and the constitutional foundation of copyright.

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. – Thomas Jefferson. Letter to Isaac McPherson 1813. 

Wow! It really sounds like Jefferson was the founding member of the Copyleft! This is very similar to the arguments made against copyright by people like Electronic Frontier Foundation’s John Perry Barlow.

The first problem with this? JEFFERSON WAS NOT TALKING ABOUT COPYRIGHT. He was talking about patents and inventions. A very specific one at that. All one has to do to verify this is to  read the two paragraph immediately preceding this quote.  Patents and Copyright are two very different things. Patents protect inventions. Copyright protects expression.  I can not express how important it is that there is a distinction between these two very different kinds of intellectual property.

The second problem with this? When you put this quote back in context you see that Jefferson is not even arguing against patents.  Among other things he seems to be quibbling about whether patents should extend beyond the lifetime of the inventor. If Jefferson was opposed to the entire idea of Intellectual Property (as many in the tech blogosphere argue) why would he serve on the US patent board? And why would he approve patents?

Third. Jefferson had little to say about copyright when compared to others. He didn’t have much to do with the copyright laws. Asking Jefferson instead of Madison about copyright is like asking Ringo instead of John Lennon about Strawberry Fields Forever. Wait, I take that back. It’s like asking Charlie Watts instead of John Lennon about Strawberry Fields Forever. Jefferson was The Patent Guy, and he was in France when much of the discussion occurred.

And why is that important? Well when courts interpret the laws and constitution they often read historical texts that shed light on the author’s thoughts at the time. When it comes to copyright it’s unlikely Jefferson would be consulted. More likely Madison and Pinckney would be consulted. Indeed Madison and Pinckney’s views on Copyright are very similar to the laws we have today and naturally how they are interpreted.

Granted one may use Jefferson’s letters and thoughts in an honest discussion about the length of exclusive rights for patents. You could even by analogy have an honest discussion about the length of copyright terms. But to use a single letter by Jefferson to dispute the legal and ethical basis of constitutional notions of copyright is not just revisionist, it’s dishonest. Do I need to remind our readers the role revisionist histories have played in human tragedies?

That is why we at the Trichordist are proud to give our 2nd Nyan Cat award to The Fake Thomas Jefferson and his Creators! 

There are many people that deserve to be credited as contributors to this dangerous revisionist history. But there are too many to thank by name. However we would be remiss in our duties if we didn’t single out three people that deserve special recognition:

John Perry Barlow. This may be the Ur-blog post when it comes to this fantasy.

The Economy of Ideas

Lawrence Lessig.  Here he clearly uses Jefferson’s out of context quote on the length of patents to begin a discussion about all Intellectual Property rights.  Lessig being the Guru of the copyleft, this has had the effect of inserting Jefferson into the middle of the constitutional debate about copyright when he doesn’t belong there.

Jefferson’s Nature

David Post has written a sort of legal alternate reality historical fiction In Search of Jefferson’s Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace. A sort of what WWJD (What would Jefferson do) about cyberspace.  Those on the copyleft often refer me back to his writings when the intention of our founding fathers regarding copyright and intellectual property comes into question. Just as The Singularity Myth partially emerged from science fiction, The Fake Thomas Jefferson has been  birthed by writings like this.

For a fascinating and in depth exploration of The Fake Thomas Jefferson I refer you to these two papers by constitutional scholar Terry Hart.

Who Cares What Jefferson Thought about Copyright

Myths from the Birth of US Copyright

The fact these two articles are often viewed as controversial in cyberspace shows us just how far from historical reality the discussion has drifted.

It should also be noted that David Post  responded to Terry Hart’s “Who cares what Jefferson thought about copyright”:

Why Should We Care What Jefferson Thought About Copyright

And Terry Hart then responded:

Response to David Post, re: Jefferson

Finally if you want the real deal on the founding fathers and intellectual property try The Federalist Papers.  Quote from Madison himself:

1. A power “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing, for a limited time, to authors and inventors, the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

The utility of this power will scarcely be questioned. The copyright of authors has been solemnly adjudged, in Great Britain, to be a right of common law. The right to useful inventions seems with equal reason to belong to the inventors. The public good fully coincides in both cases with the claims of individuals. The States cannot separately make effectual provisions for either of the cases, and most of them have anticipated the decision of this point, by laws passed at the instance of Congress.

Enemies of Artists Organize on Internet


Once again the guardian misses the not-so-subtlety of the debate. It’s not Governments and large corporations on one side of the “freedom of the internet” debate and individuals on the other. This is a completely outdated narrative.

The freedom of the internet debate has been totally co-opted. Google and other giant tech companies would have you believe they are fighting for your “freedom” when it’s actually their freedom to exploit us. Further they want to be beyond government control. Recently in The Guardian  Sergey Brin was quoted as saying: “If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great”.

Personally we’d rather have a democratically controlled elected government regulating the internet, rather than a company like google which isn’t even accountable to it’s own shareholders. (see latest stock split).

Further Google, Facebook and others web 2.0 companies are all built on an “architecture of exploitation”. Or as Stephen Colbert smartly noted in his interview with Lawrence Lessig:

Colbert: Well let’s see (laughing)…so the hybrid economy is where everybody else does the work and Flickr makes all the money?

Wake up people.

Trichordist Editorial.