Skip to main content

A Call to Reform Congress

"Changing Congress: Lessons Learned by a Copyright Activist" a presentation by Lawrence Lessig.

Cyber-seer Lawrence Lessig, a legal professor at Stanford University who's widely known for founding Creative Commons and working to re-mold copyright law for the 21st century, has taken up a new cross — reforming Congress.

Much like Creative Commons, a nonprofit that creates a flexible system for individuals to deal with the complex world of copyrighting their own output, Lessig's Change Congress crusade involves taking a "wiki" approach to a wider issue. In this case, the issue is how to flatten the distortions that money creates in the legislative process.

The malign effect of money has so pervaded the process, Lessig believes, that even when it doesn't affect policy the assumption is that it has. "Once you mention money in a story (about legislation)," Lessig said, "listening stops."

The Change Congress effort involves two audiences — legislators on both sides of the aisle pledging some level of commitment to ending the existing money chase in Congress, and Web-posting citizens keeping an eagle eye on the legislators' compliance with their pledge.

Lessig insists his effort, which is meant to be bipartisan, is not quixotic.

"People already have the power," he said during the University of California, Santa Barbara's Center for Information Technology and Society 2008 Distinguished Lecture shortly before launching Change Congress. "This gives them a sense that they can do something with it."

His presentation, "Changing Congress: Lessons Learned by a Copyright Activist," appears in a remixed version here. In it, he compiles a decade of activism around free and digital culture and maps a plan for what those lessons teach about reforming Congress.