Code, Law, Money and John Philip Sousa

Lawrence Lessig may fancy himself a mixologist, at least so far as You Tube mashups, Washington politics and regulating all things technology are concerned.

In his latest remix of “Code is Law,” the Harvard law professor took a fresh look at the four modalities — law, norms, market and architecture — in the era of revolution by Twitter and of revelation by Wikileaks.

And along the way during the keynote address ABA Techshow 2011, he dusted off congressional testimony by bandleader and composer John Philip Sousa, who lamented in 1906 that the “talking machine,” as phonographs were once called, would squelch creativity.

“These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy … in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs,” Lessig quoted Sousa as saying.

But if Sousa’s quote is familiar to Lessig’s fans, so too was the staccato delivery of his hourlong talk, punctuated by graphically savvy slides, plenty of stock photography, a copyright matrix (of course) and a few clips from YouTube (yes, remixes).

He retraced his views on copyright, saying that the laws as well as the enforcers still must come to terms with the nature of the Web and the fact that its social media aspect is all about sharing, particularly “young people singing the songs of the day” or, in the case of YouTube, young people doing mashups of popular music videos.

This aspect of the World Wide Web has been a boon for what Lessig calls “read-write creativity,” borrowing a computer term for open access to files, as opposed to read-only permission. Indeed, the explosive growth of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the like has spawned “a read-write community.”

Even so, the 2011 remix of “Code is Law” remains in flux, Lessig said, declaring that it’s not the deployment of law or market forces or social mores or architecture that matters as much as the mix itself. He conceded that he’s still working on the recipe.

While he’s using the same ingredients, though, he said his premise is built on reason, which he now concludes is absent from policymaking.

Which brought him to this conclusion (and sparked his latest cause): Money in politics has corrupted the republic and elbowed out reason from democracy.

Lessig’s response is a movement that takes its name from a Henry David Thoreau quote: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

And you learn more — on the Web, of course — at

~ by CDLB on April 12, 2011.

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