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Prof. Lawrence Lessig to Give Elliot Lecture on "Free Labor, Free Culture," Dec. 6

Lawrence Lessig '89, professor of law at Stanford Law School, will deliver the 2001-02 Elliot Lecture on Thursday, December 6, 2001, at 4:30 p.m. in Room 127. His speech is titled "Free Labor, Free Culture," and is free and open to the public.

The age of Internet creativity could be ending.

So wrote Lawrence Lessig in a recent commentary for the Financial Times of London. He continued: "The innovation of the internet flowed from the network's architecture--and the demise of that innovation flows from the corruption of the environment created by that architecture."

Lessig points to the communal nature of the Internet as a key source of creativity--"it offered equal access to all who could develop content or applications." And the threat he identifies is the increasing control that private companies are able to exert over web content. One form of such control occurs when cable and telecommunications companies exclude competing providers from their networks, or give deferential treatment to their own content.

Another threat dwells in the "content layer of the net," according to Lessig, where strict intellectual property laws can hinder innovation. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, for example, outlaws software and other technologies that circumvent copyright-protecting technology. Lessig points out that this gives the power of law enforcement to code writers and prevents legitimate uses of copyrighted materials. Lessig offers a further, more concrete example: "A concerted campaign by traditional record labels has stopped every independent form of online music distribution and production."

His speech, "Free Labor, Free Culture," will "link the values of the First and Thirteenth amendments to the struggles over ideas and creativity that mark our present time." Furthermore, Lessig predicts that "these struggles, like the battles over freedom that consumed America in the mid-nineteenth century, will redefine for a century the meaning of freedom."

Lessig is one of the best-known voices in the developing field of Internet law. He has participated in a number of important Internet-related law suits--including the Napster case--and was selected as a special master in the Microsoft antitrust case. Lessig's writing on the law of cyberspace, including his two books, "Code, and Other Laws of Cyberspace" and "The Future of Ideas," has been highly influential. He founded the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, which serves clients without the resources to hire paid counsel whose cases involve infringement upon or curtailment of free speech rights, privacy, and sovereignty in cyberspace.