By INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2008 4:20 PM PT
Election ’08: Killing God and destroying the right to private property are usually associated with communism. They also seem important to the prominent legal theorist serving as Barack Obama’s technology adviser.
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Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig likes to treat his audiences to a short video that doesn’t always go over so well. In it, Jesus Christ lip-syncs Gloria Gaynor’s late ’70s disco hit “I Will Survive,” during which he strips down to just a diaper, effeminately struts along a city street and finally gets run over by a speeding bus.
Lessig showed the film during his keynote address to the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco in 2006 (reportedly causing audience members to exit in disgust), as well as to an assembled group of Google employees recently.
The antics of a trendy left-wing law school teacher who doubles as cybergeek would normally be of little note. But a few years down the information superhighway we may be speaking of Justice Lawrence Lessig should Obama be elected president.
Lessig and Obama were colleagues at the University of Chicago Law School. Lessig’s role today in the Obama campaign is not officially defined, but he campaigned passionately for him in Pennsylvania, where Lessig grew up and went to college, and has been utilized by the campaign to explain the candidate’s positions on Internet law to the press. A nine-page campaign document detailing Obama’s technology policy is part of the Lessig.org Web site.
It should not be surprising that Obama doesn’t want the world knowing to what extent Lessig is involved in advising the Democratic front-runner. The former Harvard Law School professor is the leading light of what is known as the “free culture movement,” which insists that the age of the Internet should mean the abolition of intellectual property rights.
Indeed, British-American Silicon Valley entrepreneur and “Cult of the Amateur” author Andrew Keen has called Lessig an “intellectual property communist.”
Lessig is author of that movement’s manifesto, a book entitled “Free Culture,” where he claims that the new “efficiency” in sharing information over the Internet “does not respect the traditional lines of copyright.” Piracy of copyrighted material, according to Lessig, is a concept that has “at its core . . . an extraordinary idea that is almost certainly wrong.”
That wrong idea is identified by Lessig as this: “Whenever I use, or take, or build upon the creative work of others, I am taking from them something of value. Whenever I take something of value from someone else, I should have their permission. The taking of something of value from someone else without permission is wrong. It is a form of piracy.”
This “extraordinary idea,” of course, is really “Thou shalt not steal,” and it’s nothing less than the moral foundation of a free economy. Without it we have no rule of law governing the activities of buyers and sellers. If products of value, from literature to software, can be stolen, there will be little if any motive left to produce them, especially works of excellence.
Yet according to this scholar who serves as an Obama point man, the age of the Internet has rendered this particular Commandment obsolete. Like 19th century French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and coiner of the slogan “property is theft!” Lessig sees ownership as a constriction imposed on the masses.
Lessig wants to replace what he calls the “permission culture” that currently exists with a new “remix culture” that rejects the existence of copyrights and intellectual property.
What Marx and Stalin tried to do with physical property — failing at the cost of many tens of millions of lives — Lessig’s movement seems intent on doing with intellectual property in a new 21st century global revolution.
A Lessig appointment by Obama to the Supreme Court or a lower federal court would go far beyond riling religious Americans resentful of his video mocking Christ. It could help make a “Marxism of the Internet” a reality, with unimaginatively destructive consequences for the U.S. and global economies.