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Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence “Larry” Lessig is an influential legal scholar, lawyer, and political activist, particularly known for his work in copyright law, intellectual property, and the open Internet. Lessig believes that freedom, rather than restriction and control, drives a more vibrant economy and fosters creativity and innovation.

Lessig posits a thought-provoking question about creative works: should they be treated as products or as building blocks? He argues that treating creative works as building blocks allows art to become more organic, evolving, and growing over time as it incorporates new ideas and adapts to changing contexts. This perspective is in contrast to treating creative works as static, finished products.

Lessig identifies three uses for creative works:

  1. Unregulated: These uses are not governed by copyright law and are freely available for everyone to access, modify, and distribute without restriction.
  2. Regulated: These uses are subject to copyright law and require permission from the copyright holder. However, there are certain exceptions like fair use, which allows for limited use of copyrighted materials without obtaining permission, usually for purposes such as education, criticism, or parody.
  3. Copyrighted: These works are protected by copyright law, and unauthorized use, reproduction, or distribution is prohibited.

The rise of the Internet has complicated the distinction between these uses, as nearly every act of accessing or sharing content online involves making a copy. Lessig argues that, for some reason, regulated uses should cover all unregulated and fair uses, which would expand the scope of permissible use and foster creativity.

In this “refrain” Lessig emphasises four key points:

  1. Creativity and innovation always build on the past.
  2. The past always tries to control that which builds on it.
  3. Free societies enable the future by limiting the past.
  4. Our society is becoming less and less free.

Lessig also identifies several threats to free code and the open exchange of ideas:

  1. Software patents: He is critical of software patents, arguing that they are often used to exclude future competitors and stifle innovation. By granting exclusive rights to specific software ideas or algorithms, patents can hinder the development of new technologies and limit the availability of innovative solutions.
  2. Copyright wars: Lessig is concerned about the escalating conflicts over copyright enforcement, particularly the aggressive tactics employed by some copyright holders to protect their interests. He believes that these tactics can have a chilling effect on creativity and innovation by discouraging the use and sharing of copyrighted materials, even when such uses might be considered fair or unregulated.


Larry Lessig advocates for a more balanced approach to intellectual property and copyright law that recognizes the importance of fostering creativity and innovation while still protecting the rights of creators. He emphasizes the need for a more open and free society that enables the future by limiting the control exerted by the past.

Page last modified: 2023-11-08 01:55:19