I went to see Lawrence Lessig give a talk this evening, at the Computer History Museum, on the topic of copyright. It’s an issue which concerns me, as should it to anyone of my generation, given the ridiculous state of it today. I’ve never heard Lessig speak before, nor read any of his books, but I’m well familiar with him by reputation, so I figured even if it was a boring talk overall, he’s someone worth listening to.
I was surprised by how well he spoke. I can’t recall a better speech, at least not from recent memory. I suppose it’s not exceptional, given he was of course summarising his most recent book, and as someone who’s lived and breathed the topic for the last decade, he very well should be well versed in it.
He didn’t say anything I didn’t already know, but rather everything I didn’t know I knew. (sorry, couldn’t resist) I’d call him brilliant if he hadn’t so eloquently convinced me that his opinion is just so blindingly obvious – that copyright today, the legal interpretation of ancient laws – simply hasn’t been applied correctly to the world of today (the “digital” world, I suppose). He was swift to clarify that he was not an abolitionist, when it comes to copyright, but simply wants to see it applied correctly. It seems hard to argue against that; he’s clearly right, and you’d have to wonder why anyone would disagree.
Though of course he pointed out why they would – selfishness, greed; money, and power. Which apparently has segued him into his focus for the next decade, once he takes up residence at Harvard next year, on political corruption. I particularly resonated with the way he presented the issue, which wasn’t alarmist or extremist, but rather in a kind of forlorn way. Everyone is deservedly cynical about politics and the massive corruption perceived within it, so again it seems like he’s just comfortable and certain that everyone already knows this, and he’s not trying to condescend his audience by stating the obvious, but rather encourage action to effect real change.
I bought his book on the way out, leery as I was of the potential commercialism or hypocrisy in doing so – it’s all about selling books as a public speaker, isn’t it? :) – so if nothing else that’ll keep me occupied through a few otherwise idle evenings. I’m not sure what it’ll add, given his presentation seemed to convey his points so well already, but hopefully it’s just as impressive.