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February 21, 2013

Lawrence Lessig Lecture On Aaron Swartz, Law and Justice In The Digital Age

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Lawrence Lessig marked his appointment as Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School with a lecture titled “Aaron’s Laws: Law and Justice in a Digital Age.”

The lecture focuses on the Aaron Swartz case which Lessig says he approaches less as an intellectual and more as a citizen and friend given his extensive personal history with Swartz. Lessig also clarified Swartz’s position on copyright.

At the center of [Aaron’s] struggle is and was copyright. In the debate between people who are pro and anti copyright, Aaron was on neither side.” Rather, he opposed “dumb copyright.” A perfect example was Swartz’s efforts to liberate data from PACER the database of public court records, which charged 8 cents a page. He was not violating copyright, technical restraints, terms of service or any other prohibitions. He had found a loophole. “A loophole for public good” as opposed to the loopholes used for private gain by lobbyists and tax lawyers.

Swartz did the same thing with the government’s database of issued copyrights. The PACER project got Aaron FBI surveillance; the copyright project, on the other hand, was met with approval by the Copyright Office.Using all this as proof Lessig continued to emphasize that Aaron was a hacker. He defines “hacker” as one who uses technical knowledge to make a better world.

Swartz’s FBI file details surveillance and monitoring of Swartz and Carl Malalmud in the wake of the PACER “hack.” The FBI monitored his online activity and conducted surveillance at his residence.

Lessig also offered his prescription that went beyond reforming the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or “Aaron’s Law”

First: Aaron’s Law is great.

Second: we must destroy dumb copy right. Including overturning the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and defeating the Research Works Act, which would forbid the US Government from supporting open access research.

Third: End corruption; end money in politics; give the power back to the people.

Fourth: “Fix the obliviousness that we live our daily life with.” We have an obligation as citizens to pull back the government when it overreaches.

I would recommend watching the lecture in its entirety.


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