Comments on: Corruption Lecture – alpha version Blog, news, books Tue, 10 Oct 2017 06:01:00 +0000 hourly 1 By: Alisia Gomez Sat, 14 Feb 2015 06:45:00 +0000 You actually make it appear so easy with your rate and rate but I find out this occasion to be actually something which I think I would never comprehend. It seems too complex as well as extensive for me. I’m expecting for your next post, I’ll try to get the dangle of it!
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By: Brett Glass Mon, 29 Dec 2008 01:45:05 +0000 Professor Lessig recently accepted a $2M contribution to his center at Stanford from Google. Now, he and the inside-the-Beltway lobbying group “Public Knowledge” carry water for Google by promoting its agenda and interests, exactly, in DC. How is this not corruption?

By: Marat Fri, 18 Jul 2008 03:32:43 +0000 Less government = less corruption
No. Less governmen = big corruption :)

By: oliver Mon, 31 Mar 2008 23:00:12 +0000 Black markets are parallel economies or supplemental economies that exploit demands the legal economy doesn’t meet, and most of a entire nation can be complicit in one as clients. Opposing values, opposing cultures, a loss of confidence that the system is on track to fix a problem. We have allegiance to a system, but only zealots are ready to go against the wall when the revolution comes or the mob takes over. A lot of corruption is bet hedging. Think of the decision to serve as a witness in the absence of witness protection, or how the culture of willingness to serve as a witness changes over time as a result.of sociopathy and government response. Traditionally we behave better and show a stiffer upper lip to hardship during wartime, and in part I think that’s because it’s easy to believe during war that the government is your guarantor. Absent that, testifying is liable to feel like a less worthy investment or risk to your person.

By: Shamnad Basheer Thu, 06 Mar 2008 01:02:59 +0000 This is a very inspiring video. I just posted on this video (and its lessons for India and “transparency”) in my blog

It drew a very strong reaction from one of our readers. See the “comments” section of the particular blog post.

By: Robert T Kowalski Mon, 03 Mar 2008 08:47:44 +0000 I loved the lecture and am very glad to have come across an inspiring leader and agent of change like you Larry!

Corruption: why move to a federally-funded party/electoral system? There’s many examples globally that show it still does not root out corruption (though the US political system is unique..).

Private money will try to find its way into the politicians/party pockets – whether directly or indirectly. People have circumvented much more complicated systems and laws than bannign private political donations

This should be looked at from the point of view of mechanism design, in particular focusing on lobbying, although there is no clear-cut answer (& we’ll never find it). Looking towards the least corrupt societies in the world is needed – but the basis there is also cultural..

As you mention, people need a defender of their rights. i.e. a form of ‘lobby’ on behalf of the People – not Corporations/NGOs. Overcoming the costs of mass communication, network effects, and pooling the common causes/interests into a single, or few strong organizations, is needed.

In doing this education is a very important way to go (probably the best Long-term strategy) – K-12 reform, unified curriculum that educates responsible and aware citizens.

It’s one of the toughest issues humanity has been trying to solve, and I hope you can change Congress – best of luck I support you all along!

By: Eric Thu, 21 Feb 2008 19:21:16 +0000 We’re talking about corruption. Lets see if we can do some simple math for the liberal elites who know so much better than us and intend to use government to make us do what they know is good for us.

1) Power corrupts. I didn’t make that up. I would think people smarter than me would have heard that.

2) Goverment is power implies government corrupts

3) More government = more corruption

4) Less government = less corruption

5) Please take all your liberal elite big government solutions, fold them 4 ways and put them where the moon don’t shine.

By: Davin Wed, 13 Feb 2008 12:57:24 +0000 If you call Global Warming and easy case you haven’t been paying attention. That is one area where the ‘evil’ voices may be right. Had it not been for that bit of pop science I would give this an A+.

By: Stephen Tue, 12 Feb 2008 02:51:27 +0000 First, I am quite enthusiastic about what you are tackling.

Second, I would like to add to your thoughts.

We have come to the conclusion in our country that money = speech. I believe that as soon as we dismiss the notion of money = speech, much of the task becomes easier.

Let’s re-imagine the United States and imagine that much of the current uses of money in politics is banned. Why do we ban it? We ban it because we do not give Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg more political power than my mother, my brother or my son. Bill and Michael have more monetary power and more business power, but allowing them to bring their monetary power into goverment compromises the very notion of all men are created equal. I believe it would be very consistent with the constitution to ban the use of personal or corporate money in politics.

Lobbyists should be allowed. Paid lobbyists should be banned.

Let’s further imagine a more direct form of government. Rather than having my representative vote on FISA, allow me to vote on this bill directly, via the Internet. If I choose, I can allocate my vote to someone I trust. But, today, even though Nancy Pelosi is my representative, I do not trust her to cast the correct vote. In fact, I might allocate my vote to a non-political figure, but someone I could trust to advocate my interests and views. Maybe, I would trust a blogger who was very transparent about how they operated. Maybe I would like lobbying, if the lobbying was done on a blog to a trusted representative of mine who responded in kind by blogging their reaction to the lobbying.

Reacting to your promotion of the Sunlight Foundation as an answer, I really do not agree. I certainly laud what they are doing, but I do not believe that some information reforms this system. I believe it is better, but how am I, a citizen, supposed to navigate more than 10,000 earmarks in a single bill? How am I as a citizen, supposed to understand the impact of over 10,000 paid lobbyists? Information is not enough.

By: Kate Sat, 02 Feb 2008 04:48:36 +0000 Terrific lecture. Your new focus is terribly exciting and I wish you great success in drawing popular attention to the issue.

The idea the other poster makes (about air time and free broadcasting for candidates) is worth pursuing. Maybe a good way to strengthen the issue (and network) would be some sort of consortium of all the campaign finance reform and money in politics organizations. I’d be interested in any community/grassroots opportunities for involvement.


By: Ed Fladung Fri, 01 Feb 2008 19:21:44 +0000 Larry, I happy to see you taking on this issue. I have one point to make vis-a-vis the money in politics. I have asked myself, where most of the money in politics goes and the answer I keep coming up with is advertising in the broadcast media. The broadcast media is a government controlled semi-monopoly using public resources that the government manages on behalf of the citizens. With the right push from an enlightened administration and a heightened public awareness of the issue, the solution would be to require the broadcast media as a cost of getting a license from the government to provide free air time to candidates. This would significantly lower the cost of getting elected and remove some of the pressure our elected representatives are under. I know this would be difficult since the media will not allow this issue to be brought up or discussed and would definitely penalize any elected official proposing this. What surprises me though is the fact that I have never seen this even discussed online. Iis this so unrealistic that it is not worth discussing? Or is it that we are all so framed by our corporate programming that we can’t see the obvious.

By: Spiro Bolos Thu, 06 Dec 2007 21:51:41 +0000 Dr. Lessig,

Overall, a thought-provoking talk, augmented by your inimitable style of presentation. I’ve been watching it on my video iPod and sharing it with my students. But I have to take issue with part of your piece on Al Gore’s book.

For example, you state, “He [Gore] never once steps back and asks about the responsibility of those on the outside, in particular, the Democrats, who have done nothing to challenge this Constitutional excess by this president.”

I think you’re creating a straw man out of Gore. Consider the following quote from The Assault on Reason:

“The most serious—and most surprising—failure of checks and balances in the last several years has been the abdication by Congress of its role as a coequal branch of government” (235)


“It is the pitiful state of our legislative branch that primarily explains the failure of our vaunted system of checks and balances to prevent dangerous overreach by our executive branch…” (236)

Have I misinterpreted your argument?

Thanks for everything. Please keep posting this wonderful material.

By: Matt Weatherford Sun, 04 Nov 2007 22:59:27 +0000 I just saw your talk in Seattle Re: Google 2008 = Microsoft 1998 – great stuff!
Definitely worth a friday evening…. :)

This corruption lecture is amazing – great understanding of the problem (or at least a major,
tangible aspect of it) and right sized to get a mental handle on it. Your supporting stories and
illustrations are also very accessible. I think you’ll be able to appeal to a large audience with this

Keep up the good work! I’ll try to do my part to push the norms in the right direction. Im inspired!

By: Peter Halasz Sun, 04 Nov 2007 08:23:56 +0000 Please dumb it down. I’m not sure who the original audience was, but for an Internet “meme” version, I’d like to see the lecture be more accessible (e.g. for ESL speakers, non university-educated people, and non-geeks) by dropping the “big” or confusing phrases such as “quid pro quo”, “expounding a constitution”, “function of money” and “</story>” etc. And re-phrasing quotes from the 19th century in everyday English after they’ve been said. I know these aren’t very difficult phrases or concepts to begin with, but you risk alienating the sections of the audience which aren’t familiar with them, or worse, just having them switch off. Steven Hawking wrote A Brief History of Time with only one (well known) formula between its covers. It can’t be too hard to give a one hour lecture without any legal jargon.

Also there is confusion as to whether it’s targeted at the USA only or globally. Wages are in pounds, but “we” and “our” refers to US-Americans. Personally I’d like to see more examples from around the world. International listeners expect some US-centricness, but some confirmation that the lecture is also for the rest of the world would be good. E.g. please say something like “the supreme court here in America” instead of “Our supreme court”

Some people have criticized your use of Al Gore’s global warming arguments, and I agree that you focus too much on Al Gore for this area. I’d much rather you took quotes straight from the IPCC reports.

I’d be interested in what changes are already planned for the final release. Perhaps you could list some on the Wiki page. It’s a great lecture overall.

By: Von Lyman Wed, 24 Oct 2007 12:05:54 +0000 Great lecture. Very revealing.

By: J. F. Lawton Mon, 22 Oct 2007 01:49:56 +0000 I think it’s wonderful you have decided to tackle this issue. It may be more of a natural extension of your work so far than people might release. This is because the internet (and other new technologies) have provided new tools for fighting corrupt. And corruption is at the center of the copyright battle.

Coming from a corrupt industry (Hollywood) and a corrupt city (Los Angeles) I’ve been exposed to a lot of corruption both in business, unions, charities and government over the last 20 years. I’ve done a lot of thinking about it and how to fight it, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts.

The first thing is that to understand corruption, you need to define it as you did in your lecture. The problem is, I think you have it wrong. Or at least your chosen focus.

Corruption is not about money. Yes, money can be a powerful tool used by corrupt people, but it is not the most useful or a even necessary tool. Large scale corruption almost always involves money, but it also almost always involves sex, ego, nepotism, cronyism, laziness and many other elements.

The key element at the heart of corruption is dishonesty. It is a particular flavor of dishonesty: lying (or hiding the truth) in relation to one’s official capacity for personal gain. Corrupt politicians, businessmen, union leaders and even charity workers must be liars or hide the truth. The more effectively they do this, the more effective they will be to achieve corrupt ends.

The second mistake you make is connecting the fight against corruption to whether something is good or bad for society and how bad it’s influence is. You imply that we should worry less about the corruption by film studios pushing for copyright expansion than in corruption involved in medical, legal or environmental issues.

The problem with that thinking is that corruption in and of itself is bad for society. It doesn’t matter if it’s immediate impact is good or bad. (And often it’s short term impact can be for the good. As you mention, in the short term if Wikopedia took ads for one year they could make $100 million dollars and spend it on good works. But in the long term it could destroy it’s integrity.)

Corruption is dangerous because it is a cancer. Let unchecked, it inherently spreads. Be it in a government, a charity organization or a business. The reason for this is corruption requires conspiracy. That is, corruption is defined by involving more than one person. Successful corruption always spreads by involving more and more people.

This has certainly happened in the film industry in regard to the copyright issue. While corruption is nothing new in Hollywood, the money that film studios (and the international corporations controlling them) have been given by US copyright extension gives them more resources and more reason to push for further extensions. It motivates them to try to confuse the public about the real purpose of copyright (to protect artists, not corporations). It motivates them to try to change laws in other countries through deceptive arguments (fighting piracy) that are really just excuses for them to adopt US copyright policy (which is about stealing money from artists).

The successfully corrupt executives orchestrating copyright extensions are promoted to more powerful positions, and find new areas to use their refined corruption skills and corrupt contacts. Politicians already corrupted into assisting those corporations with copyright extensions, are then likely to assist them in other corrupt enterprises, like tax breaks for film production (which are really about money laundering). Those politicians successfully corrupted are more open to being corrupted by other industries. And those employees working under corrupt executives, learn that corruption is the key to success. Union officials in Hollywood, who are supposed to represent artists, are corrupted into assisting the studios against artists interests. Corruption in those unions then spreads to pension funds, health care, and other important areas.

Of course, that fact that successful corruption inherently leads to more corruption (like any virus, it require must spread to survive) applies to any industry or large organization.

But corruption behind the copyright battle is particularly significant because it relates to the most powerful weapon to fight corruption:

Easy access to the truth.

This, of course, is something you have already done great work with during your previous two decades fighting for the internet and for true copyright with Creative Commons.

Since corruption requires dishonestly, since it is always based on a lie, it is always destroyed by easy access to the truth. This is why the internet is so dangerous to corrupt people (thus the push to destroy net neutrality). The internet provides enormous tools to expose corruption.

Only part of the copyright battle is about the entertainment corporations making money off of Mickey Mouse and other properties they already own. You are right in saying that that isn’t a big issue for society. But, as I have learned from your efforts with Creative Commons, copyright has been corrupted by the corporations from it’s original purpose into a means of controlling information. This is behind the battle over DRM over piracy and net neutrality and copyright extension. And as serious as issues of corruption is in medical areas, environmental, etc., nothing is more important to society in fighting corruption than making sure people have easy access to the truth.

By: Daniel Freiman Sun, 21 Oct 2007 02:39:05 +0000 I don’t know that you’re preaching to the choir, but you are preaching to the people who have the time and interest to sit down for an hour and watch this lecture. I understand that after filming a lecture, putting it online doesn’t magically make it shorter. But while this is a introductory lecture that most of my friends would understand, I doubt I could get any of them to watch it. If you’re looking to eventually turn this lecture into an argument for the public, it needs to be broken up into its component pieces. I don’t know if there’s any web-software that allows people to watch short 2-10 minute video segments and allows the users to see that they should watch prerequisite segments before moving on to later segments, but you might want to look into it. I’d offer to make it for you if it weren’t easier for you to run over the the CS dept and have it done locally.

As to the substance, I don’t disagree with your copyright vs. gov pay/funding example, but I think you oversimplify it. There are a lot of difference between gov services and copyright terms so it makes sense that copyrights would be treated differently. For example, raising gov spending has an obvious quantifiable, cost to the taxpayer while extending copyrights has more subtle costs to the public. This creates a different political climates which effect the likelihoods of getting each law/funding being passed. Many people might try to exploit these differences in a counter argument. I think you’ll need to defend that some of the more obvious counter arguments aren’t the driving force here.

By: Mads Hobye Sat, 20 Oct 2007 01:41:47 +0000 Applause from me :-)

One idea came to mind, if doctors, lawyers and scientists are good people that gets influenced by money. What if they had the chance to add a disclaimer to their work saying what influences they got while making (e.g.) the article about a new drug and how it worked.

I mean the same way that CC gave a common language to tell people how you were allowed to use your material. You could make a common language to tell people how they were influenced. It could be categories like:

- The work is my personal opinion and point of view.
- The work is my personal opinion and i have been supported by the following organizations
- I have been hired by this organization to help them support their points of view.

A little thought….

By: Ping Thu, 18 Oct 2007 01:08:43 +0000 (Oops, somehow this got posted on the wrong blog entry. It belongs here.)

Larry, thank you for posting this lecture. I have thought a fair amount about this problem, as many people surely have, and it pains me to see governments repeatedly fail at simple logical reasoning, to see information distorted and decision-making processes distorted as they are. There are so many parts to this problem: the legislative system, elections, lobbying, and media reporting are popular political targets. But there is also the inability to grasp data (occasionally, brilliant instances of information visualization stand out), to correct errors (we are still a long way from effective public annotation and fact-checking of political statements and news articles), and to understand the structure of arguments (instead, the same arguments are repeated again and again in tedious prose).

I am confused by one of your points. The retroactive extension of copyrights is one of the “easy cases” you mentioned — a case where the answer should be obvious. But was it not the Supreme Court that got this one wrong — the same Supreme Court that you present as an example of an institution that has successfully resisted corruption? What went wrong here?

By: Rodger Evans Thu, 18 Oct 2007 00:37:16 +0000 firstly, I really like the way you approached the definition of corruption. It is a term used frequently, but rarely understood. I’m a scientist, so I will stick to comments in this area: You were correct at stating that the problem are not those very loud cases of scientific fraud, but more in the small cases; that number by the hundreds. I have noticed that many groups are driven by the need to publish; weather it be good useful work or no, but there is a quota that most institutions require. This exists as well with news papers an well, so we see a company that writes the story and the reporter changes a few words and adds there name (remember the headlines “the suit is back” written by men’s suit makers.) Most of these problems can be fixed by transparency, and the the ability of comments; I would love to add comments to many a science paper!

I think your talk goes well with one that I just saw, given by Dr. Richard Ernst (nobel in chemistry) called “the responsibility of scientists in our time”. As well, when I think of a political system designed to remove corruption, I recall Plato’s republic, where the rulers live in a communist fashion, without personal property (where the masses live in what one could think as a normal capitalistic life. The idea of removing personal freedom from the rulers makes sense (the more power, the less freedom..) As a modern idea, we should make the rulers live in a big brother house… combining gossip, politics, and TV into one odd ball…

By: HH Wed, 17 Oct 2007 03:06:13 +0000 Who is minding the Wiki?

Where is the Wiki discussion activity on the Corruption Lecture? The Wiki would be more productive if there were an orientation page and guidelines for contributing material.

This Wiki is important for supporting Professor Lessig’s work, but the general Wiki phenomenon will become much more significant politically. An interesting way to interpret Lessig’s early ideas on anti-corruption reform is to attempt to answer the question: “What is the governmental equivalent of Wikipedia?”

Internet-based reformers are in the process of moving from coffee houses (ranting blogs) to assembly halls (action-oriented collaborative facilities). Yet these virtual assembly halls are poorly constructed and inconveniently situated. We need to get the Lessig Corruption Wiki in order.

By: Chris Messina Tue, 16 Oct 2007 23:06:34 +0000 I second the request for a downloadable version of the video — Google Video caused my browser to crap out unfortunately; it’d be much easier to play externally in VLC, etc. Viddler is also a good choice for video hosting as they offer an easier download option as well as time-based tagging!

Otherwise, very compelling stuff; looking forward to more!

By: staypuftman Tue, 16 Oct 2007 22:10:24 +0000 I know you might not want to hear it but the copyright piece of your lecture is disproportionately weighted to the rest of the information you present. Each one of those case histories should be same length. I think the introduction could also use a better presentation of the information we are about to be hit with – it comes too abruptly I think. You are tossing around such big ideas that you need to build a staircase to them or people will not be able to grasp what you are saying.

Otherwise, an outstanding first venture into the world of corruption I would say. Those comments by HH, although a bit verbose, were fairly accurate. We do stand at an interesting point in history, where we can use technology to overcome corruption, or at the very address the fundamental problems from outside the system. Using a digital education service in place of regulation is at the heart of a true republic – and modern libertarianism, a topic I have gathered is close to your heart after watching many of your presentations.

Best of luck as you wade through these murky waters,