February 20, 2008  ·  Lessig

At lessig08.org, you can watch a 10 minute video explaining the launching of a Change Congress movement, and the decision I am trying to make about whether to run for Congress. That decision will be made soon. I’ve been spurred to consider it seriously by the enormous support of many at draftlessig.org and facebook (and by the cool swag at zazzle). Those three I had nothing to do with. But this I do.

This is a very difficult decision. In the coming days, I’ll reflect a bit about it here. Thank you to everyone who has tried to help — both through very strong words of encouragement and very very strong words to dissuade.

  • Joe Buck

    Prof. Lessig, I admire you, but I also admire Jackie Speier, who’s been a strong progressive voice for some time and a person of high integrity. Ms. Speier would be an improvement over Tom Lantos because she strongly opposes the Iraq war as well as the drum-beating for war with Iran (I wish I could have said the same for Lantos); she’s also been a long-time champion of single-payer health care.

    I think that your anti-corruption movement, and your effort to reform Congress, would be more likely to succeed from the outside, and could be damaged by a partisan campaign in which you oppose a good candidate.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Just a quick point of information – isn’t the deadline February 25, not March 1 ?

    http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_cd12.htm

    http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/Special/cd12/calendar_primary_CD12_lantos.pdf

  • http://afinerworld.blogspot.com/ B. Dewhirst

    While the above commenter, Joe Buck, makes a good point, Democracy is only strengthened by honest debate. If I construe your position correctly, there isn’t anything -inherently- corrupting about office, or running for it. It is, instead, the manner in which one runs for office which matters.

    David Brin has recently written an essay about why candidates should Stipulate.

    You and Ms. Speier could publically agree on several points, and run on the rest. Perhaps the -focus- of her campaign would be single payer health care and the -focus- of yours would be transparency, but a healthy debate about these two key issues and about their relative importance would strengthen, not weaken, both.

    If, at this time, you don’t decide to run for office, I strongly encourage you to consider it again in the future.

  • Jeff Morgan

    I agree with Joe Buck on influence for at this time; although I’d say your ability to affect change would ultimately be greater in Congress. But my opinion is also an emotional reaction to the thought of you putting your heart into running and failing. Also I think of Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who is putting his shoulder to the wheel, but for some reason isn’t quite causing movement. I don’t know what the most effective strategy is, but how likely is it that running for Congress is? How likely is likely enough to make such a commitment?

    If Change Congress makes enough noise maybe you can get Obama on board :) But honestly I worry that Democrats would resist more than Republicans; Change Congress’s goals takes away from them the most. If you don’t run for Congress, I hope you can land a job in an Obama administration though!

  • Pseudonym

    Larry might not be able to answer this, but as a non-USian, I’m curious about this:

    I always figured that Larry might end up, some day, as a federal judge. Would running for Congress kill his chances for that? And where would he be more use, as a legislator or as a jurist?

  • http://tailrank.com Kevin Burton

    Do it!

    I’m going to seriously consider volunteering for your campaign!

  • Rick Thomas

    I was rather hoping to see you in Obama’s cabinet: a voice of progressive reason backed by AG Spitzer’s bite.

  • http://www.illinoisbusinessattorney.com/ David Staub

    I wish you the best if you do decide to run, but I wonder whether being on the inside in your case gives you less impact rather than more. Rather than being able to pick an issue or two to concentrate on, you’ll be spread among all the day-to-day issues that Congress deals with.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    One reason I think Lessig could benefit from a run for Congress is because, win or lose, the experience itself may be helpful.

  • http://www.new-laptop-battery.com sam

    I agree with Joe Buck on influence for at this time

  • seth

    Pseudonym: nah, that’s not a problem in the U.S. system. And yes, Lessig would make a fantastic judge.

  • Eric

    Thank you for even thinking about it. $100 bucks the hour you announce.

  • http://sterno.livejournal.com Steve

    I’ve been a long time admirer of yours and I would be thrilled to help support you if you run for the seat. I’m in Illinois so I can’t exactly vote for you, but if you need anything else I am more than happy to help. It would be wonderful to have somebody in congress who understands technology and the law as well as you do. It’ll probably drive you nuts though :)

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  • http://bravenewfilms.org Jim Gilliam

    I like to fight from the outside AND lead by example…. but it’s hard to do both on this issue. So it’s a choice between a great decision and a better decision. Which is which? I dunno, but however you decide to fight the war on corruption, you’ve certainly got my support.

  • http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

    If you do run, your oppo-research team is going to have to work harder. I thought I’d learn more Jackie Speier after you accused her (no matter how nice a tone you used) of being corrupted by $250,000 from insurance lobbyists. But as I see from the Chronicle, the financial services industry spent $20 million to defeat Speier’s SB 1 privacy bill. They would have succeeded it,if Chris Larsen, CEO of E-Loan, hadn’t spearheaded a $1M effort to pass a more restrictive bill by putting it up to voter referendum. That frightened the banks, and Speier held her ground, and her bill passed. Big money cuts both ways.

    Now, I don’t live in district (and I have no contact at all with the Speier campaign), so it’s possible I’m just cherry-picking the facts here. But if you’re running on a reform platform, you should be wary of cherry-picking the facts as well.

    Jon Garfunkel
    Boston, Mass.

  • asdf

    I’m sure Larry could do some good as one of 435, but I’d much rather have him be one of 9.

  • Rachel

    As a resident of California’s 12th district, I want to know that whoever runs for Congressman Lantos’s seat is not going to view it as just a platform from which to mount their movement. I want a representative that’s going to go to Washington on behalf of the citizens who cast their ballots for him (or her).

    Can you serve this district as well as advance your platform? That’s what I want to know.

  • http://johnsmentaldetritus.blogspot.com/ John J.

    If you were running in Missouri, you would have my vote. Good luck with whatever you decide.

  • http://blog.scottcaplan.com Scott Caplan

    Prof. Lessig,

    I just donated $15, mostly because I believe in the change congress idea (I’m indifferent whether you put that money with the lessig08 or the change congress exploratory committee, provided that it’s legal to transfer the money).

    The first I heard of you was watching one of the flash versions of one of your free culture talks, and in it you asked the audience what they’ve done for copyright reform. Specifically, you made a suggestion to the audience that if they have a complaint about the eff’s methods (eg, it should be more “mainstream”), they should send that complaint, attached with a check. It is for this reason that I donated the small amount that I can at the moment. I have a university as my ISP so it is more than I pay for outstanding service, but it’s still less than what most people pay for their shitty DSL. I hope it nonetheless is of some use.

    My comment: I humbly suggest that you add a fourth promise to any potential campaign. More akin to a subpromise of the first one, I suggest that you promise to drop out of the race and focus solely on the national movement and research in the event that this Jackie Speier makes the movement’s three-pronged promise herself, or promises to do it in her reelection bid in 2010.

    Thanks for all you do, and I love the use of the Obama color scheme and typography in the video!

    -Scott

  • http://misterfurious.blogspot.com/ Mr Furious

    I am new to you and your blog this week, but I like what I’ve seen, heard and read. Please run, and if you do, expect my support.

  • what sethf said

    looks like the filing deadline is FEB 25… next Mon… im sure lessig will cross every t and dot every i… get those papers in on time!

  • Dan

    I’m of two minds–you’d be busier with all of the duties of congress, but I bet it would be much easier to get time and attention from the other 434 members if you were one.

  • http://www.exacteditions.com Adam Hodgkin

    Perhaps every politician running for office should make his publications open, at least during the election campaign.

    http://exacteditions.blogspot.com/2008/02/lessig-into-politics.html

  • http://blog.wachob.com Gabe Wachob

    I live in the 12th CD and I have been a vocal Jackie Speier supporter for years as an active grassroots member of the San Mateo County Democratic Party. Larry and I supported Ro Khanna, a primary challenger to Tom Lantos in 2003/2004. I *also* strongly support Larry Lessig’s Change Congress effort and so I’m really torn. I have already written a letter to Larry asking him not to run, but after viewing the video, I am beginning to see how winning this seat would help the cause quite a bit…

    BUT, I just don’t see how Prof Lessig can win it. Jackie is well respected, has a long history of representing this area well, and by all measures is an incredibly effective legislator. She’s a progressive, grassroots-supported candidate who really has really earned the trust and support of the community here. A primary challenge to her would seem to be counterproductive I think. I’m also still not convinced its the *best* position from which to advocate Change Congress. Much better I think would be to have her be the first to sign the Change Congress pledge – despite past behavior, I would imagine this sort of pressure could be applied and would be warmly welcomed by her grassroots supporters like the members of San Mateo County Democracy For America (the Dem Club I am an active member of). It would be an effective ally to apply pressure to get a public statement of agreement to the principles.

    Again, I’m torn – though I do continue to believe, that on balance, you should not run for this seat. Surely there’s a more effective way to promote the Change Congress agenda?

  • William

    I have to disagree with those who believe that Lawrence would be more effective outside of the legislature. General progressive principles a la Jackie Speier are represented in Congress already, as well as by candidates for the US presidency. The same cannot be said for the concerns that Lessig represents: the diminishing freedom of culture and intellectual life that results from the widening gyre of intellectual property and digital rights regimes. Not only are these issues core to the economic well-being of the 12th district, but they may turn out to be vital for the cultural life of the country.

  • ryan

    Lessig “gets it”!

    My only hope for the future of the internet and our digital life in general is that we start electing candidates from this new generation, who think differently about issues like digital freedom and copyright. Lessig certainly is one of those candidates

  • anon4rp

    I agree with your two of your three points, but am not sure what I think of on the third: support public finance.

    On one hand, I see how it levels the playing field.

    On the other hand, it’s giving taxpayer money to people some of those same taxpayers necessarily strongly disagree with. And, it’s another government program, with all the downsides that entails (and the economy of influence vulnerability of those running it).

    Probably a minor point, but I’d love to read/hear more explanation on why public finance is one of the points of Change Congress, though I understand I may have to wait a long while as more pressing matters are at fore.

    Best of luck in your deliberations as to whether to run.

  • http://www.keionline.org James Love

    Run. There is really no one in Congress, either house, that is really able or likely to mobilize changes in the areas where you work. Important issues like the war the Iraq and health care attract many talented members of congress. The whole knowledge ecology is without a real champion.

  • http://www.keionline.org James Love

    Run. There is really no one in Congress, either house, that is really able or likely to mobilize changes in the areas where you work. Important issues like the war the Iraq and health care attract many talented members of congress. The whole knowledge ecology is without a real champion.

  • Scott

    I would support your run, but I agree with several of the other comments that you would have more influence as a member of Obama’s cabinet. I can’t believe he would pass up the opportunity if you were willing.

  • HH

    With all respect, Professor Lessig can accomplish much more as an activist intellectual than as a member of Congress. He would be an isolated and frustrated member of an impotent clique of reality-based representatives. Even if he were to be elected, a few quotes taken out of context, and a corporation-funded adversary would knock him out in the next election.

    Democrats already “control” the House, and the corporations simply laugh at them as they grease the wheels with the usual lobbyist payola. The structural attack on the mechanisms of corruptions is a much more fruitful avenue, and a much better match for Lessig’s enormous talents.

    It would take nothing less than the election of 300 Lessigs to Congress and appointment another 500 to the Federal bench to turn this country around. This will not happen until we are in dire straits (in about 15-20 years).

  • http://unixbeard.blogspot.com Magnus

    The campaign web site is rather sparse now, and I imagine that will improve soon. One thing I would like to see clearly enumerated before I contribute to the campaign is a statement on each of the major political issues that you will be asked to vote on as a Congressman, and where you stand on those issues. We’ve got a huge corpus of your work on your favorite issues, but unfortunately you will not be empowered to determine Congress’ agenda on your own. That said, what kind of a stand are you going to take on other issues that you’re likely to vote on such as illegal immigration, the war in Iraq, gun control, the North American Union, tax cuts, tax increases, universal health care, etc?

    It’s important for us to have a more complete picture of who we’re being asked to support. Thank you.

  • http://www.neatpilesofchaos.com/ Neat Piles

    Do it!

  • http://josephhall.org/nqb2/ joe

    you’re much more valuable outside of congress, Larry.

  • Nichole Khan

    I’d work for you – for sure!

  • Alan Lessig

    Thank You Mr Lessig,

    Being of the same name I am very happy to see you considering running for congress. Even though I am from another part of the country it makes me very proud. This is something I always wanted to do but never had the nerve to try. I am a very proud american and feel that we need more people that really care about this country and what it stands for to run for potical office and make a change to our great nation. God bless you and dont be affraid to fight for what you believe in.

  • http://johnthomson.org/blog John

    Best of luck in your decision. I’m sure you have many people who will support you no matter what you decide.

  • http://cabalamat.wordpress.com/ Philip Hunt

    I hope you run. If I could vote for you, I would do. Congress needs people who both understand tech issues and are on the side of the good guys (i.e. pro digital rights).

  • Rick Rushing

    “If you follow every star… you might get lost.”
    Neil Young
    “The Painter”

    Neil nailed that insight perfectly. No need for elaboration.

    Do I detect a “perceptive” personality, sir: constantly burdened with endless intellectual analysis? I feel your pain. How do those “judgmental” types make these decisions so effortlessly? Beats me. After some 58 years of wondering I can only submit that sometimes in your life you have to forcefully shut down the brain and go with your gut.

    BTW:
    The “no earmarks” position bugs me. I understand that corruption issues might be addressed by elimination of earmarks. What bothers me is the potential imbalance of power that may result if the presidential signing statement is not simultaneously addressed.

  • Richard Sack

    You are interested in campaign financing issues and the role of money politics. You also support Obama; as do I. This is what I just wrote to his campaign:
    “I’ll make some more small contributions. However, I’m concerned about the campaign going back on its promise to accept the Federal public financing if the Republican candidate does the same. This is important; just as avoiding negative ads is important. Whenever possible — and the forthcoming contest with McCain could just be one of those moments — money should not be the only driving force. I think that many of us would be most dismayed if Barack rejected the public financing just because he can (assuming, of course, that McCain accepts it). After all, Obama’s message and campaign has, to a large extent, been about “not business as usual” (Hillary’s campaign, by its methods has been about that). Much of the enthusiasm generated around the campaign would be lost if he rejects the public financing just because he can get away with it. Better to direct that enthusiasm into organizing, getting out the vote, convincing people, etc, than contributing small sums that would give the campaign a dollar edge over McCain. It’s the people edge that counts and their willingness to give could be redirected into other energies and activities. So far, your campaign has demonstrated great creativity, and this has paid off. Please continue when it comes to dealing with this issue of accepting federal public financing.”

    Richard

  • Jack Foo

    Please run, we need more politicians who have a grip on technological issues. Thanks!

  • Robert Marsanyi

    Synchronicity. Just before being directed to this site, I read an account of power sharing in grade school, where the lesson was: in an inequitable system in which the participants are good but the results are bad, you can demonize the participants or change the system. And while the former is easy, the latter actually gets the result you want. See “Why We Banned Legos”, from Rethinking Schools Online, http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/21_02/lego212.shtml.

    The combination of the article and Lessig’s video was powerful enough to get me to contribute.

    –rbt

  • SDS

    Run, if for no other reason than to improve the debate.

    Your running would strongly encourage St. Sen. Speier to formulate a competitive ethics reform policy.

    If that ends up being the case, even if you lose, you will have had a positive impact.

  • Antony Donovan

    You lost me at public financing. And with that, you lost me completely. Any system in which the government gets to decide who gets the money to run for office is not a system I believe in.

    My example would be Ron Paul. Whether or not you agree with his views, the only reason he made it as far as he did was because people decided to support him financially. Unless you can come up with a public financing system that would allow for Ron Paul to have remained in the presidential race, then your idea is obviously broken.

  • James Myers

    You’ve got on worker, but i’m in the wrong district in Santa Clara.

    I was 11 when I saw to things that shaped my understanding of Congress.
    I saw 1776 on stage twice, and I watched my then rep Barbara Jordan give the keynote at the 76 convention.
    Imagine my surprise as I grew older and found that Jordan was not a representative Representative.

    Even if it’s not a sure thing,…run.
    Run Run Run.

  • http://blog.wachob.com Gabe Wachob

    My comments as a resident of the 12th CD. I’m not hearing anything from my fellow 12th CD residents – just lots of talk from folks who *wouldn’t* be his constituent…

    http://blog.wachob.com/2008/02/lessig-wants-to.html

  • http://thomashawk.com Thomas Hawk

    Go for it. We need copyright reform and you’re just the guy to lead the charge.

  • Tim Myers

    Larry,

    I admire your conviction, but I really don’t think that you should run. I think you would be much more effective at changing the world from your perch at Stanford Law than you would be as one congressperson among 435.

    At Stanford you have a world-class podium from which to create and spread your ideas, and a neutral one at that. There is nothing like the patina of neutrality of academia in order to gain non-partisan credibility of ideas. Politics and political affiliations changes this powerful tool.

    Beyond that, politics takes a certain temperament that I’m not sure that you would like. One has to be engaging and outgoing constantly and willing to constantly wheel and deal, and often make unseemly compromises.

    I think you do many wonderful things in your post at Stanford, and I think your impact would be to continue generating ideas from that influential post.

  • Michael R

    There is one concrete benefit to this culture of money fueled politics. The public can track the flow. If you succeed in your stated goals the corporate interests will still have their interests. They will still wish to influence legislation. They will find a way to express those wishes and interests. What might that way be? How could we track it? What would be bartered in the absence of currency based system?

  • http://www.warmcove.org neil maclean

    regarding the question of whether to run for congress, I believe I gain more from you as a critic, theorist, and creator than I would as a member of congress.

    Regarding corruption, I don’t understand why so little attention is given to the cost of media in elections. The cost of advertisements drives the need for corporate contributions. Yet the airwaves are public property, a commons. Would a reform that allowed candidates to access broadcast media be easier to win than full campaign financing? Would you address this?

    A more nuanced question about corruption derives from comparing the “Yes We Can” video to the theme song video crafted by H. Clinton’s campaign. Why does the Clinton campaigns feel like “just words?”.

  • goatchowder

    Don’t primary Jackie Speier. She’ll obliterate you. She’ s very, very well loved in this district, and has built up political good will over 30 years of service. She knows everyone. I think she’d make an outstanding Congresswoman.

    However, I hope Obama wins and he appoints you CTO of the United States. I think that’d be a better use of your talents, actually.

  • http://andrewapeterson.wordpress.com Andrew A. Peterson

    I’m so glad to hear about this! I will do whatever I can to help. There’s nobody I’d rather have in DC representing us!

    But 2 things:

    1. Lessig08.org should have links to more ways to spread the “10 minutes…” video aside from just blip.tv. WordPress, for instance, doesn’t like BlipTV embed codes and It took a while for me to hunt down the YouTube version, which brings me to the next point…
    2. In the interest of making your videos also potentially serve as “viral” materials for grass-roots supporters like me, consider naming the videos in a way that makes them easier to find thru search queries.

  • http://pronetos.com Chris Blanchard

    Best wishes, Professor, Congress and your country need you. I agree with your platform, but it isn’t likely that any of it will be adopted. When Congress looks in the mirror, they look at each other – and they see nothing wrong. Also, the individuals who eschew PAC money, put themselves at a real disadvantage vis-a-vis other members of Congress and other candidates. If you want to get a boatload of money out of politics, repeal the 17th Amendment.

    With Senators again being selected by legislatures, there’d be no more money in the Senate. Then, the House would appear to be “corrupt” when viewed against their Senate counterparts. The grassroots doesn’t see a difference between the House and Senate, and really, there isn’t. But there could and should be. The grassroots may very well demand change when they see that their House members are being bought off by corporations, and the Senators representing their State are free from that influence. But campaign finance reform never had been a salient issue – not in the time of McCain-Feingold – and less so now. So good luck finding any real grass roots interest unless you can create it your self by “purifying” or restoring at least one of the houses of Congress first. And repealing the 17th is the best way to do that.

  • Martin Alvarado

    I support your willingness to speak out on issues and perhaps take on what you perceive as the “establishment”, but I saw that you took an incredibly cheap shot against progressive Jackie Speier (if the quote was correct). You talked about her taking $250,000 in campaign contributions from the insurance industry in previous campaigns.

    And the reason I say this is a cheap shot because even if such contributions were made (perhaps over her 20+ years of elected office?) – that is only half the story. The implication was that such contributions had a negative effect on her ability to fight the good fight for the little guy — while quite the opposite was true. Jackie Speier was a constant thorn in the side of the insurance industry as well as the banking industry, the credit card industry and many, many other industries that take advantage of the working class. (Remember her Privacy Bill which she got passed after four years of trying – despite heated opposition from banking, etc.?)

    If you’re contemplating a race based on honesty and transparency, it might behoove you to take a deep breath and think through your statements before you take a needless cheap shot at a successful progressive leader like Jackie.

  • Adhemar

    Disclaimer: I’m not an American, and hence not a voter in California’s 12th Congressional District.

    If you decide to run, I wish you the best of luck. But consider this first…

    As an analogy, let’s assume (it isn’t hard to do) that senator Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination, the race is between him and senator John McCain. Both stress the importance of ethics in politics; both do not take (lots of) special interest money. In terms of securing earmarks, Obama ranks in the bottom 25% (which is a good start), but McCain rejected earmarks entirely (which is of course better), or so I’m told.

    One could argue that McCain is closer to the “Change Congress” criteria than Obama is. Even if that’s true, would I consider voting for McCain? No. On practically all of the other issues, especially the other important ones, Barack’s opinions are closer to mine than McCain’s. So, I would vote Obama.

    When you decide to run against Jackie Speier, would I vote for you? I’m not sure yet. By your own admission, she’s a very good politician. She has a record, we know where she stands. But she takes special interest money. You, on the other hand, pledge to the “Change Congress” criteria. But that is just one thing. The electorate deserves to know where you stand on all the issues, not just the ethics (and copyright). Between a candidate I know and respect, who takes money, and a law professor who only spoke out on ethics and copyright, the former might be the save choice to make.

    Ultimately, that may be one of the main differences between the role of activist and the role of politician. As an activist of Free Culture and Political Ethics, you don’t need to tell the world whether you are pro-life or pro-choice; whether you believe more in personal defence against criminals through gun ownership or safety against accidents through gun control; where you stand on education, energy, healthcare and immigration. The world not knowing all your views might be a good thing: this way, you don’t scare off possible supporters of Free Culture and/or Political Ethics who are otherwise conservative/Republican. As a politician, the electorate deserves to know.

  • Kathi W

    Professor Lessig: I applaud your enthusiasm in considering a run for public office and I absolutely agree with your Change-Congress.org platform. However, I’m having a problem because your positions (that I know of so far) are extremely close to the leading candidate, Jackie Speier. Your positions as listed (on ActBlue) are: 1. Accept no money from PACs or lobbyists 2. Work to end Congressional earmarks 3. Support publicly-financed campaigns.

    I’m sure Jackie Speier is a strong opponent of Congressional earmarks, and I’m assuming as a long time progressive that she’s a supporter of election public financing. So about the only difference I see is that she has taken campaign contributions from PACs and you advocate that candidates refrain from taking PAC money.

    So my question to you is…why not pick up the phone and call Jackie Speier – ask her if she agrees with your concerns and if she’d agree to a set of fund-raising standards that I will suggest are even more progressive and comprehensive than you advocate:
    1) no PAC money
    2) no MOD money (Money from Outside of District)
    3) no personal wealth used.

    If Jackie’s answer is “yes” to these limitations, then maybe you can forego a personal run for Congress and spend your time, money and energy in getting other congressmembers and candidates to sign on to your positions to effectuate real change. What a win-win that would be! Worth a phone call??

    What does anyone else think about this suggestion???

  • Dan Halpern

    I hope you’ll run. I live in the district and yearn for a competitive race for Congress – something we haven’t had in years because the district is so Democratic. I can’t see anything but positives – Speier will be a better representative for it if she wins and the Democratic establishment in the County will get shaken up a bit and have some new blood if you win.

    P.S. I’ll probably vote for you and maybe even work in your campaign. :-)

  • Haluk Ozdemir

    Saw the article in SJ Mercury News this morning. Should you decide to run, I hereby pledge $200 minimum for your campaign.

  • http://www.baratunde.com/blog Baratunde Thurston

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  • Rene Visco

    Hi, I wonder if you should wait until Obama’s elected as a US president. You may be the strongest candidate for his CTO cabinet position.

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    Just go for it, Mr. Lessig!

    All the best for you,

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