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Like feminists and environmentalists before him, Lawrence Lessig is starting a movement. The Stanford law professor is an evangelist for the twin goals of reforming copyright and patent law and maintaining the freedom and flexibility of the Internet. Through appearances worldwide and influential books, Lessig works to educate the public. This year produced his most-publicized success so far. Against all odds, Lessig persuaded the Supreme Court to hear Eldred v. Ashcroft, a challenge to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. The issue: If Congress keeps extending copyright terms, how does the constitutional language requiring protection for “limited times” have any real meaning? What is less widely known about Lessig is his work with other major initiatives seeking to change public views of intellectual property and technology matters. He chairs the Creative Commons, an effort to give artists and authors the technological means to share their works on terms more generous than copyright. In December, the Creative Commons took significant steps in its projects to rethink licensing and to move content faster into the public domain. Lessig also serves as executive director of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society. And he sits on the boards of two advocacy/education groups — the Electronic Frontier Foundation and my organization, Public Knowledge. Lessig’s labors are beginning to bear fruit. While proponents of stronger copyright had their way in the past, three legislative efforts in this Congress to limit consumer uses of computers and digital content failed — in part because of public outcry. Two pro-consumer copyright bills were introduced in the House this fall, and more are expected next year. Two major foundations have started funding public interest efforts on these issues, and others are considering it. And if the Eldred oral argument this October was any indication, the judiciary is beginning to grasp the negative effects that ever-expanding copyright protections have on artistic, scientific, scholarly, literary, and other pursuits. Not a bad year for a nascent movement. Gigi B. Sohn is the president of Public Knowledge, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization that addresses the public’s stake in IP law and technology policy.

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