Lawrence Lessig, renowned scholar of internet law and professor at Stanford Law School, will rejoin the Harvard faculty in summer 2009, taking up a joint appointment as a professor at Harvard Law School and as director of Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics. Lessig previously taught at Harvard as the Berkman Professor of Law. With the reacquisition of Lessig, the hiring spree begun by Dean Elena Kagan ’86 has now succeeded in bringing nearly all the United States’ foremost experts on internet law to HLS – although the move is actually an opportunity for Lessig to shift away from his focus on copyright to his new scholarly interest in political corruption.
Lessig’s public profile has been on the rise in recent years. In 2002, arguing the Eldred v. Ashcroft case before the Supreme Court, he and HLS Professor Jonathan Zittrain ’95 attempted to overturn the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. In February of this year, HLS Professor John Palfrey ’01 began an effort to draft Lessig to run for Congress. Lessig explored the option, but ultimately decided not to run for the seat. A supporter of open source code, he founded the “free culture” movement. He has also been a columnist for Wired magazine.
Lessig’s scholarly career has been similarly distinguished. In addition to his law degree from Yale, Lessig has a masters in philosophy from Cambridge University, where an early life epiphany turned him away from conservatism. Perhaps his most important scholarly work is his 1999 book Code, and Other Laws of Cyberspace, he argued that both computer source code and legal code could be seen as forms of social control. In addition to this and his other four books, Lessig has published in over sixty scholarly journals. He has also held judicial clerkships with Judge Richard Posner and Justice Antonin Scalia, and founded the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford.
In 2007, Lessig announced that he hoped to refocus his work, moving from internet law to political corruption. As director of the Safra Center, Lessig will launch a five year project looking into whether special interest funding sources can distort research projects. He will also rejoin his colleagues at HLS’ Berkman Center for Internet and Society, including prominent internet experts Palfrey, Zittrain (who only recently returned to Harvard himself), and Charles Nesson ’63. Lessig’s appointment will boost the Berkman Center’s already united front against government control and property restrictions online, represented by Nesson’s recent defense of a local student accused of illegal downloading, and by Palfrey and Zittrain’s activism against internet censorship abroad.
It is unclear whether Lessig’s appointment is indicative of whether HLS is in relative financial health. Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, citing dire budgetary straits, has announced a freeze on hiring and tenure searches.