Lawrence Lessig and the Change Congress movement: change from within?

There is a video on about the Change Congress movement he has launched as well as his current thinking about whether he might run for congress.

This should be interesting to Canadians for a few reasons.

Lessig became painfully aware of the structural issues of US politics as an outcome of his work with Copyright. He has come to the conclusion that no matter what your issue is, the failures of the current political system will get in the way of making progress.

I have noticed this myself in my own volunteer work in Canada. Very few politicians spend the time to learn about the policies they are legislating about, and delegate this to a self-selected subset of politicians. That subset of politicians tend to have some pre-determined agenda, often influenced by some connection (sometimes personal, relating to past profession, friends, family) with a special interest group within the debate. This is very frustrating for someone coming in attempting to articulate a message that is more grassroots and doesn’t have major special interest money behind it.

I’m not suggesting that these politicians are corrupt. Most of the federal politicians I have met seem to be great people, and are in politics to serve what they consider to be the public interest. Like Lessig and many others before him I believe that it isn’t the people who are corrupt, but the system that they are working within.

Those of us involved in the Canadian Copyright reform and related debates notice how much influence comes from the USA on our policy. No matter which politician or ambassador are speaking, the pressure really originates with the USTR and USPTO. The USTR gets its Special 301 report and related lobbying from the false statistics and recommendations from the IIPA, which is an extreme special interest group made up of the proprietary software lobby and the legacy entertainment industry.

This is a clear example of government corruption in that rather than having to compete with other lobbiests and actual citizens for attention, the special interests groups that make up the IIPA have managed to insert themselves directly into a key part of the policy making process.

This is a major bug in the process that requires the intervention of Congress to fix. Unfortunately the members of Congress receive campaign contributions from these same special interest groups, and the politicians seem oblivious to the level of influence.

While considerably smaller, we have our own problems in Canada. Many of the politicians who seek influence in specific area of policy have received donations from corporations, unions and other special interest groups who want influence on that policy. While we have tried to create spending limits, we also see fundraisers like the recent Liberal “sky is the limit” fundraiser that abuse loopholes to get around the intention of the limits.

While we historically made small steps in the right direction, it seems apparent to me that this has not become part of the culture of Ottawa to recognize and push away from this harmful influence.

Whatever Lessig does in the USA, no matter how small or large the beneficial influence, will have an impact on Canadian politics. I don’t know exactly how to help this positive influence other than to try to encourage people to become aware of the movement, and aware of what is happening in Canada.

Let me know your thoughts — please, whatever you do, don’t just nod your head in agreement and click to the next message. Reply to this article with comments, send links to related messages, tell your friends, and contact your elected representatives.

Related note: I would like to congratulate Canadian law professor Michael Geist for winning a 2008 EFF Pioneer Award.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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