Lawrence Lessig

Professor, Stanford Law School, chair, Creative Commons

Impact: While many in Hollywood are busy figuring out how to make money from distributing their content on the Web, Lessig is working to make sure that the people on the other end can be more than just passive consumers.

The Stanford law professor devotes much of his time to Creative Commons, a nonprofit that develops copyright licenses to explicitly let consumers reuse and remix media, provided they follow certain limitations set by the original creators.

Creative Commons recently launched CC+, a license that makes it easier for any content producer — individual or corporation — to distribute work for free to those with noncommercial purposes, but make money from those who want to use it for profit. The org also has a new partnership with Yahoo to integrate CC+ into the portal’s media applications.

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Some in Hollywood see Lessig and the many digital activists who support him as a threat — they worry the activists’ efforts to enable easy sharing of content via the Web will lead to rampant piracy.

Lessig doesn’t hide his antipathy for big media’s slow, restrictive approach to distributing content online, but he sees some positive signs as well. He’s pleased to see the music industry abandoning digital rights management and notes that while he’s not a fan of Viacom’s billion-dollar lawsuit against YouTube, the media giant has been very liberal in allowing fair-use interpretations of its content to stay online.

POV: “This is a debate about the right of people to build upon, share, spread, comment and remix their culture noncommercially without having it all labeled as ‘piracy,’ ” Lessig explains.