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The interview with Lawrence Lessig featured below was conducted by Markus Beckedahl and John Weitzmann, leaders of the German Creative Commons affiliate organizations in late September and transcribed by Christian Wöhrl. A German version was published yesterday at netzpolitik.org. We are pleased to to publish the English original of the interview and invite others to share it as long as they abide to the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license.

Lawrence Lessig at ETech 2008

Lawrence Lessig (photo by By Ed Schipul, CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Maybe you’ve answered this question too many times, but why did you found Creative Commons?

Lawrence Lessig: Well, there’s a narrow reason which was that at the time we were litigating the Eldred vs. Ashcroft case, and Eric Eldred was skeptical about whether we could win that case. And he said that he wanted to make sure that out of that litigation wouldn’t just come a losing case at the Supreme Court but something that would be a more fundamental foundation to support what we’ve come to call Free Culture. So I began to think that was right and recognized, more importantly, that if we’re ever going to get real change that we would had to build the movement of understanding in people. That wasn’t going to come from the top down, it had to come from the bottom up. So a number of us began to talk about what was the way to craft such a movement and the idea of giving people a simple way to affirm that they don’t believe in either extreme of perfect control or no rights, and what’s the best way to do it. So that’s what launched Creative Commons.

So there were already several Open Content licenses. Why did you develop your own CC licenses and didn’t just support existing FSF licenses, for example? 

Lawrence Lessig: Well, there were two reasons. First, we thought we needed to have a more flexible and wider range of licenses. So that the, you know, like, the Free Document License is a particular version of a free license that might not be appropriate for all kinds of material – number one. But number two, we thought it was really important to understand your own licenses; it was very important to begin to embed an architecture that could be, number one, human-readable, understandable, and, number two, machine-readable, and, number three, at the very bottom, legally enforceable. And none of the other licensing structures that were out there were thinking of this particular mode of policy making, to have to speak three languages at the same time. So that’s what led us to architect this initially.

And it was our commitment from the very beginning, and, you know, we achieved this with the Free Document License and we’re still talking about this with the Free Art License to enable interoperability or portability between free licenses. So our idea was eventually that it didn’t matter which of the free licenses you were in as long as you could move into the equivalent free license that would be CC compatible.

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Hugh Sinclair is a (self-described) whistleblower who recently published a book coming clean with the microfinance industry. Paul Lagneau-Ymonet and Phil Mader had the privilege to ask him how microfinance went astray and “betrayed” the poor, and why the public and donors are being deceived. His book “Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic: How Microlending Lost its Way and Betrayed the Poor” has been widely noted by international media and his blog follows the day-to-day antics of the microfinance industry.

Hugh, you worked in microfinance for 10 years, so you must have at least for some time believed in this as a tool for reducing poverty. When did you become disillusioned, and why?

I can’t say there was one moment of revelation. The first concerns started on my very first project. I was working in Mexico with a Grameen replica institution, and right from the beginning I noticed many of these people aren’t using the money for a productive use, and many of them aren’t actually very poor at all. But I told myself maybe I’m just in a bad institution.

I worked in Mexico for a couple of years, then I moved to Mozambique. There I discovered an even worse situation. Not only was microfinance not having much impact, but the institution that I was working at was misappropriating the savings of the clients. They were forcing the clients to make a savings deposit, and then they were using that deposit to subsidise their own operating costs, which generally involved paying high salaries to ineffective expat senior managers to fly business class and drive around in fancy 4x4s, which to me didn’t seem like a particularly good use of the client savings. It’s theft – I mean, you can’t just take people’s savings and spend them on your salary.So I thought: wow, this is a terrible institution. But maybe I’ve just been unlucky that I’ve stumbled into a few bad ones. Why don’t I go over to Europe and work at a microfinance fund, and my knowledge about the difference between a good and a bad microfinance institution will be useful to direct their money towards good microfinance.

“The problem is that [microfinance funds] have a weird set of incentives that aren’t aligned with their own investors, and also aren’t aligned with the interests of the poor.”

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The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
March 2019
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