Personal Life

by A. F.

This chapter is a free excerpt from Lawrence Lessig: A Biography.

Lessig is married to German-born lawyer Bettina Neuefiend who investigated the Kosovo war crimes. Originally a law student of Lessigs’ at the University of Chicago, Neuefiend began dating him three years after her graduation. Together, they have 3 children: Willem Dakota Neuefeind Lessig (born September 7, 2003), Teo Elias Neuefeind Lessig (born January 15, 2007), and Samantha Tess Neuefeind Lessig (born 2009).

Lessig considers pessimism his “brand.” Although some of his writing bears this out (several of the pessimistic predictions in Code seem to have come true), Lessig behaves more like an idealist than a pessimist, taking on long-term causes even when the fight seems to be a losing battle.

Although Lessig keeps his personal life private, family members have strongly influenced the trajectory of his career. He credits his father’s disdain for politics with being an influence on his own interest in ethical government.


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Lessig is married to German-born lawyer Bettina Neuefiend who investigated the Kosovo war crimes. Originally a law student of Lessigs’ at the University of Chicago, Neuefiend began dating him three years after her graduation. Together, they have 3 children: Willem Dakota Neuefeind Lessig (born September 7, 2003), Teo Elias Neuefeind Lessig (born January 15, 2007), and Samantha Tess Neuefeind Lessig (born 2009).

Lessig considers pessimism his “brand.” Although some of his writing bears this out (several of the pessimistic predictions in Code seem to have come true), Lessig behaves more like an idealist than a pessimist, taking on long-term causes even when the fight seems to be a losing battle.

Although Lessig keeps his personal life private, family members have strongly influenced the trajectory of his career. He credits his father’s disdain for politics with being an influence on his own interest in ethical government.

In an interview with CSPAN, Lessig said that the most important lesson his dad Jack Lessig ever taught him was to live with a sense of integrity. In construction and steel fabrication, bidding is the method by which jobs are procured. On one project, Jack Lessig’s estimator forgot to include $1,000,000 in his bid. There were many ways Jack Lessig could have gotten out of such an unfair deal, but instead he said that because he had submitted the bid, he would stick to that price even if it had negative ramifications. His father’s integrity struck a deep chord in Lessig.

Over the past decade, Lessig’s children have provided some of the inspiration behind his public arguments for copyright and Congressional reform. For example, in discussing Remix, Lessig says he doesn’t understand the world until he can “write” it. He wants his kids to have that freedom and encouragement to do so as well. By “writing,” he doesn’t mean simply placing pen to paper or typing out words. He considers shooting movies with a video camera or making music on a machine forms of “writing.” Whatever the mode of creativity, Lessig wants his kids to have the experience of creating — without being criminalized for doing so.

In 2001, Lessig was contacted by John Hardwicke, who had been molested by the same music director at the American Boychoir School. Hardwicke was suing the school. Buried in the Eldred case, Lessig tried to avoid getting involved, until he read an article in The New York Times about Hardwicke’s case being dismissed by a New Jersey court on the basis of the Charitable Immunity Act. That Act offered protection for charitable organizations that were facing negligence lawsuits. From personal experience, Lessig knew that the school had not simply acted negligently.

When he lost the Eldred case, Lessig volunteered to argue Hardwicke’s appeal. Giving what observers regarded as a virtuoso performance, Lessig won the appeal. He won again when the school appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

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