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The Future of Ideas 170

Posted by michael
from the resistance-is-futile dept.
Lawrence Lessig's new book, The Future of Ideas: the fate of the commons in a connected world , is strongly related to his previous book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace . In Code, Lessig pursued his thesis that the computer code behind all online activities functioned as a set of laws, and the impact that that has on regulation of the online world. In Ideas, Lessig explores a related concept that was hammered on heavily during the Microsoft anti-trust cases -- that holders of intellectual property (copyrights and patents) will squelch freedom and innovation online.
The Future of Ideas
author Lawrence Lessig
pages 352
publisher Random House
rating 9/10
reviewer Michael Sims
ISBN 0-375-50578-4
summary Suppressive efforts by entrenched industries threaten innovation in cyberspace

Ideas has been reviewed in Salon and in the Washington Monthly; the book has a promotional website as well.

Lessig starts off by looking at the idea of a "commons," a community resource of some sort. The traditional commons is a public park or piece of land, but Lessig is more interested in looking at less-traditional commons on the 'Net and other communications systems. He moves on to examining some of the innovations that have been spurred by the recent growth of the Net -- typically startup companies that have taken advantage of the commons represented by TCP/IP and HTTP to provide a new service or product. If you follow Slashdot religiously, you probably read about most of these companies at least twice -- once when they started offering their innovative new whizbang, and again when they were sued by Megacorp, Inc., and shut down. The final part of Ideas covers the lawsuits, or more precisely the efforts by entrenched players to keep anyone else from playing. The distinction is important, because lawsuits are not the only way to keep upstarts from being able to participate: control of the code is also an important tool. For every control through lawsuits story that Slashdot runs, there's an equivalent story about control through code.

Just as in Code, Lessig is not optimistic about the future. Why should he be? So far, despite every warning, every attempt to sound the alarm, the forces trying to shut down innovation are winning in an utterly convincing fashion. A blurb compares the book to Silent Spring, the famous book about the environmental effects of DDT. Silent Spring was more or less successful -- DDT is now banned for most uses in the U.S., and the book had great effect in raising environmental awareness, but overall, environmental quality has continued to suffer. Lessig's book is not likely to be as successful. Attacking DDT was relatively easy compared to attacking the unlimited expansion of intellectual property, which has many multi-billion dollar companies willing to fight to defend their continued erosion of the public commons.

This should suffice to summarize Lessig's book. The ideas in it should not be unfamiliar -- Lessig is hardly the only one espousing this point of view today, though he is one of the most articulate. The final chapters have Lessig's suggestions for ways to reverse this trend of quashing innovation -- different ways of managing the electromagnetic spectrum to produce a better wireless commons (it's worth noting that the unlicensed 2.4 Ghz band has been the source of most recent wireless innovation), ways to create an Internet commons on the wired network (some municipalities are already doing this, laying municipal fiber to the home and following an open access policy), changing copyright law and patent law to put more code in the public domain, changing contract law so that end-users can't be forced to sign away their rights. All are good suggestions. Despite the hopeful notes in parentheses just above, most of these suggestions stand little chance of being adopted any time soon. But perhaps Rachel Carson was looking at much the same uphill battle against DDT.

Ideas is most comparable to The Control Revolution by Andrew Shapiro, an earlier effort to explore the changing dynamics of control on the net. Shapiro was much more optimistic, and writing without much of the recent evidence that Lessig uses to make his point that innovation is being squashed thoroughly. If you will, there is an optimism scale -- John Perry Barlow defines one end of the scale, Shapiro is in the middle, and Lessig occupies the pessimistic side. Smart money is on Lessig.

All in all, it's a fine book. I think I prefer Code though, for a variety of reasons -- I find the central premise of Code to be less obvious, more ground-breaking. Or perhaps I've just read so much about "innovation" during the Microsoft trials that I can never again read the word without wincing. As with Code, Lessig has extensive footnotes, making this a scholarly work (for the scholars) but a perfectly readable book even for non-scholars. In any case, it's strongly recommended.


You can purchase this book at Fatbrain. Want to see your own review here? Read the book review guidelines, then submit using Slashdot's web-submission page :)
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The Future of Ideas

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  • As copyright holder of this message, I wish to squelch freedom and innovation by

    1) Suing anyone who replies and quotes my copyrighted message.

    2) Suing anyone who moderates this message down for attacking my character.

    3) Sue any banner ad companies whose ads appear above my comment unless they have text within the ad saying "The comments of the advertiser are not meant to be related to LordOfYourPants."

    4) Sue thinkgeek for giving me a hernia with their "Codito, Ergo, Summ" shirts.
    • As copyright holder of this message, I wish to squelch freedom and innovation by

      1) Suing anyone who replies and quotes my copyrighted message.

      Is that a god in your pocket, or are you just glad to sue me?

  • Though pesticides and the internet (McAffee?) didn't particularly grab my attention I really do see the influence of the programming behind an interface and how it can control people without us even having a say in the matter.

    I think this is where the influence of open-source comes into play. If open-source technology is based on the people having their say in the code, and the code makes the laws, then I'd imagine once the online community gets large enough this would make for the only true online democracy :)

    cool.
  • DDT? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Maeryk (87865) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @11:42AM (#2654217) Journal
    -- DDT is now banned for most uses in the U.S., and the book had great effect in raising environmental awareness, but overall, environmental quality has continued to suffer. Lessig's book is not likely to be as successful. Attacking DDT was relatively easy compared to attacking the unlimited expansion of intellectual property, which has many multi-billion dollar companies willing to fight to defend their continued erosion of the public commons.

    Well, yeah, Silent Spring *did* raise the problem of DDT and it's gone now. But there had to be *something* to fill in those gaps. Now they are spraying for West Nile Virus mosquitoes up here in the Northeast US and doing far more damage with the pesticides than they are helping. After all, WNV has killed what.. three? five? people. Is it really worth destroying generations of birds and their offspring to save five lives? How many millions die of malpractice?

    But back to the topic at hand.. until we get judges who know computers are better for something than product placement in televised courtrooms, or understand something about intellectual copyright itself, there wont be a change. If you dont think that large companies are stealing ideas left right and center, well, wake up. 3m bought the idea for post-it notes for like, 1.99 from the guy who came up with it, due to contractual obligations that almost all of us sign. If you develop code, and use your work computer for even one line of said code, it probably falls under your blanket contract that says your company now owns it, and owns j00 as well.

    Until laws like that get challenged, and beaten, companies squelching free development, or the furthering of technology outside their-own pockets are going to continue to be the status quo.

    What is the solution? I dont pretend to know.. but getting more technologically savvy people into the courts in judge, jury, and lawyer roles could be a start. Face it, M$ is going to send in the best 10 lawyers they can find, and what does a Mitnick get? Whatever the PD's office can spare.

    Maeryk
    • West Nile (Score:2, Insightful)

      by wiredog (43288)
      They aren't spraying DDT to kill West Nile. It's malathion, IIRC, which is not harmful to birds. Or, at worst, is less harmful to birds than West Nile.

      The guy who invented post-it notes did it while he was on the job at 3M. All the work was done at work, using 3M's equipment and supplies. He's never complained.

      You seem to be complaining that companies own the products that we are producing for them and for which we are paid.

      • They aren't spraying DDT to kill West Nile. It's malathion, IIRC, which is not harmful to birds. Or, at worst, is less harmful to birds than West Nile.

        I said the "new stuff" they are spraying. I didnt say it was DDT. My concern is that Malathion turns out in 20 years to be far worse than DDT ever was. I have no faith whatsoever in a 2 year controlled test that says "well, its safe enough" when we have a lot of evidence to prove that in the last five times it was "safe enough" it wasnt. (Dioxins, DDT, Asbestos, Fiberglass, Carbon Tet, etc)

        You seem to be complaining that companies own the products that we are producing for them and for which we are paid.

        Actually, I'm more complaining that a company makes billions of dollars of of one employees hard work and inspiration, and that employee doesnt see squat. Or that in this day and age of code, it becomes a lot more blurred. When does plagiarism occur? When one line matches another? In these new days of coding, what is the likelihood that someone somewhere will get sued because their line of code (standard) matches someone elses line of code (standard) which existed first?

        Maeryk
    • Re:DDT? (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      There's pretty substancial proof that the total ban on DDT has caused a huge loss in human life.

      The problem with DDT use in the 50's was that it was used in huge quantities and without proper oversight. It was seen as a chemical cure-all. There are appropriate uses of DDT for mosquito control. The fact that it's outright banned instead of properly controlled has resulted in thousands of unnecessary malaria deaths throughout the world.
    • You seem to be assuming that anyone with knowledge of the situation will automatically agree with you, and hence concluding that therefore the politicians and judges you don't agree with are therefore ignorant. Thats a very large assumption, although I suppose its marginally better than the similar logic which declares that they must be corrupt instead.

      Always bear in mind the other possibility: that they might actually know the facts but honestly disagree with your conclusions. Whatever you and I may think of the DeCSS decisions recently, there is no denying that Kaplan and the appeal court knew and understood the technology and the law that was relevant to the case.

      The idea that artists and inventors should be granted limited monopolies on their works is a very old and respectable idea (e.g. the US constitution). It takes a bit more than arm-waving to cast it all aside.

      Also, bear in mind that the judges in the DeCSS case have very properly had to defer to Congress except where Congress exceeds its constitutional powers. The system was designed that way for good reason. Believe me, you really don't want judges making up the law as they go along.

      I have a lower opinion of Congress as a venue for getting these things right though. For a variety of reasons they get a clearer view of the arguments to increase IPR than to limit them. Most of these come down to a combination of money and the tendency of focussed interests (e.g. 5 movie studios) to over-ride diffuse interests (e.g. 500e6 movie fans). But thats about par for the course. Congress has made some stunningly bad decisions over the past couple of centuries, and will no doubt make more. If you want to improve it, you know what to do.

      Paul.

      • His whole line of reasoning in the decision rests on the assumption that DeCSS is a tool for piracy, and because it is a tool for piracy, fair use rights therefore don't apply. With a bit of hand waving and circular logic, he dismissed the defense's strongest argument. Regardless of his "understanding" of the technology in question, he deserves our contempt.
        • His whole line of reasoning in the decision rests on the assumption that DeCSS is a tool for piracy, and because it is a tool for piracy, fair use rights therefore don't apply. With a bit of hand waving and circular logic, he dismissed the defense's strongest argument. Regardless of his "understanding" of the technology in question, he deserves our contempt.

          If the defense's strongest argument can be creditably dismissed by hand-waving, then the defense needed stronger arguments.

          I seriously doubt that the RIAA will press civil charges against anyone who cannot be construed to be a threat to society (ie: pirate, terrorist, hacket, etc.). As for criminal charges, that's the DoJ's turf, and the case against Dmitri Sklyarov is the best example of how they'll work. In both arenas, they'll pick the ugliest targets, and try them for who they are, not what they've done, merrily building up precedents here and case law there.

          Regardless of your feelings about DeCSS (I'm for it), the RIAA did a very good job of picking a target when they picked 2600 Magazine. It's right up there with Hustler for content and editorial integrity, and 2600 came into court with a serious negative image problem. The rest of the case went about as well as could be expected. That earned the RIAA a legal precedent, and set up additional hurtles for the next target.

          The only way that the DMCA will get overturned is if someone manages to do something that obviously violates the DMCA, but is also easily recognizable as something that is socially acceptable and/or necessary. At this time, I can't think of anything that matches these criteria -- the right to download Star Wars movies off the 'net doesn't qualify, and neither does anything else I can think of. Anyone got any suggestions?


          • Regardless of your feelings about DeCSS (I'm for it), the RIAA did a very good job of picking a target when they picked 2600 Magazine.

            It's starting to scare the hell out of me, frankly, that even those of us who have insightful, reasoned, well-thought-out things to say (and sub-five-digit UIDs) can't keep the RIAA and the MPAA straight. I mean, sure they're all the same evil mega-corporate enemies of freedom and everything, but I don't recall the Recording Industry suing 2600 over the copy-protection of Motion Pictures.

            What makes it so scary is wondering, if we can't even remember the names of the organizations that we're talking about, then do we really understand what's going on as well as we'd like to think we do?

            Yeah, I know it's just a silly mistake, but come on.

            That said, I'm totally with you on the point about how "they'll pick the ugliest targets, and try them for who they are, not what they've done, merrily building up precedents here and case law there." Very nicely worded, and an important point to which more attention needs to be drawn -- I thought the implicit acceptance of this way of doing things was the most mystifying thing about the rejection of Felten's case.
            • It's starting to scare the hell out of me, frankly, that even those of us who have insightful, reasoned, well-thought-out things to say (and sub-five-digit UIDs) can't keep the RIAA and the MPAA straight. I mean, sure they're all the same evil mega-corporate enemies of freedom and everything, but I don't recall the Recording Industry suing 2600 over the copy-protection of Motion Pictures.

              Ba-a-a-a-d Llama. What can I say -- I was at work, I was focusing on the comment I was replying to, instead of trying to remember whether I was talking about the left hand or the right hand.


              • Ba-a-a-a-d Llama.

                Can I assume that those responsible have been sacked?

                Again, like I said, of course it's kind of nitpicky, but I do think it's pretty important to keep things straight when arguing a position and this one is sort of a pet peeve (like the local crypto experts who keep talking about factoring prime numbers); I didn't mean to pick on you, but I've seen it enough times that it was getting embarrassing.
          • Anyone got any suggestions?


            Yeah, I'd like to be able to play the DVDs I've legally purchased on my BSD (or insert your favorite OS) box. Reverse engineering has traditionally been a legitimate method for making things work when the original owner of a technology isn't interested in pursuing some particular market or use of the technology.

            • Yeah, I'd like to be able to play the DVDs I've legally purchased on my BSD (or insert your favorite OS) box. Reverse engineering has traditionally been a legitimate method for making things work when the original owner of a technology isn't interested in pursuing some particular market or use of the technology.

              Nice argument (and I agree with you), but they're going to come right back and point out that you can play DVDs on DVD players, and that DVD players aren't pirate tools, but Linux and BSD are hacker tools, so you must really want to pirate that DVD. No, that isn't a logical argument if you pick it apart, but you don't get to cross-examine the MPAA lawyers -- just their witnesses.

              • No, that isn't a logical argument if you pick it apart, but you don't get to cross-examine the MPAA lawyers -- just their witnesses.


                You could, of course, bring a witness to pick apart their claims. Preferably someone in academia, who can cite good examples and make the judge understand what's at stake.

                • I wrote: No, that isn't a logical argument if you pick it apart, but you don't get to cross-examine the MPAA lawyers -- just their witnesses.

                  You replied: You could, of course, bring a witness to pick apart their claims. Preferably someone in academia, who can cite good examples and make the judge understand what's at stake.

                  You misunderstood my point -- when it comes to the courtroom, each side will bring the best witnesses they can, and each side will place all of the testimony into a context that best suits their needs. So far the MPAA and RIAA lawyers are much better at casting their opponents in a bad light. They stand up and tell the court how much money they've spent on these technologies, and how much money they stand to lose from pirates, while pointing across the room at the defendent. Meanwhile, the defendent's lawyer has to argue that liberty and freedom are more important than the minor indiscretions of their defendent. And there will have been indiscretions -- a skilled lawyer can make Snow White look like a common hooker (after all, she shared a home with *7* men, all of them *dwarves* and she was mixed up with *evil* witches).

                  The worst of their innuendos will be saved for their summary arguments, which can't be interrupted, and can only be rebutted in summary arguments -- they can't be objected to during the argument itself. You can't put the lawyers themselves on the stand, no matter how much you'd prefer.

                  BTW, academics generally don't make good witnesses, since they tend to be too honest, and too disconnected from everyday life. They talk about abstract things that might never happen, while the judge knows that none of their academic research means a damn thing in the real world.

          • Would reverse engineering software that blocks websites to determine what websites, exactly, are being blocked, qualify as a use that is socially acceptable?
            • Would reverse engineering software that blocks websites to determine what websites, exactly, are being blocked, qualify as a use that is socially acceptable?

              It would to *me*, but I'm not a judge. Censorware authors would certainly disagree, as would too many self-appointed, holier-than-thou guardians of community values (like Virginia State Delegate Richard Black, who recently tried to force this cr*p into the Loudoun County Public Libraries, only to lose on First Amendment grounds in US Federal Court).

              IANAL, but I suspect that it wouldn't pass muster because blocking software is typically deployed in as an "opt-in" measure -- it's on computers because someone who's responsible for that computer wants it there. If you don't want to use a computer with blocking software, you can go elsewhere, or sue to have it removed (in the case of computers in libraries). Breaking the encryption on URL lists wouldn't help in court, since you can always sue the software vendor and get their lists via deposition or subponea.

              • I can see your argument, but surely if I am contemplating installing software on my machine, I have the right to know what, exactly, it blocks, right? In any event, when this case did come to court a few years ago, the complaining company bought the company that wrote the cracking software and killed the software.
                • I can see your argument, but surely if I am contemplating installing software on my machine, I have the right to know what, exactly, it blocks, right?

                  If you're a customer, that's between you and the company that's supplying the software, but my guess is that in order to install the software, you'll have to agree to a license that says you won't get to know that answer. If you didn't agree to the license, you shouldn't have installed it, yada, yada, UCITA, you gave up your rights.

                  In any event, when this case did come to court a few years ago, the complaining company bought the company that wrote the cracking software and killed the software.

                  That was pre-DMCA; in the post-DMCA era, the offending company and all of their employees (or at least the officers and programmers) could be indicted for violating the criminal provisions of the DMCA.

      • > The idea that artists and inventors should be granted limited monopolies on their works is a very old and respectable idea (e.g. the US constitution). It takes a bit more than arm-waving to cast it all aside.

        An idea that existed before the internet, an idea that was not liked by everyone (Thomas Jefferson is one who didnt like it but was willing to compromise). An idea that is just that, an idea, and the proof of which is not evident even to this day. And you are right it does take more then arm-waving to cast it all aside, but so should it take more then arm-waving to keep it in modern times.

        Other solutions are, a natural capitalist one. Where information is sold from distributor to distributor (like black markets). Something that would have been harder to do in a way that benefits the creator in the time copyrights were created, but in modern times is becoming more and more possible and even the internet can aid in people selling information to each other, as oposed to giving it away for free.
      • And also its not just a monopoly to the creator, its a monopoly to the distributors as well (little to no competition in distribution).
      • You seem to be assuming that anyone with knowledge of the situation will automatically agree with you, and hence concluding that therefore the politicians and judges you don't agree with are therefore ignorant. Thats a very large assumption, although I suppose its marginally better than the similar logic which declares that they must be corrupt instead.

        I was more going on the transcripts I read and the reports I had read of some of the goings-on in courts when these things were being decided. THe characterizations of some of these judges who heard the cases seemed to me that they wouldnt know a computer if it fell on them. I just dont think that is a competent review board to decide something as landmark as these decisions. Not all judges are clueless, obviously, but not all of them fully understand what they are deciding either.. law of averages.

        M
    • How a someone who clearly doesn't see human life as more valued and cherished than bird life got moderated to a 5, I can't fathom.

      With spraying there have been only 5 deaths (so far). How many deaths would be acceptable before we can spray???

      I am for protecting the environment only in so much as we live in it. If killing off every bird as a side effect in New Jersey would save even one human life, I would be for it, but these spraying programs don't even come close to having that kind of impact. Protecting animal life is a noble cause, only when it does not interfere with protecting Human life.

      • Is this really about protecting human life? I dont think so, its about money. If this were about protecting human life, there are many other things that kill far more humans that need more attention to. Even the amount of money we are spending trying to get Osama Bin Laden is not about the lives lost at the WTC, there are more lives lost to smoking and drunk driving anually then are lost to terrorism anually. No the WTC is about pride, not about human life. Same with the above, its not about human life its about money.
      • by Maeryk (87865)
        How a someone who clearly doesn't see human life as more valued and cherished than bird life got moderated to a 5, I can't fathom

        First off, dont put words in my mouth. Never did I say human life was less important than a birds life. However, I think you will find that without birds (plural) Humans wont be around all that long. Ecologically there is an *extremely* delicate balance we are dealing with here.. and we keep messing with it hard. THe Earth is a huge
        ecological entity, and much like your body generating a fever to rid itself of disease, so can "nature" rid itself of parasites.. and in the words of Pogo.. 'i have seen the enemy.. and they is us".

        Now.. my *main* point, (which I guess you missed) is that 5 lives is nothing. Medical Malpractice kills many more people a year. Tylenol kills many more people a year. And they do nothing (or very little) about it. Those are acceptable losses in the multi-billion industry that medicine has become.

        This ties into my statements about corporate lawyers versus true innovators. Do you really think the RIAA, MPAA, or Microsoft give a rats ass about this tiny little group here on SlashDot? No.. they could care less. THey know that even if every one of us gets every one of our friends to clearly not-support them, or even to boycott their products, it wont amount to a hill of beans, because joe sixpack will A) not care, and B) want to see The Perfect Storm in Dolby at his house.

        Acceptable losses.

        Maeryk
  • by KarmaBlackballed (222917) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @11:43AM (#2654224) Homepage Journal
    Its obvious that without air you cannot breath. It is also obvious that without a car you cannot drive 100mph on a highway. Writing a book to make these points would be ridiculous.

    Yet intellectual monopoly marketing by companies has been so successful, it is not ridiculous to write a book that makes the point that the patent system as we have it today is the tool [used] by entrenched players to keep anyone else from playing.

    I'm glad to see this book. Maybe it will wake a few more folks up. I hope so.
  • by Patrick McRotch (314811) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @11:47AM (#2654236) Homepage
    One of the major points that Lessig writes about is how powerful corporations and individuals use intellectual property laws to surpress the opinions of those they don't like. Unfortunately, Lessig largely ignores one of the favorite techniques, of late: using the courts to steal domain names and sue dissenters. We all know about cases like walmartsucks.com and nikeuseschildlabor.net, where WIPO [slashdot.org] stripped the original holders of their domain name and gives it to a powerful corporation. This type of domain name abuse isn't limited [spectacle.org] to major corporations, though.


    Arbitration of domain name disputes will be one of the major threads of Intellectual Property law in the 21st century. It's unfortunate that Lessig gave such short shrift to this important area.

    • I've read the book, and Lessig does touch on the issue of domain name disputes. Sure, he doesn't go into it in real depth, but I don't think he needs to. Domain names are only one of the multitude of methods used to supress challenges.


      The distinction between supression through code and supression through lawsuit is important, though. For example, Michael is supressing the parent comment through the use of code, by abusing his power and moderating it so that no one can see it. I believe supression through code is the more dangerous of the two. With supression through lawsuit, the courts at least have to okay it. Sure, you can argue that the courts are corrupt, but that's not the point. We can always clean up the courts. With supression through code, corporations and individuals like Michael can play Judge, Jury, and Executioner to maintain their positions and technologically shout down people who bring up inconvenient facts or provide competition.

  • by Starquake (245822) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @11:48AM (#2654243) Homepage
    With all these dim views of the future of cyberspace, and current trends do point in that direction, perhaps it is time to start implementing a FreeNet. Something outside of the mainstream Internet, away from corporate and government controls. Something entirely for geeks, by geeks.

    In all honesty, I don't see any way around it. When non-Microsoft, non-FBI-bugged operating systems are outlawed, only outlaws will run Linux/BSD/etc.
    • While such a FreeNet would be a laudable idea, as someone with a B.A. in cynicism, I have to say it wouldn't last. Remember the death of Usenet? How it was, as you say, entirely for geeks, by geeks? Essentially, back in the day, it was a vast information resource...where the best and brightest gathered to exchange tips and info. Then AOL released their barbarian hordes upon the newsgroups. The poor dumb sheep couldn't distinguish between instant messages and Usenet posts...end result, only one post in a thousand had any useful information. The other 999 were either one-word responses like "me too" or "duh", or spammer ads. My point is that legal means aren't the only way to destroy innovation. Sometimes the ignorant masses will do it themselves. _________________________________________ On a slightly related note, it's rather disturbing how, ever since September 11th, life is becoming more and more like Deus Ex.
    • by Flower (31351) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @12:21PM (#2654379) Homepage
      Despite all the bad news we've had recently and my current block on how to fix it I still feel that fighting for what is there now is more useful than speculating on a new creation.

      Just to play devil's advocate here.

      1. How would you finance it?
      2. How would you implement the infrastructure?
      3. How would you avoid the laws already in place in whatever country you hosted a site from?
      4. How would you determine who gets in and who stays out?

      The closest thing I can think of that approximates a GeekNet would be Internet2 and even that has corporate and government ties to it.

      FreeNet, the program, might be of use but again...

      1. I have a problem with not knowing what junk is on my server. Even if I never know someone is hosting a single jpeg of child pornography on my machine, the thought that someone could is enough to turn me off on the idea. Just as trolls on /. make me reticient from browsing at 0, unethical participants on FreeNet would ultimately defeat adoption of this solution.
      2. Once FreeNet becomes stigmatized how do you prevent countries from passing even more draconian laws to squelch the system?

      IMO, the fight is for a fair Internet not one for a select technically elite few and not one owned by corporations. How we get there I don't know. But I do know that I'm interested in how the issue is shaping up and it's a big reason why I asked for this book for Xmas.

      • Hardly.

        It was designed and is primarily used as a government and academic research tool, just as the Internet was in days before the popularity of the WWW brought useful data transfer to its knees. At the Abilene/Internet 2 NOC (which is in the building next to mine) they're actually the Operations Center for several other nets that show promise as the "replacement" for the Internet, but Internet2 is probably not it.
      • by Azog (20907)
        I've been thinking about some of the same problems. I also suspect that, given the way things are going, the so-called "intellectual property" industries will pretty much control the internet in a few years - with the cooperation of ISPs, they will shut down peer-to-peer networking, police all file sharing, and pretty much force everyone to play along. People who use interesting geeky techniques to get around their blocking will get sued under the DMCA for circumvention.

        So what do you do? I've also looked at freenet, and I'm not running a server for exactly the same reason you aren't - there's no way I'll donate my hard disk space and bandwidth to a system that people can use for swapping child porn.

        But heck, we need something - something where there's a little space, some gaps in the system where people can do innovative stuff, but also where people who do seriously illegal stuff can be tracked down and prosecuted. The ideal medium seems to be a system where tracking people down is difficult enough that no one will bother to do it for friends sharing music.

        Personally, my hopes are on "grid" style networking - if a few dozen people in a neighborhood set up wireless LAN access points, wired them all together with some nice routing, and run the whole thing on worthlessly out of date Pentium 200's running Linux... well, there's a network where people can have some fun. In some ways, it would be like the old BBS days before everyone had Internet.

        People could put servers on the neighborhood grid, people could connect multiple gateways to the internet, local stores and services could find ways to advertise on it... a local neighborhood chat room could maybe be a useful thing...

        And just firewall out the big, boring, commercial, controlled, corporate-sponsor-pop-up-ad-no-servers-allowed-mic rosoft-ownZ-Y00 net, and be happy on the local grid.

        Maybe. Or maybe we are all just doomed, and Internet will turn into TV.
    • With all these dim views of the future of cyberspace, and current trends do point in that direction, perhaps it is time to start implementing a FreeNet. Something outside of the mainstream Internet, away from corporate and government controls. Something entirely for geeks, by geeks.

      Good idea, but misdirected. What we need is an entirely geek-run, open-IP company to develop a revolutionary and truly innovative communication device / network / etc. that everyone will want to use simply because it is so superior to anything else out there. Envision the following:

      - Cost $300 for a residential base station / relay / router / LAN uplink with far more powerful transceiver, enabling wider community networks. (~5 mile range)

      - Cost $200-300 for basic portable device
      - long range wireless communication on unlicensed freq. (at least 1/2 mile range) and at least 1Mbps bandwidth with a good signal
      - short range (10m) wireless communication at 10Mbps or higher
      - P2P network protocol, somewhat like Bluetooth but with extensive load sharing, secure routing, and full encryption and authentication at the protocol level.
      - 2Gb or more solid state or optical storage, preferably removable. Filesystem is encrypted.
      - modular user interface (ie. could be PDA, could be a fairly dumb communications device)

      That's a huge goal and it would mean a large amount of R&D and thinking outside the box of commodity components, but imagine the ramifications if it could be pulled off. The power to change lies in numbers and markets, not hiding and complaining.
  • back to Feudalism (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "Commons" is an interesting term to use, since it is a relatively archaic word. Maybe this makes it easier to apply to our situation. It's ironic to think of modern issues in terms of a conflict between the interests of serfs and feudal lords. I guess that makes the new class of geeks kind of like mercenary knights.

    So, if intellectual property and free speech are the ground of the new commons, I guess it won't belong until we have to pay our local Lords for the right to make a living on their turf. Oh!, right... too late. :(

    • Re:back to Feudalism (Score:2, Informative)

      by odin53 (207172)
      "Commons" is an interesting term to use, since it is a relatively archaic word.

      The "commons" is the standard word to use in economics (and in law) when referring to public goods. It comes from a 1968 article called "Tragedy of the Commons", by Garrett Hardin, which described a common grazing green that everyone can and has a right to use. Because everyone wants to maximize their gain, the commons quickly gets overused such that everyone loses out; that's the tragedy. It's used as a reason why we have property rules in general, and especially public goods-type property, like intellectual property.
  • More on the subject. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dram (149119) <grant@henninger.name> on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @12:09PM (#2654331) Homepage
    If you would like to read more on the subject of the book you can go here [duke.edu] and look at some conference papers about the "public domain," one of them is even by Lawrence Lessig. I just bought his new book off of bn.com [bn.com] and I'm looking forward to reading it. Unlike the reviewer, I for one am looking forward to this book more than Code. I am thinking it will be more accessable to non computer people like myself.
  • by under_score (65824) <mishkin-slashdot@bertei g . com> on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @12:24PM (#2654395) Homepage
    Personally, I think that part of the problem is that in our capitalist based society, any change to support a commons must be based on a viable business model. Open source is struggling with this, but seems to be making its way alright. That's code. Knowledge, on the other hand, is still suffering. There is a long history of knowledge being locked up and accessible to only those few with enough power or money. Part of this (recent) history includes copyright and patents. Another more interesting part is the educational system! Particularly universities, but also other levels of education all have barriers to prevent just anyone accessing knowledge. There are tuition fees, entrance exams, location, funding methods etc. All of these act so as to make information unavailable. For example, if I get low grades in high school, I may find it impossible to get into university - even if my reasons for having low grades have nothing to do with my inherent capacity to understand and add value to university-level knowledge. The only reason these barriers to entry exist is because of the guarding of academic credit. So. Many people here are familiar with the slogan information wants to be free. And some can even argue its validity based on economics. But the fact is that barriers to accessing information create wealth. So in order for those barriers to come down, alternative means to create wealth must be created.
    • by GemFire (192853) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @01:38PM (#2654765) Homepage
      >>But the fact is that barriers to accessing information create wealth. So in order for those barriers to come down, alternative means to create wealth must be created.

      Why?

      The government, nor the people, are responsible for maintaing the viability of business. Others have used the example of buggy-whip manufacterers at the beginning of the 20th century - a doomed business. The Statute of Anne in 1710 was not about keeping the Stationers' Guild in business - it was about changing the way the English looked at literature. No longer was it something owned forever by a single printer; it became something the printer and author could make money from for a limited time, but was destined for a place in the public commons, where anyone could use it without prejudice.

      To paraphrase Lessig - from where we stand today we have two choices. 1) we can move forward into a world where everyone can be creative, limited only by a sensible return to original authors or 2) we can move backward into a new dark ages, where a few people control the intellectual wealth and share it only for an ever higher price and ever more restrictive rules of use.

      Like Lessig, I can see which way we are moving, and I don't like the view. The technology is nearly here that would allow ordinary people to create animated movies from their own stories, or favorite books. I would like to see people able to share these works, but copyright law, as currently practised, will stand in the way, might even prevent the technology from becoming available to the public.

      I believe copyright to be a necessary evil, but it has gone far beyond any sensible limitations. It's time Americans got together and insisted on a change.

      Help out - http://www.amfcc.org
      http://www.eff.org
      • >> >>But the fact is that barriers to accessing information create wealth. So in order for those barriers to come down, alternative means to create wealth must be created.

        And he's right on this one ...

        >> Why?

        It all boils down to a very basic mentality issue we all suffer from. It's the very same issue as why currently capitalism - although not the most elegant IMHO - is the only form of organising society that has a chance to stay on its feet.

        I could come up with a whole host of arguments, though instead I'd like one to consider the following;

        It's highly likely that in a not-so-far future we [as humanity] reach a state in which we can foresee in all our needs without requiring the labour of each individual (in fact we already can up to some level). However, the way (most of) society is organised nowadays, there is no way at all to deal with this condition. If you don't work you get a penalty. Not because your labour is strictly required, but because of the model we use [to create, measure and deal with wealth].

        Why? Because it matters that my car is bigger then yours. To you, to me and to most around us.

    • Particularly universities, but also other levels of education all have barriers to prevent just anyone accessing knowledge. [...] The only reason these barriers to entry exist is because of the guarding of academic credit.

      There's also the fact that many of the resource which universities provide are scarce physical or human resources, which have a cost. So the barriers you refer to at least in part (and probably in large part) exist for pure economic reasons - regulating access to a relatively scarce resource. As you point out, other extra-economic barriers are imposed, such as requiring good high school grades - but the primary reason for this is an attempt, albeit imperfect, to ensure the most productive use of a university's resources.

      As some of the knowledege resources become available electronically, some aspect of this equation will change (e.g. the web-based MIT OpenCourseWare [mit.edu]). As always with economics in a reasonably free market, things tend to move towards lower cost as they become cheaper to duplicate and therefore less scarce, and certain aspects of educational knowledge are no different.

      But the fact is that barriers to accessing information create wealth.

      An arguable point, I believe. The question which Lessig addresses centers around the artificial scarcity which is imposed on intellectual "property" by the law. An interesting question is to what extent imposing such artificial scarcity generates real wealth, as opposed to simply redistributing wealth from the consumers to the creators.

      The only reason this is not considered a fundamentally unhealthy redistribution of wealth (of the kind that has occasionally occurred in non-capitalist countries), is that an exchange is considered to take place - exchanging licenses to intellectual property, for some other type of asset. One of the main questions at issue is what kinds of rights such an exchange should grant to the licensee, regardless of an individual creator's wishes.

      Fair use doctrine was intended to address this, and did so quite successfully, at least from the consumer's perspective. Now, fair use is being undermined both legally and technologically, and consumers are being, or will be, screwed (technical economic term).

      The most obvious battle here has nothing to do with destroying wealth - it has to do with maintaining a sensible balance between creators and consumers, that allows both sides to thrive, and neither side to be at the complete mercy of the other. The DMCA and other recent events have shifted the balance too far in favor of the creators, or rather, their agents. This is certainly beyond a workable compromise position, and if that isn't obvious to most people yet, it will become so soon enough.

    • any change to support a commons must be based on a viable business model.

      The very problem is that the change is not *to* supporting an intellectual commons, the change is *from* supporting an intellectual commons. Laws like the Sunny Bono act et al extend copyright terms to works that came before the laws were even conceived and extend those terms beyond anything even remotely reasonable. This essentially invalidates the original contract between author's and the government to release the works after a fixed period. (When Steamboat Willie enters the public domain I'll begin to feel some reasonableness has returned to copyright law)

      The fact we are moving away from commons (and freedom) instead contemplating moving towards them should put the burden on businesses and copyright holders to show that viable business models CANNOT BE SUSTAINED without stricter copyright laws. (Yes, I realize the arguemnt for stronger laws comes from enforcement ie: stop piracy, but this would be better accomplished with more policing and some kind of punishment for those caught actually infringing! Neither of which we currently have.)

      What's been established so far is that with copyright law circa 1985 strong monopolies and billion dollar companies could be created quite easily. I believe we've also shown that the same is much more difficult using open source, or absolutely no copyright law.

      What I haven't seen is evidence that stronger copyright than what was available in 1985 will create bigger profits, or that bigger profits are even necessary. (I thought the MS antitrust case was all about too vigirous growth and stifling of competition through corporate and copyright law... This would seem to be an arguement in favor of weaker intellectual property laws. )

    • "But the fact is that barriers to accessing information create wealth. So in order for those barriers to come down, alternative means to create wealth must be created.

      Actually the business side of the matter is easy. A more difficult part is to design a law/license that supports "Can" based methodologies (as opposed to the "Cannot" based IP laws we have now.)

      The GPL is such a "can" based license but does nothing in providing some sort of option for creator/improver financial flow. On the other hand there is no reason the GPL works can't be used in the right model to generate monitary flow towards those responsible.

      But the hard part is to present the consumer, the typical user, a part in the process of helping to create and a share in the rewards. Of course these positions would be optional, but should be available to the user. But the thing is, the way things are currently done in software development don't really allow the user such a position.

      Lets' face it, open source code is of little value to the consumer and that makes linux more a programmers OS than a commercial one. Include the user and it becomes everybodies OS. To some point linux is doing this in giving the user the easy ability to recompile the kernal to suite their needs. But it needs to go alot further by making it easy for the user to do more at the code and integration levels.

      What makes GNU/Linux stand out is it's openness. And that means alot to those who can program or want to learn current methodologies of programming. But for the typical user, they generally don't have the interest in learning the current methodology and need something simpler.

      Considering that programming is an act of automation, it shouldn't be difficult to build a system that openly supports automation of coding and compiling.

      I can either buy windows and get trapped into it's closed system but application software is plentiful (now) or I can get linux for it's openness and ability to allow me to do, to apply my creativity and ideas, if only it was easier to do these things...

      But let's say it is, that such a system friendly to the users creativity and integration choices exists, what sorts of business models can you then create around such ability?

      Something that can include the user in all aspects of moving the platform forward, from sales, to support to creation and custom integration, and certainly including training.

      The sort of system that as it grows in popularity, so does it's value in being made better and with more and more applications, but a system that evolves in the direction of what the users want, not what the corporation wants the user to have and be entrapped by.

      The business model is easy, the hard part is making development easy enough for the user to participate in.

      And I know with certainty this can be done!
      .
  • by argoff (142580) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @12:29PM (#2654425)

    We can see parallels in history by other institutions that embraced false property rights. How many of you have herd that freeing slaves was stealing, or that there was no incentive to grow cotton without them, or that the great wealth of America's plantations was proof of slavery's justification. Some people think it's unfair to make this compairison to slavery, but I think it is - for example look at what almost happened in Africa, there millions and millions of people risked death because American pharmacuticals wanted to sue over intellectual property rights.

    However, we should consider ourselvs fortunate - because unlike our predacessors I think we can win this war without one bit of violence. It will first be done with copyrights where enforceing copy controlls will become nearly impossible without stirring up massive unpopularity, and imposing massive intrusions into millions of corporations and peoples private lives. Eventually something will half to give because we do live in a democracy. It will later come with patents where the ability to create and manufacture will come to the home. In non democratic countries, both of these will pose a serious problem because the government will likely not be as restrained before things really get out of hand.

    Other approaches like the GPL, and public encyclopedias will also seriously relieve the pressure. (thank you RMS)

    • nice point. think about the "free labor" movement that was behind the abolition of slavery and more. It didn't take a bunch of slogans like "as in free speech, not free beer" to get people to understand that free labor was about freedom, not price.

      We need a "free culture" movement.
    • I wonder how long it will take before Bush and crew realize that the collapse in the Tech sector is due, in large part, to geeks being on collective, unorganized strike?
  • Copywrite (Score:1, Redundant)

    by testharness (522244)
    It would be interesting to see if this book has any copyrights or publishing rights.

    I wonder how they would feel if someone published it on the web?
    • Re:Copywrite (Score:2, Interesting)

      by lessig (31800)
      gets about as bad as it can get, but these are the realities of dealing with publishers. Check out the ebook -- publisher would not allow the book to be "read aloud." The absurdity is astounding.
      • You're misinformed. Plain and simple. The issue with the eBooks was enabling the text to speech feature in the reader. Alice In Wonderland is an example of one eBook which didn't have that option.

        Look here. [thestandard.com] The entire episode was more of a case of bad UI design than wicked digital rights management.


        • I'm not misinformed about the capabilities enabled on my own book. I'm not saying Adobe is restricting your right to "read aloud" the book; I'm saying my published disabled the capability to "read aloud" my book. (And if you try to evade that limitation, watch out for the DMCA prosecution).
  • by eclectric (528520) <bounce@junk.abels.us> on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @01:02PM (#2654587)
    Your comparison to "Silent Spring" is a pretty good one. We should note, however, that the chemical companies and the US government rallied *hard* against DDT studies that showed it was unsafe. It took something like 10 years for it to be declared unsafe for human exposure. The same goes for CFCs. Studies in the late 70s showed conclusively that they contributed to the ozone holes, but it wasn't until the late 80s that any real action was taken to require companies to lessen their use of them. Again, you had big companies fighting this tooth-and-nail.

    The point is, these battles are always hard. The only thing this particular fight has going for it as that creators of content (coders, musicians, filmmakers) also have a vested interest in keeping their products from obscurity.
  • Though Michael (charmingly) seems to think it is, "code as law" is not a new idea. Check out Marc Rotenberg's article here [stanford.edu]. It's a pretty obvious idea, actually, not particularly "groundbreaking." Lessig is an interesting writer though, and a great speaker [harvard.edu].
  • If you'd like to see a somewhat filtered synopsis of Lessig's ideas, you can see it in a Bruce Sterling speech [slashdot.org] linked by yesterday's /. Sterling mentions Lessig as the guy to pay attention to when it comes to the squelching of innovation by the establishment. If you missed it yesterday, and are interested in this topic, you should check it out as a primer to the issue.
  • If he cares so much about the affect intellectual property has on the enslavement of ideas, why doesn't he publish his book under the public domain, or under the GNU license for documents, or a BSD license for documents?


    • Hey, but wait. I am pro-IP, where IP is the balanced set of rights that the framers of our constituiton embraced. To be anti-Valenti is not to be pro-zero protection.
    • >>why doesn't he publish his book under the public domain

      Probably because he wouldn't be able to find a publisher with the kind of distribution he would want for his book. I talked with Jessica Litman a little bit about "Digital Copyright" and her choices when it came to publishing. She'd be perfectly happy to see the entire work available online, but her publisher wouldn't allow it.

      I find it unlikely that Lessig would feel that much differently. He's a lawyer - can't be in too much need of the income. I'd think he would be trying to get the widest distribution possible, to have the greatest number of people exposed to the ideas he's presenting. GNU license for documents (or BSD) would be too limiting for most publishers who deal with mass publications.
      • That's nonsense. First of all, if he puts the book online under a public license or a free-BSD type license, any publisher can produce a binded version of it and distribute it as a book. Secondly, you naturally get a more massive distribution when materials are online free of charge.
  • by MisterMo (237107) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @02:09PM (#2655012)
    There is a subversive change afoot: many people who had never thought about ideas as things that can be "owned" are starting to think about this issue. Their thinking is being framed by the debate around music sharing, software activation, and other such issues. Most interestingly, many are starting to treat ideas as though they were real property. (OK, summary over...)

    The "commons" was originally often found as part of a system in which people were property. At that time, the commons was for the use of those who were bound to the local fiefholder. As more and more autonomy was granted to individuals, this system no longer worked and the commons system morphed into one in which the "owner class" began to seek compensation for the resource in the form of rents or other consideration.

    I cannot help but think that Lessig's "intellectual commons" is part of a system in which the ideas that populate them are already bound through other less obvious means to entities such as universities and corporations. The proposition that these ideas be "set free" will lead to exactly the kinds of DCMA shenanigans that Lessig seems to passionately want to avoid??

    Is it possible that the concept of an intellectual commons is already becoming an anachronism in the same way that the concept of a common pasture became unusable as the system changed? As our society is driven towards a different notion of property, driven by Disney, RIAA, and other content owners, will fair use of ideas even exist as a tenable mechanism?

    Perhaps there will become "free ideas" just as there were "freemen." These ideas would be certified as free, and could be combined with other free ideas... Wait a minute, I've heard this idea before; RMS, where are you when I need an overcharged rant about freedom?



    • I disagree with this. Just as freedom for humans (when people we no longer property) came with the birth of the free-labor movement. This battle is now about the same movement with respect to ideas: free culture, just as they freed people.
      • Don't misunderstand me - I'm all for free culture, as well as free people.

        You are proposing the commons as part of a solution, but I am claiming that this may not work due to the structural changes that are taking root in patent/copyright-based society. (In the face of your own good fight, I might add.) A commons may not be the appropriate mechanism to achieve the end that you seek.

        One thing that the GPL has taught us is that other kinds of hacks are possible!?

        • I'm making a very specific claim about a "commons": My book argues that the end-to-end archicture of the original net (e2e as in Saltzer/Clark/Reed's end2end, not AT&T's) created an "innovation commons." Formally, it is a resource left open for anyone to use; formally, no one had the right to limit it. I don't see any reason to compromise on that. None of the Hardin reasons apply; no other good reason has been proposed.
          • Unless I really misread you, the thing that breathes life into your innovation commons is government and business subsidy. And the network effect that results from n:n communication makes for efficient diffusion and reworking of ideas, right? I understand and agree with the distinction that you are making, and with your criticism of Hardin.

            You ask for a reason to limit what currently exists, and what seems so promising. What about the simplest of all possible reasons, that is to say social cost and stability? I have personally participated in the serendipity that can occur on the net, but I also am very aware of the hidden costs, risks, and the limited capabilities which caused the dotcom implosion. Does society get enough value out of this commons to justify the significant subsidy being provided? This is an open question in my mind; the historical impact of network technologies has seldom been all good, and these technologies have almost always been imposed by the interested parties in the name of social good.

            There is a non-trivial cost to providing a fabric for end to end communication and innovation. This cost must be born by either government or the private sector. My own social liberal leanings cause me to agree with your position, but this doesn't mean that our current social obsession with "free markets" won't cause society as a whole to move towards favoring "markets of ideas," at which point the innovation commons may easily become a useless white elephant, while the Hardin fallacy may become the institutionalized norm.

            Isn't this happening now?

            Convincing corporate overlords to halt what they see as forward motion will be difficult. I am glad to see you trying to do this, but I am also wondering how the new system, should IP law become "harmonized" and protected by measures such as DMCA, will adapt. Do you have opinions here? This is why I am interested in alternatives to a commons-based approach.

            (Thanks to lessig for participating in the /. fray today, by the way!)

            • I'm sorry for the brevity of this response but I've got to go teach lawyer larvae how to read contracts, but: I don't believe this e2e system has imposed social costs, and I don't believe the .com implosion is because of the e2e commons. This is a commons which produced a comedy, not tragedy (see Carol Rose, The Comedy of the Commons) and imho the .com bust is a product of compromising the commons. It wasn't broken, but they fixed it.
  • by SimJockey (13967) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @02:35PM (#2655192) Homepage Journal
    Garrett Hardin proposed what is to me the same thesis 33 years ago in his paper The Tragedy of the Commons [dieoff.org]. Hardin was proposing a class of problems that had no technical solution, no matter how hard we looked for them, as they were moral problems. Specifically he was talking about growing populations taxing resources, but the analogy is fairly easily applied to "the internet as commons" model.
    The 400 lb gorillas of IP are trying to maximise their utility gains from the internet while impacting the utility to others negatively. Good old utilitarianism.
    Hardin goes on from there, but it has been a few years since I read the paper so I'm going to breeze through it again. I'm looking forward to picking up this book to see what new thinking it might bring to the analysis.
    I'd be interested to hear from Mr. Lessig (as he seems to be posting here) how much his thesis was influenced by Hardin.

    • The book is motivated by a desire to respond to a mistaken inference drawn from Hardin's work. Hardin was talking about (what economists call) rivalous goods -- goods, like apples, where if you consume it, I can't. Therein is the tragedy. But with ideas (and culture generally), your use of my idea doesn't make it any less possible for me to use the idea.
      • So Dr. Lessig, what's your view of the concentration of IP ownership?

        Sorry but I haven't read the book yet.

        It seems to me that since ideas actually shape the physical architecture of the brain and the relationships between its parts, learning itself is a kind of copyright violation...

        It's only because so many copyrights are violated that learning is possible... its too difficult to enforce the infringement.

        But concentration of ownership... (imagine Mircrosoft owned private school systems.... teaching a Microsoft curriculum...) seems very dangerous... more so than concentration of ownership of physical assets.

        • glad you asked (and it's not Dr., just Lessig): I've answered it in your other post. But point is: you're right. Here is the core problem: a concentration of wildly overextended IP rights.
        • [I]magine Mircrosoft owned private school systems.... teaching a Microsoft curriculum...

          If programming a computer is equivalent to teaching it, isn't that exactly what any proprietary software vendor aims to do? Imagine a world where any computer running corporate-produced software is at least partially engaged in making the corporation more profitable?

          And would that corporation's shareholders demand anything less?

  • If a person is educated using copyrighted material, and just to make it more pointed, that copyrighted material is owned largely by one large media conglomerate, is it not the case that most or all of their thoughts are simply rearrangments of ideas "owned" by another party?

    And in that case does their intellectual output not become a wholly or partially owned product of the company that provided the great bulk of the words, patterns and ideas that shaped their brain?

    The idea of "idea" ownership is terribly insidious, but it is wholly consistent with the logic of capitalism.

    The best argument for a strong state capable of resisting the encroachment of the private sector on culture, history, and ideas is that a strong counterweight is needed to resist the tendency of private parties to own what "should" be the collective property of peoples and of humanity.
  • by ignis (218763) on Tuesday December 04, 2001 @03:39PM (#2655657) Homepage
    i am all for the message that lessig is telling us. i have followed the debate some what however, for what it is worth, i feel as though it is ineffective. the message that the holders of ip are stifling the commons is valid however the words are falling on deaf ears. the only people who are really listening to him are his student (they have to, as he is the grader of their papers), academics and some ip lawyers who are not attached to to large companies who have large holding of copyright.

    in order for his message concerning the future of ideas to be effective it must be received and adopted by the techies. it is only after the techies take up the cause that they are being threaten will his message will have some true meat to it. the people who are the most influence, i.e. congress and courts, are being inundate with anti-lessigism and are blind to the alternative (will we ever see mickey mouse in the public domain? No). the lobbies and the lawyers are drowning out whatever counter arguments exist against the extenuation of copyright controls.

    until some of the 'leaders' of the techies take note and start supporting this platform we all will just end up watching our rome burn like nero. eric raymond thinks the message in code and most likely his new book are false. he feels that no matter what happens the techies will be able to adapt, overcome and conquer anything that washington throws at the techies. wired news on aug 29, 2001 says "linus torvalds... wasn't quite so pessimistic. 'a lot of people are wasting time over disagreements,' he said, referring to legendary sectarian squabbles within the open-source community. 'but i think people will get their act together,' torvalds said. ' within the last six months, there has been a lot more (political) activity.'" However as long as Prof Felton isn't publishing, the DCMA is up held and Dmitry Sklyarov is being prosecuted... then there isn't enough support for open source and more must be done.

    once the techies, the geeks, the open sourcers and those who are most affected by copyright controls (DMCA), then perhaps the public will take note. without the techies support then the message lessig is telling us is ineffective and the internet will be lost.

    there are hundreds of lawyers and millions of dollars against us, why aren't we doing something about it?


    • this is completely right. unless techies do something, nothing will happen. I've been flinging myself everywhere every week to deliver exactly this message to techies wherever I can. but the pathetic and honest truth is that you are all captured by this apoliticalism bovinity. you think it is a virtue if you let DC screw you, and you do nothing to resist it. this will be the sad story they (we) tell years from now: coders built Eden, and slept while DC took it away.
      • I suspect you are right. But i'm also not convinced that coders, in and of themselves, would be sufficient to change it; yes, we need to be organized to try and stop some of these things, but unless we can figure out how to take our case to the community at large, we will fail --- because ultimately the only way to make my congressman listen to something other than the checks the RIAA, et al, are writing is to get a large segment of the community riled up about it. One of the things I liked the most about your book was the way it framed ideas in a way that makes them easier to make the case to those who, unlike programmers, don't have an immediately visible vested interest in the outcome of the debate. :)
  • Judging by the number of comments here, the answer is "probably not". There is no real public discourse over copyright issues in our democracy and Lessig's book, as good as it may or may not be, will do little to change that. Unless your definition of public outrage is some twerpy looking Harvard lawyer, there will be none.


    No one has the political power to overcome the MPAA or RIAA. You can be assured that congress will bend over backwards to meet their "needs" to gobble up ideas for public consumption. That's all ideas are anyway, right? Just goods, like bananas, Windex, and rubber tires that are good for nothing but getting consumed.


    I'm sorry. We're fucked. Get pissed.

  • I suppose I'm the exception to the rule in that I consider copyright and patent laws (in general) to be good things. That is, I think that there _should_ be something that allows you to exercise a monopoly over the product of your intellectual labour.

    On the other hand, I will concede that many of the recent copyright-protection rulings and laws (including the DMCA) have been ridiculous. However, the solution here is not to get rid of the laws entirely, but rather to encourage better jurisprudence. That is, judges should be encouraged to exercise their judgement in interpreting copyright law in accord with the spirit it was written in - to ensure that lawful producers of a piece of work are paid fairly for their work, rather than to prevent a multinational corporation from stifling anyone who designs a marginally similar word-processor to their own. More of these cases should be thrown out of court, not entertained by our legal system.
    • Just to hack away at the notion of ownership concentration a little more, it does seem intuitive that an individual person could "own" an idea, at least while he or she lives.

      That limits the concentration of original ideas to the a density equivalent to the number of original ideas a person can come up with in his/her lifetime.

      Corporate ownership on the other hand, or the resale or inheritance of owned ideas seems to be the real problem. If ideas are freely transferable property, concentration becomes inevitable...

      Concentrate enough of them and you can easily own culture and political thought itself.

      The idea of a corporation as a legal person seems to me, in my innocence, to be the root of much evil.

      Individual IP ownership is a potentially "humanizing" and just construct... group ownership, corporate ownership, inheritance of ideas... these things seem to be fatal trends....

      • this is rightly the core of the problem. the American constitution gives congress the power to grant copyrights to "Authors"; the framers were anti-publisher. Our problem over the years is we've not resisted the tendency to encourage assignment of copyrights, such that highly concentrated holders (hoarders) of IP get to veto the future.
        • While arguments from original intent are usually not productive... the framers were many other things too that we don't want to be... that is an interesting observation.

          For me the fundamental issue that libertarians and "techies" miss consistently is the sheer power in a financial sense to be sure, but also in a structural sense (which I take to be the focus of your book) of technological innovation.

          When you write the language of communication you own culture... and the more levels of language you write, from compiler to web browser standards, the more of it you own.

          In my old fashioned democratic socialist way of thinking only a strong central state has the possibility of resisting that kind of power... and only if elections and democracy can be structured to provide a power base independent of the primary benificiaries of the structural power of technical standards and languages....

          This implies campaign financing by the public, free media access time... all sorts of things to enable individual voice to be heard over the structurally overwhelming power of corporate voice.

          Currently of course not only is the country being overrun by the structural control exerted by big technology players, but in a very traditional way Washington DC is being controlled by their dollars and agenda setting capacity.

          I find it amusing or sad when libertarians want to further reduce the power of DC and turn it into a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America... yet this is seriously proposed as a solution. They are fighting the wrong battle.

          The battle should be for a strong central government capable of taking on corporate interests because it better reflects the voice of the public (the "unhegemonized" public we hope... if it still exists). However I fear the hour is very late.

          In the support for the tech industry and the disdain for DC I see the new corporate fascism rapidly rising... OF COURSE it is not the old fascism. It will be new, but it will share the absolutely dominant power of business interests in all aspects of policy, including new ways of controlling political culture that make not only resistance, but the idea of resistance, all but unthinkable.

          I don't mean to be appocolypitc (however you spell it...) but I just don't see the power base that can resist corporate power.... and I don't know how to build it. The Nader effort demonstrated if anything people already believe in and accept the hegemonization of their political lives by the corporations who employ them (and fire them at will.)

          Is there a place to stand and rebuild a counterbalance to corporatism? An open question I think.
  • by Ogerman (136333)
    Consider how many geeks complain about their freedoms being threatened and then go work their day job writing proprietary software or designing hardware wrapped up in patents and trade secrets owned by their employer. Guess what? The only reason unethical corporations exist with the power to control 'our' technology is because we GIVE it to them. Business execs don't produce technology, they buy it and sell it. Their only power is the dangling carrot of higher salaries and (supposed) job security. When geeks take entrepreneurship into their own hands, then we'll get somewhere. Be 'greedy.' Capture markets with ethical enterprise. You deserve more than those morons who drank and partied their way through business school and now control your career because they accidentally discovered strength in fraternity. Stop believing the lie that you don't have what it takes to survive outside of the hampster wheel.

    'Every man dies. Not every man really lives.'
    • Re:Irony (Score:2, Insightful)

      by SlideGuitar (445691)
      "You deserve more than those morons who drank and partied their way through business school and now control your career because they accidentally discovered strength in fraternity."

      Accident or not, social skills and social relationships (Clinton skill based version or W. Bush inherited version.. they both work) are the source of all power, and the only talent that really matters in life. To be a geek is to live in ignorance or disbelief of this fundamental truth.
      • Accident or not, social skills and social relationships (Clinton skill based version or W. Bush inherited version.. they both work) are the source of all power, and the only talent that really matters in life. To be a geek is to live in ignorance or disbelief of this fundamental truth.

        Well that's partly what I was getting at, but you've taken it way too far by assuming the stereotype that "to be a geek" is to lack both social skills and the ability to discover those which are latent. The point is, geeks need to throw away their own lies about themselves and realize their potential as both technical elite and highly relational entrepreneurs. There's this ugly myth that people are either one or the other that needs demolished. Of course, those maintaining the status quo don't really want it to change. They're quite happy treating engineers and programmers like dogs who all their dirty work.
  • Rewarding those who do good things is certainly something nobody will argue against, for it's how we teach our children.

    But to be rewarded with the ability to then tell others they cannot make use of what good you have done is for others worse then you never having done it.

    Do you see the inherent contridiction of giving exclusive use as a reward?

    Change the IP laws from "cannot" based to "CAN" based and the forward moving force to advance will have a great deal less friction against it.

    Who is to say that being rewarded with exclusive use that you will use such exclusive use to it fullest benefit to you and society? There is no magic intelligence that you somehow receive upon getting exclusive use granted you, that insure you will do the best thing.

    However, to have "CAN" based laws such that anyone can use what good you have done, so long as they give you proper credit and reward. Perhaps based upon a relative percentage of the profits one makes in using your good. Or perhas this is a probelm area the public can better solve? see below!

    This way, it's not up to just the do gooder to then figure out the best way to impliment the good, but rather up to any and everyone who wants to make use of it. Consider the following quote!

    One of the papers from the Duke university Public domain conference didn't make it into the "download all papers" archive on that site: Coase's Penguin [duke.edu]

    "At the heart of the economic engine of the world's most advanced economies, and
    in particular that of the United States, we are beginning to take notice of a hardy,
    persistent, and quite amazing phenomenon--a new model of production has taken root,
    one that should not be there, at least according to our most widely held beliefs
    about economic behavior. It should not, the intuitions of the late 20th century
    American would say, be the case that thousands of volunteers will come together
    to collaborate on a complex economic project. It certainly should not be that these
    volunteers will beat the largest and best financed business enterprises in the world
    at their own game. And yet, this is precisely what is happening in the software
    world." - Yochai Benkler

    BTW, my home page is relative to this matter.

    .

There is no opinion so absurd that some philosopher will not express it. -- Marcus Tullius Cicero, "Ad familiares"

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