The Future of Ideas

Posted by Brian Mon, 31 May 2010 18:59:04 GMT

The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World
By Lawrence Lessig

“Technology, tied to law, now promises almost perfect control over content and its distribution. And it is this perfect control that threatens to undermine the potential for innovation that the Internet promises.” - Lawrence Lessig

In our cultures rush towards the salvation of the unfettered free market promised by the right we often lose sight of a couple of key points. First, one of the key pillars of that free market espoused by the right is a system of intellectual property law that itself is brought into being through government regulation. They preach that this system of patents, copyrights, and trademarks is absolutely essential to ensure that inventors and artists have incentive to create. Second, the biggest driving force behind the economic growth of the past fifteen years comes from a resource that purposely avoided using the patent system. As Lessig reminds us in *The Future of Ideas” “the core of the internet was… code built outside the proprietary model.”

If you are interested in the balance that must be found between proprietary ownership and the commons on the Internet then this book is for you. Lessig guides the reader along the founding design principles of the net and how business is seeking to subvert those principles today in order to gain control of what has been an open network to this point. What is meant by “open” though? It goes to the idea of net neutrality which is currently being hotly debated by the FCC, which is seeking to preserve it, and large media companies and ISPs, who wish to abolish it. Net neutrality simply states that all content flowing across the network must be treated equally. For example, Comcast owns the largest cable TV system in the country and also supplies internet to millions. In order to protect its cable monopoly Comcast may want to limit internet video traffic across its network, effectively using their monopoly in old media to stop new competitors from emerging. An explicit system of net neutrality would legally prevent this.

Lessig also proposes sweeping reforms of the copyright system. Currently our system of limited copyright protection for the promotion of the arts and sciences has been perverted by large media. The Copyright Term Extension Act extends copyright in many instances to over 100 years. This does nothing to encourage production of new works of art, instead working to strengthen current monopolies by preventing anything from ever entering the public domain. In The Future of Ideas he proposes a 5 year copyright that can be renewed up to 15 times. This is still a longer term than I would like (Lessig has since modified his stance to support even shorter terms).

The topic Lessig takes on is vast and one the vast majority of the public never thinks about, something that large media companies use in their favor. If you are interested in tackling the subject yourself this is an excellent place to start.

Lessig practices what he preaches as well. You can download The Future of Ideas for free here.


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