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THE FUTURE OF IDEAS by Lawrence Lessig

THE FUTURE OF IDEAS

The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World

By Lawrence Lessig

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-50578-4
Publisher: Random House

The fate of free expression in cyberspace hangs in the balance, avers Lessig (Law/Stanford Univ.; Code: and Other Laws of Cyberspace, not reviewed), who offers practical advice to save it.

From his opening rally—“The forces that the original Internet threatened to transform are well on their way to transforming the Internet”—Lessig offers a timely polemic against the sterilization of cyberspace. Created both as a venue for the quick dissemination of information and above all as a fiercely open medium, cyberspace, he argues, now suffers from innumerable and insuperable barriers created by corporate interests to protect their dominance. Maneuvering through a twisted thicket of scientific and legal arcane, his prose and reasoning could not be clearer or more passionate. He even makes computer wiring somewhat comprehensible for the layperson: no small achievement. Using concrete examples from daily life, Lessig clarifies such complex issues as intellectual property in cyberspace by providing a historical overview of relevant legal cases from player-piano rolls to cable TV to Napster. Although intellectual property laws are essential to protect the rights of creators, at what point does the protection of authorial rights unnecessarily cripple the public discourse? Why can people hang a poster of the Simpsons on their walls but not on their web pages? One of the major threads of Lessig’s argument is the inherent lunacy of applying “real world” laws to cyberspace, as when eBay sued a rival for trespass because they “illegally entered” its site. For Lessig, the cyberspace commons as intellectual playground and societal gathering place must be preserved, lest we soon feel the stultifying effect of sterility drowning what should be a rowdy and polyphonic discourse. The author closes with a reserved homage to US Senator Orrin Hatch, a politician who (perhaps unexpectedly) seeks to preserve the freedoms of the Internet.

Part manifesto, part jeremiad, but all essential reading for anyone concerned with the future of creative freedom in cyberspace.