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Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace [Hardcover]

Lawrence Lessig
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 1999
An exciting examination of the core values of cyberspace - intellectual property, free speech, and privacy - from one of Americas most brilliant young legal theorists. . How should we regulate cyberspace? Can we? Its a cherished belief of techies and net denizens everywhere that cyberspace is fundamentally, unalterably impossible to regulate. Thus the legendary freedom of the Net. Lawrence Lessig warns that, if were not careful, well wake up one day to discover that the character of cyberspace has changed out from under us. Commercial forces will dictate the change, and architecture - the very structure of cyberspace itself - will dictate the form our interactions can and cannot take. The author of the classic paper Reading the Constitution in Cyberspace, Lessig shows how code can make a domain, site, or network free or restrictive; how architectures influence peoples behavior and the values they adopt; and how changes in code affect the pressing issues of free speech, intellectual property, and privacy in cyberspace. Theres a common belief that cyberspace cannot be regulatedthat it is, in its very essence, immune from the governments (or anyone elses) control. Code argues that this belief is wrong. It is not in the nature of cyberspace to be unregulable; cyberspace has no nature. It only has codethe software and hardware that make cyberspace what it is. That code can create a place of freedomas the original architecture of the Net didor a place of exquisitely oppressive control. If we miss this point, then we will miss how cyberspace is changing. Under the influence of commerce, cyberpsace is becoming a highly regulable space, where our behavior is much more tightly controlled than in real space. But thats not inevitable either. We canwe mustchoose what kind of cyberspace we want and what freedoms we will guarantee. These choices are all about architecture: about what kind of code will govern cyberspace, and who will control it. In this realm, code is the most significant form of law, and it is up to lawyers, policymakers, and especially citizens to decide what values that code embodies.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (Dec 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046503912X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465039128
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,331,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Everyone knows that cyberspace is a wild frontier that can't be regulated, right? Everyone is wrong and that's why we should all read Harvard Law professor (and famous Microsoft trial expert) Lawrence Lessig's eye-opening, jaw-dropping book Code, the best guide yet to the future that's heading our way like a frictionless freight train. For such an analytical book, it's also anecdote-studded and utterly fun to read.

Lessig leads us through the new controversies in intellectual property, privacy, free speech and national sovereignty. What about a computer worm that can search every American's PC for top-secret NSA documents? It sounds obviously unconstitutional but the worm code can't read your letters, bust down your door, scare you or arrest anyone innocent. If you're not guilty, you won't even know you were searched. The coded architecture of the Net also enforces certain freedoms: Via the Net, we have now globally exported a more extreme form of free speech than the First Amendment encodes in old-fashioned law. The once-important Pentagon Papers case would be meaningless today; instead of fighting to publish secret government documents, the New York Times could simply leak them to a USENET newsgroup. The Constitution is rife with ambiguities the framers couldn't have imagined and virtual communities such as AOL and LamdaMOO are organising themselves in ways governed largely by code--strikingly different ones.

We've got tough choices ahead. Do we want to protect intellectual property or privacy? How do we keep cyberporn from kids--by brain-dead decency laws, censoring filters or a code that identifies kid users? (Lessig advocates code.) Lessig demonstrates that legal structures are too slow and politics-averse to regulate cyberspace. "Courts are disabled, legislatures pathetic and code untouchable." Code writers are the unacknowledged legislators of the new world, backed by the law and commerce. Lessig thinks citizens must recognise the need to be the architects of their own fate or they'll find themselves coded into a world they never made. --Tim Appelo, Amazon.com

Review

"The most important book of its generation about the relationship between law, cyberspace, and social organization. An astonishing achievement." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Laurence Lessig has written a book that ought to make both lawyers and cyberspace specialists think. Contrary to expectations (from a lawyer), Lessig demonstrates excellent skills in the technicalities of cyberspace, and his analysis has interesting bearings on political philosophy and legal philosophy. To the traditional question, 'what is law?', Lessig adds a new (and admittedly controversial) dimention: architecture is part of law. Creating a specific architecture amounts to legislating. The controversial aspect here is whether law can include norms which cannot be disobeyed. Lessig applies this idea to the foundation and continuing transformation of cyberspace. Created by the academic world, the architecture of cyberspace has reflected liberal values. However, it is being conquered by commerce, and this reflects far less liberal regulation. State intervention is usually viewed as restrictive, but Lessig's description raises the question: should, and can, the state intervene to maintain the values of the founding fathers of cyberspace? The law of cyberspace is thus skillfuly analysed in the broader contexts of constitutional law and legal philosophy. If you are on the lookout for fresh vantage points on these fields of inquiry, read Lessig's book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lonely eye on the future... 31 May 2000
Format:Hardcover
Lessig appears to be one of the only people to actually look at the internet in structural (as he puts it 'architectural') terms. This actually feels substantial in its analysis, and marks a welcome shift away from the 'doom & gloom' or 'brave new world' extremes. As for it being overly legalistic - well, the law courts do generally decide these issues now. "Code" is an essential, if a little spooky, read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good content, drudgery to read 14 Aug 2002
By S. Yogendra VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I have to agree partly with another reviewer who says that this is what you would expect from a lawyer. But that is where our agreement ends. Lessig takes a structured approach to what should now be a philosophical, policy oriented discussion. But that is one of the key features of cyberspace. It has created a sense of urgency that encroaches upon the time needed to think what is important. If you understand the technology and policy issues associated with cyberspace, you will find it repetitive. If you wish to take a 'quick read' approach, you will find reading it like a drag through molasses. But if you wish to read it slowly with time to think about issues Lessig raises, I recommend it. As it happens, it is suggested reading in my Tech Policy course at Cambridge, so I am pleased to have 'done' it already!
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting points but far too repetitive 18 Jan 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Im afraid that its what you'd expect from a lawyer - he makes one point involving the fact that the Internet can be regulated if the code which runs it is correct, and then goes on to repeat this over and over again with the occasional explanation of how this might be achieved. If you're interested in constitutional law and how it might affect the Internet's software development then might be worth a toke but otherwise its very turgid and dull.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  30 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Future of the Internet and Democracy 28 April 2001
By Hiroo Yamagata - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I did the Japanese translation of this book. It was quite an amazing book.
First, Lessig argues that commerce and the government will try to turn Internet into a regulable place, and in order to do so, they will rely on changing the code (or protocol) of the Internet.
Now, regulation through code is problematic, because it is TOO good. If its a law or some regulation, you can intentionally choose to disobey it, or rebel against it. With code, you can't do that. He says that this is bad, because a lot of good things in this world depend on the fact that you can't enforce certain laws too strictly. That's where some part of freedom relies on. If regulation becomes too strict, we're doomed.
So, we have to do something about it. We have to force people to create "incomplete" code!! This is the very surprising conclusion of this book. You really should read this, because it sounds too crazy at first glance.
And then, the book becomes even better. He starts discussing who would actually take the trouble to do that kind of thing. And he starts discussing how we should restore the democratic process, and how we are in a process of becoming a world citizen!
It's a book with an amazing scope, dealing with much more than the title suggests. And it's not just some sort of a fairy tale, it's a problem that's facing us as we speak. A lot of people talk about the Internet changing the world, when all they actually talk about is making some petty cash. Not this book. This book will persuade you that the Internet WILL and IS really changing the world. After this book, you're Net crawling will never be the same.
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Constitutional Convention for Cyberspace? 20 July 2000
By William B. Warner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
July 10, 2000 Who or what rules in that romantic frontier called cyberspace? As it evolves into an increasingly central part of "real space," will cyberspace take on the zoned and regulated and law bound character of the rest of civil society? In Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lawrence Lessig addresses these questions in three different ways: 1) he makes a crucial conceptual articulation between two kinds of code-computer code and law: each entails the sorts of structuring constraints familiar from architecture (code and law as two forms of architecture becomes the guiding metaphor of this book); 2) Lessig sounds a warning about the dangers of the regulated world he sees coming to cyberspace; and 3) Lessig submits a plea to his reader: that we deliberate about the sorts of code(s) within which (remembers it's an architecture) we will choose to live. What gives this argument its conceptual power and plausibility is a series of carefully developed theses about the code of cyberspace, the problem of regulation, and the solution: the deliberation upon a constitution for the digital age. 1: The open code of cyberspace. Since the matrix of cyberspace is woven from code, there is no fixed nature or essence to cyberspace. The Web may have started as a network woven from open software code, thereby embodying an ethos of liberty, but a comparison of the many different networks and network communities (AOL, listservs, avatar based networks, etc.) suggests the variety of different possible networks, the different sorts of social life they enable, and the way they are changing under the pressure of commerce. The code of cyberspace can be rewritten, and that process is going forward at this moment. The openness of digital code can be used to restructure cyberspace so as to subvert the celebrated values of openness (public access, transparency, equality) mistakenly thought to be the Web's essential nature.
2: The problem of regulation. Lessig's book complicates and expands the concept of regulation. Government may regulate by direct laws, but the example of tobacco smoking shows that government can use both direct and indirect means to achieve its ends. But it is not just the government (as libertarians think) that regulates. Instead, regulation in both real space and cyberspace happens through the convergence of the law, the market, social norms, and architecture. Through the centrality of code to cyberspace-it is the infrastructure of every aspect of its functioning-- computer code produces a kind of architecture... and, Lessig insists, "Architecture is a kind of law: it determines what people can and cannot do. (59)" If the basic assumptions of the net were openness and liberty, anonymity and freedom of expression, now the web is being reshaped so that it can become the site for commerce. Commerce requires networks that are closed, secure, and robust, and forms of digital identification that compels a certain form of personal accountability. The powerful new players on the net (business aided by government) have an interest in rewriting the codes of cyberspace. Lessig is most dire and most convincing in his description of the power of networks to control in such a way that those controlled have little or no choice, especially because they don't even know they are being controlled by a network structure that represents itself as nature. Here Lessig's 1999 book rhymes with the most popular film of the same year, THE MATRIX. It is this strand of the book that is "dark" for the way it resonates with those many paranoid dystopian s/f narratives that warn us about a use of technology to create a world of total control. Like Morpheus character in THE MATRIX, Lessig is trying to wake us up ("welcome to the real world," Neo) and scare us into action. Lessig supports the open source software movement associated with Linex. Open code, because it is no one's property, can help users resist the enclosure of the Net in private and proprietary software systems. But Lessig does not see open source software movement as a sufficiently powerful counter-force to the regulatory potential of large corporations aided by government. That is why Lessig's book is something of a call for a constitutional convention.
3: The solution: a constitutional convention? Lessig book insists that the web's architecture shapes the spaces in which we live as well as the quality of our freedom; therefore it is the stuff of politics and it should be open to informed inspection, analysis and control by citizens. This leads to the constitutional strand of his argument. Liberty in real space is not the result of a simple absence of government; instead it is the result of a Constitution that offers a legal architecture to promote certain values (like property, privacy, free speech, etc.) sustained by courts, governments, institutions. In three chapters that are at the core of this book, Lessig offers compelling accounts of how the new technology poses a threat to old equilibrium between intellectual property and a public commons (e.g. fair use), privacy and surveillance, free speech and constraints upon speech and access. Lessig is particularly strong in his survey of the legal implications of the changes brought by cyberspace. Some Constitutionalists will always try to return to the values as defined by the founders of the United States so as to translate them into a new historical context. But the founder's reality and technology is not ours. Our technologies may expose latent ambiguities in the very concept of copyright, privacy, and free speech. This situation requires that we make difficult new choices. In each of these areas, Lessig describes the kind of digital and legal code he favors. For example, he is against privately developed "trusted systems" for enabling a fine grained control of access to intellectual property, for these systems will erode the valuable balance between copyright and fair use that has developed since the invention of copyright.
This is a compelling and important book. It offers a valuable counter-point to those many accounts of the Internet that emphasize its autonomous development and spontaneous solutions to countless human problems. However, I can't help avoiding the sense that I have been led, through admittedly convincing arguments, to an impossible prescription for the way software code should be written and software systems adopted. Thus against the co-equal interaction of law, market, architecture, and norms as constraints (or protections) of the human subject that Lessig's book outlines, Lessig book finally advocates a hierarchical transmission model: Values as defined by Us (at the Constitutional Convention for Cyberspace?) will lead to Code as Law (as defined by legislatures and courts) which will in turn define the possible legal Architectures for Cyberspace, to which the market and social norms will be obliged to accommodate themselves. Could one constrain software and network development in this way? If we could, should we? Perhaps not unsurprisingly, for this Constitutional lawyer, the policies Lessig advocates ends up leaving the crucial step in his reform-the application of values-to the lawyers: "Our question should be the values we want cyberspace to protect. The lawyers will figure out how."(181)
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on Cyberspace and a must read for people in the t 7 Jun 2004
By Will Rodriguez - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is another great book that discusses what is going on in cyberspace today (or 1999 when it was written) first by defining cyberspace as a place where we can create personalities and have the ability to speak like we would never do in the real world. The book then goes on to discuss how the internet is regulated or not regulated and what the internet can and should become.
The book starts out by discussing multiple forms of regulation and just because technology makes it easier to monitor or regulate does not mean that it is right or legal. The book also discusses what things should be regulated and how and who should regulate it. The next chapters go into Free Speech, Intellectual Property, Privacy and other freedoms we have and should fight to protect. The book talks about Open Source vrs Closed Source software and how regulation can and is added to each. One of the solutions of the book is to offer transparent regulation that allows user to know what is regulated. This is possible and is happening now in Open Source software but is not happening in closed source software. This is an excellent book that should help call us to action that will help provide the right kind of regulation while ensuring our freedoms or not reduced. This is a great book and I would recommend it..
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Important Book 26 Oct 2000
By John Snyder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book, "Code," is one of the most important books I've read in a long time. His thesis, that "Code Is Law," that the "coders" have become de facto lawmakers, and that we, as a society, MUST understand the importance of the Internet's architecture, is presented in a very clear manner. Lessig has a real gift for taking complex legal/political arguments and making them clear for the lay person.
As a law student, I find it very easy to get lulled into the belief that the major legal and policy decisions have already been made. Such a belief would probably always be mistaken, and it's totally mistaken now. In the next few years, major decisions (with stunning Constitutional and social consequences) will be made. Who will make these decisions, and what the substantive content of these decisions will be, are open questions.
The Internet has great potential -- for both good and bad. What the Internet will look like in a decade, how free it will be, how intrusive it will be, will depend entirely on decisions being made now. This book takes the confusing world of Internet controversies and pulls them together to make a compelling and persuasive call to AWARENESS.
I recommend this book very highly.
32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing and so much more! 29 Nov 1999
By Michael J Woznicki - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Public perception of the information superhighway is this massive and complex place that only the super intelligent have access to control. Lawrence Lessig has other ideas and his book is the definitive answer to those questions and more.
Right from the beginning the book dispels the myth that the world of cyberspace cannot be controlled and regulated. The book also disproves that belief that this "being" is immune from any government or anyone's control.
What Lessig proves throughout the book is that cyberspace is nothing more that hardware and software and we are in control of the future of this colossal giant. The author proves that true "nature" of cyberspace is one that man is forever looking for ways to control.
It takes a great understanding to know that cyberspace is in its infancy and that we must take the right steps to make sure that the next and future generations have something to work with. Lessig has written a deep and complex book, and as is the case with cyberspace we must endeavor to understand the meaning.
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