Code: and Other Laws of Cyberspace Paperback – 23 Jun 2000
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The most important book of its generation about the relationship between law, cyberspace, and social organization. An astonishing achievement."
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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.
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..
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.
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.
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)
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