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The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World Hardcover – 1 Oct 2001

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade; 1 edition (Oct. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375505784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375505782
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 2.9 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,227,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"Dazzlingly inventive . . . It deserves to change the way we think about the electronic frontier." --"Los Angeles Times Book Review"
"A manifesto that shakes you up, making you aware of how much is lost when a culture turns 'ideas' into 'intellectual property.'" --"The New York Times Book Review"
"A breath of fresh air in a crowded field . . . This book is a public service." --"The New York Times"
"Lessig is one of the brightest minds grappling with the consequences of the digital world today, as deft and original with technical intricacies as he is with broad legal theory. . . . "The Future of Ideas" succeeds marvelously." --"The Nation"
"Lessig's book will serve as an excellent guide." --"The Washington Post Book World"

Dazzlingly inventive . . . It deserves to change the way we think about the electronic frontier. Los Angeles Times Book Review
A manifesto that shakes you up, making you aware of how much is lost when a culture turns ideas into intellectual property. The New York Times Book Review
A breath of fresh air in a crowded field . . . This book is a public service. The New York Times
Lessig is one of the brightest minds grappling with the consequences of the digital world today, as deft and original with technical intricacies as he is with broad legal theory. . . . The Future of Ideas succeeds marvelously. The Nation
Lessig s book will serve as an excellent guide. The Washington Post Book World" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

The Internet revolution has come. Some say it has gone. In The Future of Ideas, Lawrence Lessig explains how the revolution has produced a counterrevolution of potentially devastating power and effect. Creativity once flourished because the Net protected a commons on which widest range of innovators could experiment. But now, manipulating the law for their own purposes, corporations have established themselves as virtual gatekeepers of the Net while Congress, in the pockets of media magnates, has rewritten copyright and patent laws to stifle creativity and progress.
Lessig weaves the history of technology and its relevant laws to make a lucid and accessible case to protect the sanctity of intellectual freedom. He shows how the door to a future of ideas is being shut just as technology is creating extraordinary possibilities that have implications for all of us. Vital, eloquent, judicious and forthright, The Future of Ideas" is a call to arms that we can ill afford to ignore. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Lessig has a simple, clear style of writing. He explains complex issues well, simplifying but not over simplifying.
Both this book and his earlier book 'code' should be required reading for anyone interested in the impact technology has and will have on society. Technolgy does not exist in a vacuum, it can do good and bad, and Lessig articulates the threats that many of the freedoms we take for granted today face.
Lessig raises significant questions about the role of copyright and intellectual property generally in society. Has the Law swung too far in favour of media moguls and is now threatening creativity? In the rush to squash 'pirates' is the law undermining freedom of expression, innovation, creativity and fair use?
Lessig is a lawyer that understands technology and politics. He writes well too. A book that will be read in 100 years from now, assuming that we will be allowed to!
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Format: Paperback
Lawrence Lessig has, rightly, achieved hero status amongst netizens for his early, analytical and compelling advocacy of the need for wise regulation by law - and other sorts of code - of that thing William Gibson termed cyberspace.

Lessig's magnum opus is Code: and Other Laws of Cyberspace - remixed not long ago into Code: Version 2.0 - the second "version" edited communally by wiki thereby demonstrating, as you would expect from a tribal elder, the man has the courage of his convictions. Lessig's renown has accordingly spread: he is a sought after public speaker (and a compelling one - Lessig is a genius with a PowerPoint presentation) and, rumour has it, is a long-time consiglieri of president Obama who in recent times has been linked with the job of running the Federal Communications Commission. Boy would *that* frighten the Confederate horses.

As a prolific generator of intellectual property himself, much of which is available through open source copyright licences, Lessig is in the unusual position, a bit like a stand-up comedian from an ethnic minority, of being able to score hits that others cannot without being written off as a liberal/hacker/stoner hand waver (though it isn't to say that this doesn't routinely happen - a quick trot through the one star reviews on this site ought to persuade you of that).

The thing is, his analysis isn't half as glib as his conservative detractors say it is (or their criticisms are!) Lessig is a brilliant and compelling thinker.
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Format: Paperback
This book is nothing short of fantastic. It goes through the simple ideas of what people had to work with, to what they wanted to have and to where it lead them to.
The book will take you from the beginning of the 'Internet' (but not as we know it now), to how countries are using radio waves to transfer internet traffic at over 100 times the speed of normal DSL connections (....i know...amazing isnt it!!!!).
The book also goes through the current legal issues with p2p, piracy and the open source movement.
Every other page will guarantee you to say to yourself....'oh my god, thats amazing!'.
If you have an interest in technology or even interested in what the future may hold for us...this is a must read!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars 37 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yesterday's Future 24 Mar. 2009
By Olly Buxton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Lawrence Lessig has, rightly, achieved hero status amongst netizens for his early, analytical and compelling advocacy of the need for wise regulation by law - and other sorts of code - of that thing William Gibson termed cyberspace.

Lessig's magnum opus is Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace - remixed not long ago into Code: Version 2.0 - the second "version" edited communally by wiki thereby demonstrating, as you would expect from a tribal elder, the man has the courage of his convictions. Lessig's renown has accordingly spread: he is a sought after public speaker (and a compelling one - Lessig is a genius with a PowerPoint presentation) and, rumour has it, a long-time consiglieri of President Obama who in recent times has been linked with the job of running the Federal Communications Commission. Boy would *that* frighten the Confederate horses.

As a prolific generator of intellectual property himself, much of which is available through open source copyright licences, Lessig is in the unusual position, a bit like a stand-up comedian from an ethnic minority, of being able to score hits that others cannot without being written off as a liberal/hacker/stoner hand waver (though it isn't to say that this doesn't routinely happen - a quick trot through the one star reviews on this site ought to persuade you of that).

The thing is, his analysis isn't half as glib as his conservative detractors say it is (or their criticisms are!) Lessig is a brilliant and compelling thinker. Code, in my book, is one of the few essential pieces of 21st century political philosophy to have yet emerged.

The Future of Ideas was published in 2001 as a follow up to the original Code, and while its arguments are for the main part compelling, they are also familiar, springing as they do from exactly the turf as those in Code: principally the virtue of the end-to-end architecture of the internet and the possibility for a myriad of unimagined innovations and unprecedented technological developments. Lessig spends more time updating the Garrett Hardin's tragedy of the commons - on which premise modern legal philosophy underlying physical property can be understood - to the non-rivalrous (if you'll excuse the expression: at times Lessig's way with words deserts him) digital commons, and this is an interesting and valuable discussion.

Other than these arguments, much of the heft in this book was also the meat and potatoes of Code, and it didn't feel as if substantial new ground was being broken here, and where it was - for example Lessig's playful reference to the "Sovietisation" of dominant positions in the market - such interesting and fair observations were let down by their expression. To compare corporate titans with communists will infuriate exactly the conservative readers Lessig ought to be doing more to appeal to.

This book, and the author's outlook generally, aren't without their flaws. Lessig is an idealist in at least two pejorative senses: First, in that he believes that fixing the endemic problems he excellently articulates is a matter of straightforward legal or technological regulation, whereas he has (equally excellently) articulated that the first order problems are themselves not of a legal or technological nature. They are with the meatware, and in particular its peculiar sociological constitution. The same "Sovietisation" that cankers corporate titans also ossifies regulators, and for the same ineluctable evolutionary reasons.

Complexity is inevitable in our social systems precisely because (like the internet and successful corporations) they have evolved from institutions and customs designed to solve earlier, different and often unrelated problems. Lessig is extremely convincing on this. But there's the rub: the fix for these historical circumstances came pre-bundled with commercial and political hierarchies the priorities of which have hardened, for predictable but selfish reasons, in ways which, as Lessig now patiently catalogues, create problems of a different nature altogether.

But nor are these hierarchies all for the worse, and they have the benefit of inertia, we all have an innate (no doubt evolved!) resistance to the idea of abandoning established (read evolved) political structures when they still appear to be functioning, however sub-optimally - especially since those in the upper reaches of the political structures who are best placed to change them are also, almost by definition, least incentivised to do so.

Overcoming these facts of life presents social as well as political issues: it is not simply a matter of passing the law: one needs to build the consensus to pass the law. The old paradigm not only needs to be in crisis, it needs to be *believed to be* in crisis - believed by the very people from whose perspective it is least obviously in crisis.

This is where the conservatives cheap shots, which Lessig laughs off, do hit home: preaching to the choir (which squarely includes me, by the way) won't help: the sermon needs to go over with the sceptics in the posh seats. This does seem to be starting to happen where it really matters - commercial and technological development. Personally I'm less exercised than Lessig is about the mendacity of the Recording Industry Association of America since, well, it *is* only rock `n' roll, however much we might like it.

Secondly, Lessig overstates his case. To win over this congregation of Hollywood moguls and record company execs - a tough crowd - he needs to avoid overreaching. His analysis of the internet's architecture is comprehensive and detailed (herein you will learn more than you bargained for about the packet-switching design of the code layer of the internet) but he is not persuasive that this whole edifice, spanning as it does not just real space, public and private property and also international regulatory space really could be, in its entirety, laid low by regulatory action, much less privately or corporately controlled systems design. These days not even Ma Bell has anything like monopoly power, and technological advances (wifi, internet through electricity circuits) ever more militate against it ever happening again. That is to say, I think Lessig is crying wolf.

Since there will always be (virtual) areas of the net which are differently or less heavily regulated or, to use his awful expression, "architected" (Professor Lessig, if you're reading: the word is "designed") and the commercial energy required to rein in defectors will always be greater than that required to ease constrained systems to keep up with the competition, and, absent real-life Sovietisation (these days not quite as ludicrous a prospect as it would have been in 2001!), market share will always go with gravity - downward, to the service provider who places the least constraints on its subscribers.

This, I think, is borne out by the history of the net in the eight or so years since this book was written. The original Napster may have gone the way of all flesh, but the collaborative internet is in rude health, as ADSL has become mainstream the opportunities for innovation and creation seem as present as they ever were.

Another well established end-to-end network - a city - provides an enlightening metaphor: trains or buses might be privately controlled, the use of cars somewhat (but imperfectly) regulated and (as in any network) there will be places we cannot go at all, but we can always, at the limit, walk. The first lesson of evolutionary theory is: Where there's a will, there's a way.

A week is a long time in technology, and eight years is an aeon: The Future Of Ideas is necessarily dated nowadays, and since the revision to Code, has little to offer that can't be found in that somewhat weightier book.

Olly Buxton
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pessimism, with an Optimistic Bent 18 Mar. 2002
By Christopher D. Helmkamp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author of this great new book about ideas in the age of technology is no college kid touting, "I have a right to, like, copy MP3s!" On the contrary, Law Professor Lawrence Lessig's book provides a balanced, logical, and realistic argument for more careful Copywright and Intellectual Property legislation. In fewer than 300 pages, Lessig not only lays out the history of IP law, but also thoroughly examines the current move towards corporate favoritism.
This makes for a very discouraging read; however, the reader is left with plenty of ideas about how IP law could be shaped in the future. Lessig's suggestions would go a long way towards protecting innovation while still upholding the core principles of fair use and reasonable limits the Founding Fathers wrote into the US Constitution. (Buy a copy of this book for your Congressman!)
Lessig, a Liberal who clerked for the popular Conservative Circuit Court Judge and prolific public intellectual Richard Posner, also demonstrates why this issue cuts right across standard ideological lines. Even if you only read chapters 4 and 11, I highly reccomend this book for a thorough examination of this most pressing issue of current public policy.
4.0 out of 5 stars Considering Legal Frameworks for Intellectual property, Copyright, Information Ownership, And Fair Use 25 Nov. 2013
By Alicia Crumpton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Intellectual property, copyright, information ownership, fair use, e- versus hardcopy - if you are interested in exploring the nature of information, ownership, use and legality, Lessig provides a valuable resource from which to learn and to consider the various positions. Topics explored include: the notion of a commons, creativity, innovation, legal control, laws, and copyright.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant sequel to Code, a genuinely important book 7 Feb. 2002
By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
[This draws on my review of "The Future of Ideas" published in the Los Angeles Times, 13 January 2002.]
A century ago, Frederick Jackson Turner delivered an address on "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" that changed the way America understood itself. Turner cast the frontier's history in a new light, making it a driver of national history and culture and its closing a cause for alarm. Lawrence Lessig's "The Future of Ideas" could have been titled "The Significance of the Electronic Frontier in American History." Lessig sees the Internet as harboring a unique character that accounts for its importance and for which it is under attack. Like Turner's "frontier thesis," "The Future of Ideas" is a dazzlingly inventive work about familiar things. It deserves to change the way we think about the electronic frontier.
In Lessig's world, established corporations use any means to keep challengers down, including rewriting the rules and even outlawing disruptive innovation. He is decidedly NOT anti-capitalist, nor is he a Marxist, as another review assumes. Lessig loves the "creative destruction" that the Internet has spawned, and indeed sees the Internet as a realm where the right to innovate (the term Microsoft used to brand its defense in the federal antitrust suit) has been built-in, much as constitutional rights are guaranteed to citizens. (Lessig clerked for famed University of Chicago professor and circuit judge Richard Posner, and for Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, neither of whom is known for his Marxist leanings.)
It isn't obvious that the Internet should have become such a hotbed of creativity. For years, the phone system was far more attractive than the Internet to hackers like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. So why did the Internet become an arena for innovation in the 1990s? Not because it attracted venture capitalists and twentysomething CEOs who "got it," but because it is a "commons." Commons are things available to anyone who obeys the rules governing their use. Streets, highways and parks are commons open to everyone. The Internet's fundamental design was built around a common protocol that all computers could use, and it was designed so that the intelligence resided at the edges of the network, not in the center. This "end-to-end" architecture is the reverse of the telephone system, in which dumb devices--your phone--are connected by an intelligent network. Add the development of open source software and you have a commons of extraordinary value. Anyone who obeys the technical rules can develop services that run on it. No application can be excluded for political reasons or protectionism. Success is bestowed by the marketplace, not by government policy or corporate patronage. The phone system couldn't compete, not despite its centralized power, but because of it. To paraphrase Stewart Brand, innovation wants to be free.
But the Internet is endangered, Lessig says. The shift from an Internet running off telecom to broadband running through cable television wires threatens the open architecture because a cable company can design its system to work best with its own service provider, deny access to competitors or break software from other companies, and it will all be legal; no phone company could have ever done those things. Changes in copyright and patent law are also impoverishing the intellectual commons. Copyright originally lasted 14 years; today it can last 10 times as long, thanks to efforts by entertainment companies eager to defend their profits. Patent applicants have to reveal how their inventions work, but you can patent software without revealing the source code that would make it comprehensible to others, and the "fair use" of copyrighted materials is under attack as publishers develop technology to gain more control over content.
"The Future of Ideas" concludes with proposals to defend the digital commons. Given that we live in a world in which intellectual work is being fenced off and sold, do his ideas stand a chance? Lessig is pessimistic, but the last 20 years have seen some remarkable experiments in public policy inspired by iconoclastic thinkers: think of emissions trading and spectrum auctions. His ideas could provide a foundation for real action. Recent polls suggest that respect for the government and public services is rising, and few politicians would say they were against innovation and for special interests. It might be impossible to recover America's original great commons, the first frontier, but perhaps the electronic one still has a chance.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Public Warning of looting and Destruction of the E-Commons 27 Feb. 2002
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I struggled with this book, in part because I really dislike the manner in which the law has been complicated to the point of unreason--beyond the ken of normal people. Having concluded the book, however, I have to say this is really worth the effort. The author is laying bare the raw threats to the future of the electronic commons. He discusses in detail how very specific government policies to sell and control bandwidth, and very specific corporate legal claims being backed by "the people's" lawyers within government, are essentially "fencing" the Internet commons and severely constraining both the rights of the people and the prospects for the future of ideas and innovation.
I am not a lawyer and I cannot speak to the points of law, but I am a voter and I can speak to that; what is happening to the Internet through legal machinations that are largely invisible to the people is a travesty, a crime against humanity even if permissible by law, and perhaps grounds for a public uprising demanding the recall of any official that permits and perpetuates the theft of the commons by corporations and their lawyers.
In the aftermath of 9-11, when our secret national intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities failed us, there is a need for a restoration of the people's intelligence in the aggregate as our first line of defense against enemies both foreign and domestic. I regard this book as a very serious, thoughtful, and well-intentioned "public intelligence estimate" and warning, of the harm to our security and prosperity that will ensue from a legal system that is now "out of control" and not being audited by the common sense of the people.
This book makes it clear that if the people are inert and inattentive, they will be enslaved, "virtually speaking." If you thought Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky was scarcy, or Norman Cousins' The Pathology of Power, then this book is for you.
Along with Internet standards acceptable to the people, we now appear to need a public advocacy group, funded by the people, to fight these corporate lawyers at every turn, whilst helping our less than stellar government lawyers cope....
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