Review of "Future of Ideas", by Lawrence Lessig

In his book "The Future of Ideas", Lawrence Lessig believes the ideas of property and prosperity are confused, and this confusion allows for some to gain power over others. The power comes in the form of control over resources, especially ideas and media content.

Lessig believes that there is a great benefit to an innovative commons. This commons results in innovation based on a commons of code and commons of knowledge. The Internet originally provided a good medium for this commons in that individuals could easily collaborate and communicate with tools that were based on the Internet. This commons was not controled by proprietary vendors, but instead built on open and free protocols and open and free software running on top of those protocols.

A resource if free if one can use it without the permission of anyone else or if the permission one needs is granted neutrally. Lessig believes that free resources have been crucial to innovation and creativity. Without free resources, he argues, creativity is crippled.

As time goes by, certain business and government concerns are making efforts to control and restrict the protocols and software that makes up the Internet. They are abandoning and discouraging the end-to-end architecture that gave the Internet its power. Businesses are consolidating and strengthening their business models in the face of new innovations, involking Clay Christiansen's "Innovator's Dilema".

Neutral networks are inherantly difficult to control. Profitable networks are those designed with ways to exclude and prioritize. To many, this desire for profitability overrides the desire for open communication and creativity.

Lessig proposes a number of changes to intellectual property polices to help protect the innovative commons. These changes are based on Yochai Benkler's Layers in Communications Systems: physical, logical, and content. On the physical layer, he recommends a free spectrum using new technology to prevent interference between different users. Also, he argues that the Internet should move to a highway system model, where the infrastructure is effectively free to be used by anyone for anything (extending the end-to-end model). At the code layer, Lessig believes the government should take a number of actions: encourage the use of open code; regulate the Internet so no one provider can architect the Internet space to empower its own strategic behavior; and evaluate changes to the network in terms of the neutrality of end-to-end models.

At the content layer, Lessig promotes a larger number of policy and law changes. Lessig proposes a change to copyright law so that published works have five-year renewable terms, and unpublished work (such as email) has a copyright that lasts 70 years plus the lifetime of author. He suggests that source code should have to be submitted with a copyright application so society could benefit from it, just as a reader can analyse an author's work even though the work itself is copyrighted. He believes Congress should: limit the reactive character of copyright law so that content owners must show that harm as been done or violators can show that no harm has been done; empower file sharing by recognizing a system of complusory licenses on content; provide incentives for adding content to the creative commons; evaluate the Patent Office's practices, enact a moritorium on enforcing questionable patents until they have been re-evalutated, and reform the patent law to be more reasonable; and not support one version of software-based content protection over another. In Lessig's opinion, UCITA should be rejected because it does not benefit both parties of a contract equally. Also, published work should be forced into the public domain if the holder of a copyright on that work does not continue to make it available commercially.

Lessig believes there is a place for closed systems, proprietary technologies, and intellectual property rights. When those things are created and used without any consideration of the public good, creativity and innovation begin to whither. Also, control is not inherently bad, but concentration of control is an additional danger to innovation. Policy makers should strive to balance the creative commons with private concerns to ensure creativity and profitability do not become mutually exclusive.

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All contents Copyright 2004, Daniel Adinolfi.