10 Years On From Lessig’s Code

There has been quite a bit of  activity going on around the 10th birthday of Lawrence Lessig’s Code and other laws of cyberspace. Notice I haven’t yet used the word celebration. Cato Unbound leads this month with an essay by Declan McCullagh entitled “What Larry didn’t get” a response, after 10 years, to Code’s final chapter “What Declan didn’t get”.   With his response Declan has the benefit of hindsight and makes worthwhile points about the failure of government interventions in the control of the Net, notably the US CAN-SPAM Act that, as Guido Schryen points out,  does the opposite of its name. Essentially, says Declan,  10 yrs ago Lessig warned that code has the ability to control and drew that to the attention of scholars, activists, politicians and industry-folk and went on to say that because of this, governments and regulatory authorities needed to get involved without delay or control would be in the hands of a few large development companies. Declan says this just hasn’t happened and furthermore when Government has got involved it’s not   been successful. Instead commercial entities have proved on the whole to be flexible, responsible in developing code that benefits their users.

In addition to Declan’s response,  The Technology Liberation Front’s Adam Thierer was invited to the party, as was Jonathon Zittrain, author of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it. (Download it here if you want to).

Thierer suggests that Lessig is anti-libertarian and a theoretical collectivist in his assertions that the regulators should regulate the Net in the interests of the society at large.  Zittrain says the Net’s future should not be about control by either commercial entities nor government (often through manipulation of tethered devices), but the rise of civic technologies which will allow for a critical mass of people to contribute to the problems of the Net.  Over at the Unity Behind Diversity Blog, Blaise Alleyne picks up the thread from a point made by Thierer about ‘safe’ (ie commercial controlled) or ‘tinkerable’ and the death of the “walled garden” asking what is the iPhone, if not a ‘walled garden”?

I guess 10 years ago, Lessig stuck his neck out, and the problem with that, is that 10 yeas later, you are still trying to tuck it in. I think we can call all of this a celebration of Lessig’s extended neck. If he hadn’t stuck it out, would this debate still be going on?   I suggest you check it out for yourself.


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