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on December 31, 2006
You can download this book at no charge in pdf format from Lessig's site.
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on February 9, 2008
If you take Web 2.0 at all seriously then, whatever your political or philosophical persuasion, Larry Lessig's Code: Version 2.0 is a compulsory read. My own political and philosophical persuasion is considerably different from Lessig's and consequently I don't entirely agree with either his conclusions or the weight he attaches to some of his concerns, but I still take my hat off to his methodological and philosophical achievement: Code: Version 2.0 presents a novel and undoubtedly striking re-evaluation of some fundamental social, legal and ethical conceptions and makes an entirely persuasive case that our traditional, deeply-held, and politically entrenched ways of looking at the world simply aren't fit for purpose any more.

Intellectually, this is therefore an extraordinary, eye-opening, paradigm shifting, challenging, exhilarating read. (I note some previous comments that this is a book for lawyers: I'm a lawyer, so perhaps that explains my enthusiasm, but this is no ordinary legal text, and should be of interest to anyone with a political, philosophical or scientific bone in their body.)

Lawrence Lessig charts, with a fair bit of technical specificity, the technical and epistemological grounds for thinking that the internet revolution (and specifically the "Web 2.0" revolution) is as significant as any societal shift in human history. Generally, this is not news for people in the IT industry - who deal with its implications day to day - but for our legal brethren, who tend of be of a conservative (f not technophobic) stripe, this ought to be as revelatory (and revolutionary) as Wat Tyler's march on London. Now we have a hyperlinked, editable digital commons, the assumptions with which we have constructed our society need to be rethunk.

For example, copyright: a law framed in the pre-digital era where there was no ready means to replicate "content" which didn't itself involve considerable labour and expense, it made sense to protect intellectual property in this way. But faced with the new commercial imperatives of the digital age, Lessig argues compellingly that the existing legal framework simply cannot apply, that any attempt to fit it to the new social reality which, QED, must have been beyond the contemplation of the framers of the law is a creative (and therefore potentially illegitimate) legal/political act. Down this path, Lessig's arguments have more interest for consitutional lawyers and may lead the lay reader a little cold.

Lessig provides us with an alternative framework for discussing legal issues like copyright, intellectual property protection and privacy, and is convincing that our old tools for conversing on these issues - which predate the digital revolution in its entirely, let alone the internet revolution or Web 2.0 - just won't give us useful answers to our conundrums. Lessig also re-opens the book on what even counts as law - what we mean by "regulability" - in an environment online where the power exists, by computer code, to create "laws" of a more natural kind - that are laws not because they *should* or *may* not be broken, but because they *cannot* be broken.

Lessig's startling conclusion is therefore to reject entirely the utopian wish, frequently expressed by citizens of the net, that traditional legal controls are dead and that Web 2.0 vouchsafes to us an eternal state of libertarian bliss - but to assert that, quite to the contrary, Web 2.0 is, to use his own ghastly expression, "architected" to allow maximum conceivable regulation, and that activities online are capable of a total regulation that, offline, would never have been feasible. Lessig warns therefore that we stand (or at any rate approach) important political crossroads where the public decisions we make as a community about how we allow internet architecture to develop will have a huge bearing on the development of cyberspace - and therefore our rights and personhood in cyberspace - for the hereafter.

Among the fascinating ideas here, which have application way beyond the legal and digital realms, is the "end-to-end principle", by which the internet is (ugh) architected, which says that for a distributed system to be maximally effective there should be the minimum complexity in the basic network necessary to provide common structure to all users so that they can use the information as flexibly as they want: the complexity should therefore be at the edges of the system and in the hands of the user. Thus the core wiring of the internet is a rudimentary router of tiny packets of data which are then assembled by the end user (in a browser or other application). But the same principle applies to physical transport networks (a road system has less intrinsic complexity than a rail system, for example: the complexity on a road network is pushed to the edge and manifests itself in the vehicles we drive: on a rail network by contrast the train is part of the network), and indeed political and social networks (a liberal political regime has less intrinsic complexity than an interventionist one - the complexity is pushed to the edges of the network and users build that amongst themselves). I thought this was a profound insight, and perhaps has implications beyond the scope of Lessig's thesis, and if properly considered have the effect of mitigating some of the alarm he feels.

Just as he rightly brings the utopians to book for believing their hype about this golden new age of freedom - of course governments and vested interests will figure out the net and how to effectively regulate it, like they have every other social revolution since Wat Tyler's time - I think his own vision is needlessly dystopian. It assumes that code will be able, at some point, to regularly, systematically, reliably and effortlessly know every single fact about every one of us - and hence we are ultimately regulable.

But this isn't realistic. Just as it would be impossible to accurately predict the trajectory of a crisp packet blown across St Mark's Square, no matter how sophisticated your equipment and scientific knowledge, the web is too weird, people's applications for it too dynamic and unpredictable and the "true meaning" of our communications too innately susceptible of multiple interpretations for any code to ever fully get the better of us (not even really close). For example, in my organisation I have spent months, with considerable IT infrastructural support, trying to figure how to reliably capture simple, non-controversial attributes of regular documents which routinely and predictably pass between an easily identified and small community of users across a tightly defined and fully monitored part of our internal computer system - and this has proved so far to be quite impossible. The idea that one might reliably capture deliberately masked communications even from this minute sample seems absurd, and the idea that one could do this across the whole world wide web preposterous.

Just as the spammers and virus programmers keep ahead of the filters, our freedom is adaptable and valuable enough to keep ahead of the Man.

Well, that's the hope, anyway. But in the mean time this book is certainly food for thought. It could not be more highly recommended by this reviewer.

Olly Buxton
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on June 7, 2007
Professor Lessig describes how managing copyright for the digital age will have an impact upon every individual in the future. As we develop and share digitial content how we protect or even abuse copyright will determine if the Internet and other digital technologies will improve information for the global citizen. We stand at the door of one of the greatest era in history, however, how we use and protect digitial information will determine how history will judge our efforts for generations to come. Lessig's book gives us the foundation to build upon and will be up to each individual to determine the final outcome.
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on September 29, 2012
The book is intelligently and well written, and a must read for those who have a serious interest in the future of our civiliation.
One of the fascinating things about the book, that was recently written, is that the future problems the book foresees are already passe. Internet privacy is now an illusion. Any email or message in cyberspase can appear the next day on the front page of the New York Times. Lessig would like to control the misuse of cyberspace, but his suggestions are merely theoretical and because of the chaotic state of conflicting tribes and governments, these methods have no teeth. As is so often the case, it may take a catastrophe, like breaking the code oCode: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0f an encrypted lethal message between nations, to generate international regulation of cyberspace.
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Before Larry Lessig began teaching a course on "cyberlaw" in the 1990s, few people knew this awkward term for "regulation of the Internet." But Lessig, now a professor at Stanford Law School, has always kept close to the bleeding edge of technology. He started programming in high school and later helped the U.S. Supreme Court go digital. Even this book's development shows the author's geek //bona fides:// He revised it using a "wiki," a software platform that allows multiple users to edit the text simultaneously via the Web. While the book's details have changed a bit since the first edition, Lessig's main point is the same. Because of its design, the Internet is perhaps the most "regulable" entity imaginable and, unless its users are careful, it will morph into something that diminishes, rather than enhances, liberty. Moreover, trying to keep the Internet "unregulated" is folly. While this book is sometimes bloated and repetitive, we find that it is still required reading for anyone who cares about the social impact of the most important technology since electrification.
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on February 20, 2014
Code 2.0 Summary
The Internet is a medium through which the individual is provided with both extreme freedom and complete control. As Lessig suggests in Code 2.0, this dichotomy presents a delicate balance towards the abilities and uses of the hardware and software of the digital age. By comparing the inner workings of the regulation of cyberspace to the Constitution, Lessig establishes a dialogue that addresses the idea that a new form of regulation is to be created in order to maintain control over cyberspace. He defines code as the basic governing structure upon which the Internet is founded and ascertains that “code is a regulator in cyberspace because it defines the terms upon which cyberspace is offered” (6). Lessig uses this definition throughout his argument to support the idea that, in its ability to do and create anything within the virtual space, it is able to establish complete control over the Internet. He presents the potential for the regulation of this code and, furthermore, the regulation of cyberspace as a whole. Through stories and examples of this paradox in action, he shows the many ways in which code can be used to control situations that initially break the possibilities in the real world. He poses the question, “We will see that cyberspace does not guarantee its own freedom but instead carries an extraordinary potential for control. And then we will ask: How should we respond?” (5). He establishes that cyberspace can be regulated through four underlying factors: architecture, norms, law, and market. These broad categories encompass that framework that Lessig suggests is the infrastructure that allows the possibility of bring order and regulation to a tool that can make virtually anything possible.
The Internet is a world that defies that nature and limitations of the real world through the ability to code and create a system that, at least in cyberspace, can allow anything to be possible. In his story about “Second Life”, Lessig describes a program in which people can establish and embody an alternate identity (6). Through coding their profile, the program allows them to do whatever it is they wish to do, which is not limited to things that are impossible to accomplish in the real world. Second Life is the perfect example of how cyberspace can be perfectly controlled in its perfect freedom. By establishing the code, the creator is constructing a virtual space that has endless possibilities, but the code itself is an establishment of law and management towards this supposedly limitless system.
The four factors of regulation that he describes, architecture, norms, law and market, are one of the strongest points to his argument (7). He clearly establishes the techniques and constraints by which this boundless world can be managed and behavior can be regulated. Architecture describes the physical and tangible structure that allows or does not allow things to be possible. If an object is not physical available or able to do something, than the architecture directs that it cannot be done. Norms are the expectations that are established through the majority’s adherence to them in order to coerce a particular action or behavior. Law addresses the set of rules that governs the situation and the consequences that occur if they are broken. There are certain laws in place; such as being allowed to smoke in a particular area and those laws are enforced by punishment if they are not followed. Market is the persuasion to behave in a particular manner through offers that make it more appealing to take one action over another. Lowering the price of an item or making a deal is persuading the buyer into purchasing what the store wants them to purchase, thus regulating their decision. Each of these modes of regulation has their strengths and weaknesses depending on the situation, but their universality is what makes them especially useful in the context of regulating cyberspace.
Lessig establishes a strong idea that the modern virtual world has opened up many seemingly impossible situations that, without proper regulation, can go awry. While it is difficult to imagine keeping such a powerful and virtually limitless source under control, Lessig discusses the idea that it is indeed possible. There is a consistent parallel to the real world within his argument of regulation that suggests that the methods can be adapted to the needs of the virtual world. Where laws of crime and punishment are established in real life, the government can step in a create those for the Internet and where architecture is concerned, what is physically impossible in the real world can similarly be restricted through code. As the title suggests, his pervasive point of his argument is that code is the key to the regulation of cyberspace with the fact that it is the foundation that controls it. The individuals who know how to create code have free range to essentially control cyberspace. Lessig implies in many different ways that, in order to regulate that virtual world, these individuals need to be regulated and prevented from running rampant with the power to control cyberspace. With the continuous juxtaposition of the approaches that need to be taken to regulate the physical world and virtual world, Lessig brings forth the idea that cyberspace is an extension of the real world that can be regulated under the same concepts. He states that “The problems with that cyberspace reveals are not problems with cyberspace. They are real-space problems that cyberspace shows us we must now resolve-or maybe reconsider” (16). In this revelation, he suggests that cyberspace creates infinite possibilities for those who participate in it and it in itself is not the center of potential problems. Rather it is who controls and regulates it and how that is accomplished that poses the real threat to society. The real world systems that have been established set the example for the regulation of this world of infinite possibilities. Though it was a bit scattered, I enjoyed his argument and the relevant insight that Lessig provides regarding the rapidly increasing presence of "cyberspace".
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on February 19, 2014
Code 2.0 is a new and improved version that Lawrence Lessig uses to describe how managing copyright for the digital age will have an impact on our lives in the future. This novel presents a re-look at some fundamental ideas. We must learn and grow to the ever-changing world around us. Lessig argues that the framework existing now regarding code and law must be adjusted and rewritten to fit the new societies that are being developed.
There is a bit of information about specific, technical computer language that allows computer savvy people to grasp what Lessig is arguing. However he uses anecdotes within the text to assist the readers who are not as technologically friendly. The first anecdote he uses is an argument between two people where one’s poisonous flower pedals kills the other’s dog. Looking at the argument from two sides really helps teach how the logic in code is written. “‘There is no reason to grow deadly flowers,’ dank yelled across the fence. ‘There’s no reason to get so upset about a few dead dogs.’” (Lessig Ch. 1). The way code can be scripted really shows how powerful the Internet can be. It depends on what one is trying to accomplish in order for the code to be written properly. Certain norms are created within cyberspace due to people seeing the same idea over and over again within this space. He mentions this with the first anecdote because some people will break the norms and create controversy among society. The code within cyberspace is written to protect values that people believe are fundamental.
Lessig discusses code and law interchangeably. The codes that are written by humans must follow certain laws to help protect our privacy and peace among us. Code is based off architecture. There is structure to code because of the algorithms that are written and used to perform certain tasks or abilities. Yet there are limitations to code. One has to properly place decimals in specific order so that the code performs its function.
Lessig talks about how cyberspace is a major part of the development of the Internet. People can “hang out” in cyberspace and can live “second lives” within this cyberspace. The behavior within cyberspace is based on certain laws and markets that attract people to come to cyberspace. People can choose to obey the laws within cyberspace, but if they break them they run the risk of being tracked down by the Government and being arrested for breaking the laws. The architected online community can attract people from all over the world. It can create problems because some people are better at understanding how the Internet works and they can control someone else’s computer if they hacked into it. This anonymous playground creates such high risks to our privacy and protection that there has to be regulation within cyberspace. There is an overseer who makes sure the online communities are running smoothly and someone is not harassing another person on the online community. Lessig preaches that regulation is needed within code. This helps protect our privacy and keeps society safe. Lessig also brings up the fact that we must teach our younger generations to write code and learn about the Internet because it will help us advance our future. We can become more powerful if we know how to advance our computer systems and Internet as a whole.
Our freedom is adjustable and valuable enough that we must advance to keep it like that way for the clear. We must use and guard digital information to advance in our current times and set up for future generations. In order for this to happen we must understand law and how it relates to code writing for our internet to become more advance.
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on February 14, 2014
Code 2.0, written in 2000 by Lawrence Lessig, is a book written to a general audience that attempts to make sense of the cyberspace and real space through four elements. Lessig uses stories as examples to help those who are not technologically inclined understand cyberspace and all that it entails. Lessig explains that “there is a certain way that cyberspace is,” which is because of architecture, norms, markets, and laws (Chapter 3). When it comes to the internet we are not asking ourselves two fundamental questions; what is freedom?; what is regulation?, but Lessig argues we should be asking ourselves. Code 2.0 looks into the code, that is the architecture of the internet, and how that may be limiting to our experience of freedom within cyberspace with the presence of government and law.
To many internet users, the internet is a convenience tool that is (usually) available for our every need. We believe that we can do anything on it and that our actions will go unpunished or unseen. Users are unaware of the regulation and freedom that is actually present on the internet. Lessig argues that if we do not become more aware of these structures that we will lose control of what currently regulates us and gives us freedom.
Code 2.0 suggests that the structures that regulate the real world are also present in the cyber world. Architecture, law, norms, and markets surround us every day. For example, he explains norms of the real word by giving examples of “normal” behavior when smoking in front of others, such as refraining from lighting a cigarette in a private car without asking others first (Chapter 7). In the cyber world, norms are different but still present. Lessig explains how actions that are not considered “normal” by other users in cyber space can be filtered to regulate this behavior (Chapter 7). Norms work alongside architecture, law and markets to regulate our behaviors.
In addition, markets regulate an individual’s behavior on the internet. With constraints and opportunities, the market behaves in a way that benefits those areas of the web that are excelling, and punishes sites that are not doing as well (Chapter 7). Lessig points out that market somewhat regulates cyberspace, and law regulates market, making the aspects of cyberspace more complex than we realize. Our private world in cyberspace where we believe we control more than we really do is being monitored, tracked, and personalized, becoming part of a market research report where we are also monitored.
Lessig argues that architecture, or sometimes as he refers to as “code”, is a changed form of control when it comes to the internet and cyberspace, “the argument of this book is that the invisible hand of cyberspace is building architecture.” (Chapter 1). Code is the software or hardware that makes cyberspace what it is, and acts as a type of law to the internet. The code of the internet has changed, making it much more regulable, but Lessig argues that we can architect our own, or laws, code to protect values on the internet that we think are fundamental by becoming aware of the current architecture (Chapter 1).
With that change of code comes fear of privacy and information storage within this complex architecture. With hopes of building a network, the first of these architectures were built by people such as researchers and hackers before the second generation being built by commerce (chapter 1). Following that, Lessig proposes that the third generation, which has yet to be completed, will be an offspring of the government and their control. “Some architectures of cyberspace are more regulable than others; some architectures enable better control than others.” and Lessig argues that code will regulate and change us because of the control is has, or will have, over our behaviors. The problem is that we can see architecture in the real world, but code is invisible to us when it comes to the internet because it is intangible.
He explains in a repetitive manor that each of the regulators’ contributions and complexities to readers by emphasizing their effect on each other; if one changes they all do (Chapter 7). Although they all work together, they can also oppose each other when regulating cyberspace. In real space these four components regulate environments, but in cyberspace they regulate behavior and code, or architecture.
Right now we have sufficient freedom when it comes to the internet, and regularity is non-invasive. Code 2.0 attempts to help readers realize that this may not be the case in the future if we do not understand the code within the internet in relation to the other regulators. What regulates the real world also regulates cyberspace, but in a less obvious way. Do we really want out behavior in cyberspace regulated? Lessig suggests that our private world in cyberspace where we believe we control more than we really do is being monitored, tracked, and personalized more than we realize.
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on July 17, 2010
Code Version 2.0 (CV2) is a compelling and insightful book. Author Lawrence Lessig is a very deep thinker who presents arguments in a complete and methodical manner. I accept his thesis that "cyberspace" has abandoned its tradition as an ungovernable, anonymous playground and risks becoming the most regulated and "regulable" "place" in which one could spend any time. This position has been strengthened by recent news events, such as the White House's "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) that outlines this vision to reduce cybersecurity vulnerabilities through the use of trusted digital identities." Lessig maintains that code is making such regulation possible, and anyone who cares about privacy and freedom needs to start paying attention.

Another interesting theme the author discusses involves the nature of decision making in the US Constitution. When encountering a difficult case, it's not enough to think in terms of original intent or expanding beyond the Constitution. Justices must resolve questions not necessarily considered when the Constitution was written. For example, regarding the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against "unreasonable searches and seizures," did the Founders include the amendment because searches and seizures as practiced in their time were burdensome? If searches and seizures were not a burden (such as one might argue is the case with digital inquiries), does that invalidate the Fourth Amendment with respect to digital searchers? Or, must one interpret the Fourth Amendment as meaning the Founders sought to protect privacy in any circumstance, and the burden applies regardless of the nature of the search? Before reading CV2 I thought about such questions in much more naive terms. Lessig helped me consider the issues in a more subtle manner.

Lessig also emphasizes the interaction among the market, architecture, law, and societal norms. All of these exert influence, and policymakers can choose to apply different elements as required.

I had only a few minor criticisms. I agree with some reviewers that the book is a little wordy and perhaps too long. The author warns the reader at the beginning of the book, so beware! Also, the author is a little shaky regarding technical details. On p 54, he mistakenly says IPv6 requires encryption; this is a common misconception. IPv6 as a standard and implementation includes encryption, but it need not be enabled and is in fact not enabled by default. On pp 55-6 he seems to think Nmap is a powerful tool for "monitoring" networks, but really it is a network-based discovery and reconnaissance tool. Finally, he wonders on p 76 "what's stopping cyber-Armageddon"? The answer is simple: there's no money in it!

Overall I think readers who want to understand more about digital security and privacy debates should read CV2. You will be surprised by how relevant it is in 2010.
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on February 11, 2013
The writing style is very laborious and not timeless at all. The references are sometimes vague and not apparent to the reader. May have been a better book during it's inception. Not recommended for modernity.
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