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The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World

4.2 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375726446
ISBN-10: 0375726446
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If The Future of Ideas is bleak, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Author Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford law professor and keen observer of emerging technologies, makes a strong case that large corporations are staging an innovation-stifling power grab while we watch idly. The changes in copyright and other forms of intellectual property protection demanded by the media and software industries have the potential to choke off publicly held material, which Lessig sees as a kind of intellectual commons. He eloquently and persuasively decries this lopsided control of ideas and suggests practical solutions that consider the rights of both creators and consumers, while acknowledging the serious impact of new technologies on old ways of doing business. His proposals would let existing companies make money without using the tremendous advantages of incumbency to eliminate new killer apps before they can threaten the status quo. Readers who want a fair intellectual marketplace would do well to absorb the lessons in The Future of Ideas. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Is the Internet evolving into a controlled environment? Should it be completely free from intellectual property rights? Lessig (Stanford Law Sch.; Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace) argues that as the Internet faces the challenges of intellectual property laws, it should not become so controlled that it discourages innovation and creativity in the digital world. He explains the historical context of the Internet and its relationship to the "commons" (items that are made available for free) and argues that, for the Internet to evolve and be an open environment, there must be a balance between intellectual property and the public domain. His book is filled with current case and social histories, as well as extensive source notes. His examples are thorough but can be excessively detailed. Though it is written for the lay reader, it will be better understood by those with some technological background. Recommended for all types of libraries, especially those maintaining materials on intellectual property. Rob Martindale, Dallas P.L.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (October 22, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726446
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726446
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #248,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David E. Rogers on February 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I well remember when I first entered the Internet. Even in those days of Gopher and early versions of Mosaic, I found an exciting and brand-new world, ripe with incredible possibilities. It was a world of free expression, rapid access to vast storehouses of information, instant contact with anyone who had the resources to connect.
But a dark thought always lurked in the recesses of my mind: What will happen when "Big Money" wakes up to the power of the Web? I luridly imagined mega-corporations somehow buying up the Web, tying up content, and crying up to Big Brother when they didn't get their way.
Those days seem to be closer than I ever imagined.
That's what I learned in this intricately arresting book by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig. It's an exultant yet sobering look at how the nature of the Internet sparked a new age of innovation--and how this is now seriously threatened. As Lessig writes:
"The original Net protected fundamental aspects of innovation. End-to-end meant new ideas were protected; open code meant innovation would not be attacked; free distribution meant new ways of connecting would be assured. These protections were largely architectural. This architecture is now changing. And as it changes, as with the threats to liberty, there is a threat here to innovation."
Lessig's purpose is awaken us to our untested belief in the value of control over commons before the Net is swallowed up.
The Future of Ideas is nicely structured to that end--but you'll need to strap on your thinking cap before you dive in.
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Format: Hardcover
Before proceeding to criticise this book, I want to give credit where credit is due. Lawrence Lessig has written a superbly clear and even-handed account of the erosion of the balance at the heart of intellectual property law - between public benefit from creations, and private reward for creators. With a wealth of references and a deft style, he illustrates how regulation of the internet is undermining this crucial balance.
Just as in his previous book, `Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace', Lessig upbraided cyber-libertarians for the lazy assumption that the internet will resist regulation simply by virtue of being the internet, so here he upbraids both sides of the intellectual property debate various for lazy assumptions that have disastrous consequences. Above all, the book is comprehensible to the lay reader while also being invaluable for the legal professional - the collection of references in the endnotes is alone worth the cover price.
Now, on to the flaws. The first and foremost flaw is that Lessig commits precisely the crime he railed against in `Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace' - technological determinism. He fetishises information technology, and ascribes to it vague autonomous powers, even going so far as to distinguish the internet from the `real' world and argue that it has its own `physics'. At one point, he catches himself doing this - after a reference to the `natural state' of cyberspace, he confesses: `I spend many pages in "Code" arguing against just this way of speaking.' But he can't wriggle out of it so easily - his over-dependence upon assumptions about the different nature of cyberspace undermine his (otherwise very good) argument.
A second, related flaw is that Lessig relies for his argument upon too vague a definition of `innovation'.
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Format: Hardcover
This book should be at least a candidate for the National Book Award. It is, I believe, an important book for our time. The author, Lawrence Lessig, according to the book's jacket, is a professor of law at the Stanford Law School; once a clerk for Judge Richard Posner; and is a board member of the Red Hat Center for Open Source, among other things. So he has the knowledge, experience, and judgment to write such a book.
What is the main concern of the book? Let me try to put it in this fundamental way: How do we want the Internet to develop? How do we create the conditions necessary to maximize the creative potential of the Internet and, for that matter, any new electronic technology?
These concerns leads us to the consider the laws that we have now--especially the patent and copyright laws, and perhaps to a lesser extent, the anti-trust laws.
I am familiar with some theoreticians who hold that there should not be any patent and copyrights at all. This is one extreme view, which the author does not hold. I believe that there has to be adequate reward to the innovator, and copyright and patents--which indeed does grant a limited monopoly--does that.
However, the author argues that the current laws that we have today go too far in the other extreme. These laws he argues hinder future creativeness. The laws we have today, he says, will lead to a future where "take the Net, mix it with the fanciest TV, add a simple way to buy things and that's pretty much it." (page 7) But the future can be better and greater than this, in ways we cannot fathom now.
It seems to me that concerning copyrights and patents, a utilitarian standard should apply: Pursue the policy that maximizes wealth in society as a whole.
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