- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (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: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World 1st Edition
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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. Lessig is unrelentingly brilliant and his text is richly loaded with concepts you may never have considered
He begins by introducting the concept of "commons"--most simply defined as a resource held freely in common for the overall good of society. He helps us understand that concept by repeatedly referring to the public roads and highways--they are held in common, we have free access to them, they bring value where they exist.
He then takes this idea of commons and beautifully demonstrates how the Internet rapidly emerged as a new commons for innovation. Against the historical backdrop of controlled innovation that he calls the "dark ages" (well typified by AT&T's former stranglehold over U.S. telecommunications), Lessig shows us how the Web provides a gloriously free field for innovation and ideas--something undeniable in light of its impact over the last several years.
He then explains--in what I found by far the most interesting part of the book--how the nature of the Internet itself, at its physical, code and content layers, created, enabled and empowered this new commons of innovation. I learned things I'd never known about the Net and felt that familiar leap of heart at what the Web could bring.
The book then takes a dark turn as Lessig explains how each layer of the Net is falling under systems of control--systems that threaten to take away the values, norms and architecture of the Net that make it such a free field for innovation. Behind this are the usual culprits--mega-corporations aided and abetted by politicians and the courts. The result is that the commons of the Net is seriously threatened.
But that's only part of the tale Lessig tells. He explains:
"The larger story here is not about dark forces. It is about a blindness that affects our political culture generally. We have been so captured by the ideals of property and control that we don't even see the benefits from resources not perfectly controlled.... This is not a conspiracy. It is a cultural blindness."
In short, it's a story about us, We the People, who are unquestioningly letting Big Money and Big Government erode the freedoms and commons of the Net.
Lessig concludes with some practical, common-sense and challenging recommendations to stop the growing avalanche. Yet the final chapter is chilling, Lessig's closing even more so:
"We move through this moment of an architecture of innovation to, once again, embrace an architecture of control--without noticing, without resistance, without so much as a question. Those threatened by this technology of freedom have learned how to turn the technology off. The switch is now being thrown. We are doing nothing about it."
Want to do something about it? You can begin by reading this book.
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'. Much of the time, he would do better to refer merely to `creativity' or `the free flow of ideas', which are precious enough in themselves to warrant protection. Inasmuch as Lessig is arguing for a rigorously experimental outlook when it comes to regulation, so that innovation might have the space to flourish, the book makes sense. But the fact is that there is a paucity of innovation today, and a cheapening of what the term `innovation' means, that goes beyond intellectual property disputes. Information technology, in particular, has conspicuously failed to live up to the many claims made for its innovative character. At no point does Lessig confront this fact.
Third, Lessig assumes too much about his readers' opinion of the US Constitution. As it happens, I believe that the Constitution is one of the best legal frameworks for the safeguarding of liberty and creativity that humanity has ever come up with. And Lessig's passion for Constitutional principle is infectious. But I am not American, and merely appealing to the historical origins of a legal principle does not suffice to convince me of the merit of that principle - principles also need to be defended in the abstract. There are many readers outside of the USA (not to mention a few within it) who - unlike myself - have no inbuilt respect for the Constitution, and will dismiss Lessig's argument out of hand rather than giving it a chance.
Fourth, Lessig's presentation could be better. Certain of his presentational choices - using environmentalist metaphors to make his point, using the word `Soviets' as a pejorative shorthand - are guaranteed to unnecessarily annoy portions of his readership. Conversely, despite Lessig's repeated (and correct) assertion that the intellectual property debate isn't about Left vs Right, he goes to unnecessary lengths to justify his argument in the terms of Left and Right. His tortured justifications for arguing against proprietary control often read like `I'm a Republican, get me out of here!'
Fifth and finally, while Lessig praises the creators of the internet for being `driven by humility to a system of non-control', he exhibits a little too much `humility' himself. When he slips in disclaimers like `I'm just a lawyer; I haven't the skill to model this counterfactual', you feel like shaking him by the shoulders and saying `For god's sake man, have the courage of your convictions!'
I've been a little harsh in my criticism, so allow me to reiterate. Whatever its flaws, this is an excellent book, and an important addition to a small but growing genre - [...].