Subject: Book plug: Lessig, "Code"
From: <>
Date: Tue, 28 Dec 1999 10:41:46 -0800
Tue, 28 Dec 1999 10:41:46 -0800
I'd like to recommend Lawrence Lessig's  Code and other laws of
cyberspace .  I'd put it on par with last year's  Inforules  -- one of
the most intelligent and interesting books covering topics involving
the Internet.

The focus is largely the nature of regulation on the Web.  It is a
counterpoint to the Libertarian viewpoint (Lessig points to Peter Huber
as a chief proponent of the other side [1]).  The basic premise is that
the individual on the Net is influenced by four factors:  Law, social
pressure, commerce, and "architecture".  It's the architecture componenet
that Lessig focusses on to the greatest extent, and he suggests that
how the architecture is formulated has a tremendous impact on whether
or not the Net is a power for freedom or oppression.

Lessig relates architecture on the Net to architecture in the physical
world, say, the replacement of real estate covenants and other legal
methods of restricting ethnic mobility with design of transportation
routes -- highways, railroads, pedestrian bypasses, mass transit systems
-- to effectively divide urban -- and ethnic -- zones.  Other examples
would be speed bumps (explicit architecture), winding roads (implicit
architecture to similar ends), drug and abortion policies, and online
communities including the Well, AOL, and several law school discussions.

Issues addressed include privacy (anonymity, surveillance, and
recordkeeping), free speach, and sovereignity.

Lessig covers the free software/open source (he proposes "open code"
to sidestep  that  debate) issue in depth.  He observes that free
software is a countervailing force to greater centralized control and
authoritarianism.  He doesn't appear to feel that free software is an
inevitability, though he expresses a fairly decent understanding of
the dynamics which make it possible, as well as those which may slow
its adoption.

I've found two observations which I find personally fulfilling -- my
current metric for deciding I've stumbled across a good idea is to find
the fool who beat me to it.  One is the Yale Wall -- a physical message
board at Yale Law School which allows anonymous posting only if another
individual is willing to vet the post [2].  This is a scheme appropriate
for several on-line message boards.  Another is work by Mark Lemley,
another legal scholar, who suggests that proprietary software leads to
*non*-modular software architectures.  I and others have suggested that
modularity of design is both a necessary and selected-for characteristic
of free software projects.  Lemley's observation is the logical corollary
of this principle -- closed source leads to bad software architecture

Another personal pleasure in the book is *real* endnotes -- in the legal
tradition, Lessig supports his arguments copiously with citations.  I
think of books as nodes in a web and find the demise of the footnote and
endnote in contemporary texts lamentable.  Lessig doesn't provide a
bibliography, which makes finding cites somewhat challenging, but the
endnotes themselves are a literary delight.

Lessig is a first-rate legal scholar -- currently a Harvard law professor,
previously at University of Chicago and Yale, special master in the
Microsoft trial, general genius.  His understanding of legal and technical
issues is quite good.  I'm not quite as convinced of his presentation
of economic issues -- he clearly has a good general understanding of
the topic.  But his treatment of certain issues
 -- one example is DAT and copy protection mechanisms, which he discusses,
and the subsequent complete disappearance of this market, which he

Lessig's cautionary tale is what I call Stallman's nightmare.  It's the
world of micropayments which leaves no room for fair use and tracks
all behavior concerning information goods.  While I've no doubt such a
world is technically possible, I don't see it as a likely predominant
outcome in a world which supports open source and open protocols, and
can readily provide alternatives to such a scheme.

There was an interview with Lessig about two weeks ago on TechNation,
with Moira Gunn.  Audio archives should be online mid-January at

    Lawrence Lessig,  Code and other laws of cyberspace , Basic Books,
    New York, (c) 1999 ISBN 0-465-03912-X

Karsten M. Self (
    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?

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[1] Peter Huber,  Law and Disorder in Cyberspace:  Abolish the FCC and
let Common Law Rule the Telecosm 

[2] Lessig, p 79.

[3] Lessig, p 225.  Mark A. Lemley and David W. O'Brien, "Encouraging
Software Reuse,"   Stanford Law Review  49 (1997): 255.

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