Thursday, October 25, 2012

Internet + Big Business Interest = Lack of Innovation?

After a valiant 2 hour struggle with my router, I have successfully regained access to the Internet! I have to admit, I thought it was pretty funny that I was having so much trouble accessing the Internet to write a blog post about control and ownership of Internet content. Now to the important stuff...

In "The Internet Under Siege," Lessig recaps the creation of the Internet and recent attempts by corporations to maintain control over content through copyright laws. He begins with the idea that the core resources of the Internet were left in a "commons," pointing out that from its beginning the Internet has been decentralized. It is this open structure that has led to innovation, spurred by individuals from all around the world. He describes the Internet as having multiple layers. There is a physical layer (computers, wires, etc.) that is private property. In the middle is the end-to-end design that creates the "core" of the Internet. Then there is the content layer (material dispersed through network) that is often protected by copyright laws. Lessig argues that the code layer is the Internet commons where the network has remained free. This open architecture has led to innovations ranging from web-based email to

Unfortunately, this idea of the "commons" as an equally accessible source for everyone runs counter to a very American idea of property ownership and profiting from one's own products. Old corporations want to protect their powerful pre-Internet positions. They have attempted to do this by putting pressure on the physical and content layers of the Internet, which has consequently affected the freedom of the code layer as well. Perhaps most visible has been the music industry's attempt to control the distribution of music. Ultimately, Lessig argues that a restriction on the code layer is an extreme threat to future innovations. New codes, programs, and technologies will be shut down as other businesses use copyright law to protect their corporate interests.

In the end, Lessig suggests that this decentralized architecture of the Internet provides opportunities for innovation all around the world - innovations that could potentially "foster democracy and economic growth worldwide" (401). Therefore, the limitation of the Internet commons is detrimental, especially for developing countries. I couldn't help but question this technologically deterministic statement. Does the Internet really have the power to democratize countries? It seems that Lessig's statement overemphasizes the power of technology in creating social change. As we saw in the relative ineffectiveness of the One Laptop Per Child campaign, technology on its own cannot be responsible for creating change.

On another note, Lessig's writing reminded me of the recent attempts in Congress to "stop piracy" through PIPA and SOPA. While I am not very knowledgeable about the details of the bills, the continued battle over online piracy shows that old business models will have to continue to shift to correspond to the open architecture of the Internet commons. As public outcry over PIPA and SOPA have revealed, big business will not be simply limit Internet freedom for the sake of their own corporate interests. As we can see, the Internet is a totally new domain, and the relationship between corporate ownership and free speech will continue to be tested in the years to come.

Wikipedia's "Blackout" in protest of PIPA and SOPA earlier this year.

1 comment:

  1. Jenny, nice summary of Lessig, and thanks for reminding me to post this link to a great chart showing the relationship of copyright duration to the "lifetime" of Mickey Mouse, Disney's signature character. Notice a correspondence?