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  • Innovative
  • Applicable


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, getAbstract finds that it is still required reading for anyone who cares about the social impact of the most important technology since electrification.

About the Author

Lawrence Lessig is the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law at Stanford Law School.



Anarchy, the State and the Internet

“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of the Mind.” So begins an influential declaration posted on the Web in 1996 by John Perry Barlow, former lyricist of the rock group the Grateful Dead, describing how the Internet would render traditional government (among other things) obsolete. Barlow declaims at length about an Internet with no regulation and no traditional property rights; an Internet that puts users beyond physical coercion; an Internet that “is both everywhere and nowhere.” It is an anarchist’s utopia governed only by the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), a new world where the creations of the mind can be born and distributed “at no cost.” This world, rhapsodizes Barlow, “is different.”

A decade later, such rhetoric sounds ridiculous. The Internet (“cyberspace”) looks quite like the rest of the world. It is costly to maintain (if you don’t think so, look at the bill you get from your Internet service provider), stuffed with all sorts of property (songs, spreadsheets and software, not to mention all the hardware that...

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