Digital technology-- of which the Internet is the most noteworthy exemplar--has enabled an extraordinary flourishing of creativity: people graduate from being passive consumers of music, video and other content to becoming publishers of their own works. Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School, suggests that the neutral platform, or commons, on which this newfound freedom thrives faces a mortal threat from entrenched telecommunications, cable and media interests. Lessig, who articulates these arguments in his recent book, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, talked with Scientific American's Gary Stix about what lies ahead.
Describe the notion of a commons in relation to the Internet and how it might be endangered.
The Internet until now has been designed so that the network owner is not in a position to exercise control over the content or applications that run on it. The right to innovate is therefore held in common among all people who use the network and cannot be checked by the network owner. This freedom is increasingly under threat. The danger is that one class of property owners will use the legal system to veto certain kinds of innovation that no longer accord with its business interests. These owners will have the power to choose what kind of innovation is permitted--and that's inconsistent with the innovation commons.
This article was originally published with the title Tragedy of the Cyber Commons.