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It is better
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not know why

John Sumser

is more
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Weekend Reading
(June 18, 2004)
The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons In a Connected World

By Lawrence Lessig
Random House, 2001
ISBN 0-375-50578-4

Ideas have profound economic consequence. You have direct experience with the window of innovation opened by the Internet in the mid-1990s. Either as beneficiaries or victims of that extraordinary moment in time, we have all navigated an enterprise through one of the most creative moments in human history. It was a "Golden Age".

Larry Lessig is a law professor with an astonishing pedigree. A Yale Law graduate, he has spent time in esteemed positions at the Law Schools of Harvard and the University of Chicago. He is currently at Stanford. The Future of Ideas is his call to arms to preserve and to continue that Golden Age.

It was a moment, says Lessig, when the power of networks was just coalescing into something really profound. With millions of individuals (as well as businesses and universities) connected to the Internet, powerful PCs, fast bandwidth, and peer-to-peer software that let people communicate and share with each other, the times were ripe for a real breakthrough in our ability to communicate, collaborate, and participate, not just in fandom, but in making art, creating software, guiding government, forming new social organizations, and so on.

Lessig paints a dark picture of lost opportunity. Among his most pessimistic predictions are that the people who created systems of shared communication, and those that would benefit most from it, are doing little to defend what they've built. What can be done in the face of Hollywood's powerful lobby?

Prosperity requires progress, and progress requires innovation. But while some intellectual property theorists and the shareholders of Disney may favor the extension of intellectual property rights into the infinite future, the long-term impact of an economic system that piles high property rights, while burying the intellectual commons that makes progress possible, could be that all new forms of production grind to a halt.

Whether or not you agree with him, Lessig has articulated a clear and compelling view of the relationship between regulation and innovation. It's an important perspective to understand.

- John Sumser

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Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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