Preface for the Future of Ideas by Lawrence Lessig
I still can remember like yesterday the thrill I had when I faced the very first message on my computer confirming it was connected to the web. It was just a black screen with some white letters on it, but clearly a bridge to the new world. The reason why I was so thrilled with the new world was, ironically, that I had no idea what was ever possible to do in that new world. Neither sophisticatedly weaved contents nor a kind guide existed then. Only the message on the black screen, I, and people like myself so impressed by the potential of the new world were there. That was how my PC communication started. And a few years later, Internet appeared and the new world was even more indefinitely expanded beyond the limit of PC communication.
John Perry Barlow, the lyricist of “Greatful Dead” and founder of Electronic Frontier Foundation, has published the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in 1996. (https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html) “We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge”, “The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule,” he states in this document, which was motivated by the Declaration of Independence of the United States. He was filled with confidence toward the new hope and possibilities.
Barlow and I were living on the other side of the globe from each other, but we had the same kind of excitement. The overwhelming thrill I had and the sense of confidence Barlow had all came from the same fact: freedom. The freedom created from uncertainty that is not predictable, possibility that is liberated from any physical, economical limit of reality. This freedom delivered by tangled power cord network and computer code rapidly made the dreamt possibilities come true and changed our lives. Internet, the land of freedom and possibility, seemed that much invincible.
However, in the beginning of the new millennium, Prof. Lawrence Lessig stated that computer code, which became another “code” for online world just as heavy as code law in offline world, is now oppressing the Internet in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, his first book. According to him, code which made online world free then is now ruining it to be even more restrictive than the offline world, only 4 years after John Perry Barlow declared the independence of cyberspace.
The Future of Idea: the fate of the commons in a connected world is Prof. Lawrence Lessig’s second book. It is similar to the first book by Lessig in a way that it talks about how the value and freedom of the Internet is in hazard. But this time, Lessig is more approaching to the issue in creativity- and innovation-wise. He utilizes the keywords ‘commons,’ ‘contrast,’ and ‘control’ to develop his argument about the meaning, possibility, and crisis of creativity and innovation in the field of culture and industry.
‘Commons,’ which can be understood as “share asset,” is about freedom. Commons is resource that every member of the society can use freely without any permission. Commons do not only exist in the world of the Internet. It has been there, although exceptionally, in real throughout the history. Public roadways or parks that allow access of anyone in the community can be called ‘commons.’ But when commons played such a magnificent role was the early Internet era. Commons becomes meaningful not just when it brings freedom, but when it brings values and innovation occurred because of freedom. Lessig explains what is commons in the Internet, what kind of values and innovations it brought out, and what we can learn from it. This book is a priceless opportunity to realize and correct our ignorance and misunderstanding about commons.
The second keyword ‘contrast’ is about the contrast between the real and cyber space. He clarifies that why we could feel the freedom from the Internet–so different from the real world filled with restrictions, and continues what kind of changes we have experienced from the Internet era innovation case by case. A story of creativity and innovation born upon freedom and commons, and a story of potential and hope is told.
But what Lessig really wants to emphasize is the third keyword, ‘control.’ The third chapter is about how the Old started to control and oppress the New. He demonstrates some cases to show how the law and the code, another law in the cyberspace, is ruining commons and freedom of the Internet. The short several years of history of all the collapse of the innovations from chapter 2 is so disconsolate, almost dramatic.
Many people thought Lessig’s first book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace was too pessimistic when it firstly came out because most of them had limitless hope and expectation toward the idealistic freedom of cyberspace then. Many also suggested the cases were very mendable, not to be worried. Though Lessig discloses his grief in his second book, only came one year after his first book. The existent circumstance got even worse than he expected.
After 10 years it has been published, Lessig’s argument still strikes me with a piercing insight. Lessig’s prophecy was proved to be right, and The Future of Ideas became even more suitable to the reality in present. 10 years, which is a long enough time period to change many things in the offline world, changed the sea-changing digital world even more massively. I happened to read this book closely to supervise, but I had a doubt how much a 10-year-old book would carry the story of the contemporary world. Fortunately or unfortunately, this book is more valid than ever now. The Future of Ideas talks about rigid and fierce current state more than any books that came out recently because of his insight and principle. The problems in the prophecy 10 years ago are still ongoing as he indicated.
Recently, an interesting court case has occurred. A portal site user has uploaded a video clip of his 5-year-old daughter singing and dancing to a K-pop song, and was sued by Korea Music Copyright Association claiming for copyright. This incident symbolizes the author’s contention that the creativity and culture of the Internet is absolutely persecuted in this era. Another hilarious story arose when the people concerned gathered for the court case–they came up with an idea that if the content user sings well too much and exceeds the original singer, the copyright holder, it could violate the fair use of copyright content. What a comedy, I would say.
“Soribada,” which has experienced many lawsuit for several years since their first indiction for charge of crime, finally lost its original identity of free music share P2P and became a common, nothing-too-special music file sale shop. The reason was that they refused to distribute selected files only but share any files, although they have upgraded their version to music fingerprint recognition filtering and watermark technology. It was the exact identical case to “Napster.” “Napster” was a brilliant and most effective E2E-implementable information search distribute technology in the human history, but the existing right and industry system unwelcomed the new innovation. P2P, still, is a hotbed of illegality and constantly monitored and restricted.
The Copyright Term Extension Act, or “Mickey Mouse Act” so called, which Lessig lamented, became our reality as well. Copyright was supposed to be a temporary right meant to inspire the creators’ incentive, but this original purpose faded long ago. Now it is protecting the copyright for 70 years after the creator’s death, and this was included in Korea-EU and Korea-U.S.A. Free Trade Agreement. In the end, Korean copyright law was revised due to this Act. People express their concerns what if every content using activity on the Internet is controlled by the authority in close future as revised Korea-U.S.A Free Trade Agreement contains an article saying temporary saving is also counted as copying.
The Internet, once neutral and open based on the free protocol, is now being administered and controlled by the network owners. And therefore, the situation that the network commons is also threatened its existence is ongoing. There has been an intense discussion on network neutrality in Korea recently. Nonetheless, not too many people are realizing what is network neutrality and why it should be treated for a broad discussion. As following the result of the discussion, it is more focusing on how much it would permit the network owners to have an effective network administrating right rather than guaranteeing the neutrality and openness to the most. Lessig began his point from the potential of commons share spectrum, but Korea seems far behind even from that point since only getting connected to wi-fi with smartphones had to go through such a complicated hardship.
The iPhone app “Seoul Bus” case clearly demonstrates the argument this book talks about. This app was developed by a high school student in November of 2009, when iPhone was finally introduced to Korea. Seoul city and Kyunggi provincial government was running a homepage showing location of buses with GPS technology, and the “Seoul Bus” app brought this data to iPhone users on the street. Frankly, who would need bus locations more, those who are home in front of computers or out at the bus stop waiting for the buses to come? The potential of GPS technology system finally became real life useful with the application rather than the ineffective, incomplete previous method. However, Kyunggi Province reacted that they claimed for stopping the “Seoul Bus” service and threatened the developer for legal issues. They insisted that their rights were violated by the developer since he had not asked them for a permission to use the system. Although the service continued due to the existing users’ resistance, this case obviously depicted how the ignorance of the previleged can restrain the innovation brought by freedom and commons.
All these cases tell us that the coerced regulations are making the freedom and commons of the Internet disappear just as Lessig has predicted, and this is on progress. Despite this book is 10 years old, his insight did not expire but still effective–the sorrowful foresight from 10 years ago is now reality, even more severe in the intensity. This is why this book gives its readers such a chill.
Nevertheless, the biggest alert that the Future of Ideas throws at us is about our “forgetting.” We are gradually losing our memory on numerous paradigm-shifting conversions, and the progress and values which became possible because of that conversions in this competitive reality. We are now forgetting how the innovation occurred, mistaking them for like they have been around for ever, and in result–not appreciating them anymore. And our sense of taking these innovations for granted, is leading us to neglect the attempts to threaten and eliminate the innovations.
While only focusing on the existing intellectual property right system, we are missing out things that are very crucial. We are disregarding why the notion of intellectual property right came out in the first place. It was made for incentive of re-creation, in the minimum boundary of respecting the commons for re-creation, not for controlling the utilization. We are neglecting the fact that this confusion is from that the old, analog system cannot handle the energy of the active culture sharing and new creativity of the digital world.
We are missing out that what presented the new industry and creative business people then in the innovative time was free and opened protocol, not the network owners’ control, while we gave too much attention on the impact of the new businesses based on the already existing ones and feeling of insecurity of uncontrolled circumstances.
This “forgetting” causes confusion in us. It makes us to take the ironical situation that the Old suppresses the New as logical, and the unreasonable situation that the essentials of innovation is being removed as a proper alternative. It is a problem that the ones who are in power have not experienced or reasoned the innovation. However, the bigger problem is that the ones who have experienced the innovation are “forgetting” the nature of innovation.
“For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.” Lessing uses this quote from the Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli to refer to the regretful current circumstance that those who can support the innovation are not even sure and hesitate to raise their voice. But I am even more regretful to those who agree to elimination of innovation without any realization, although once they have experienced the innovation.
It has been approximately 7 years that I first met Lawrence. Even though he is one of my closest friends, he is still my great mentor and teacher. He cleared up my view on the value of the openness and the freedom of the Internet, and showed me how a true innovation is made. For his guidance, I could balance myself in between two of the extremes of one or the other, whether in the area of intellectual property right or Internet governance. He inspired me to live a life full of fun and meaning to prove the innovation, not only just as one of those ordinary jurists.
Lessig’s point is always crystal-clear. It has been always like that in his lectures(which are even better than Steve Jobs’ keynote to me), any of his books, or personal conversations. He never gives the reader a riddle or puzzle. He delivers any complicated stories easy with his appropriate metaphors and remix. I readily get amazed by his logic that does not miss a single key point. I first thought that this came from his brilliance and vast knowledge, but now I know that this is from his genuine heart and continuous deliberation. Genuine heart is more persuasive and clear than any other logic. The continuous deliberation brings a penetrating insight, which is not for granted at all. These two characteristics exceed any technical knowledge and method of study.
I could witness Lessig’s insight by meeting with real innovators who created astonishing changes in culture and industries based on freedom and commons.
Jamendo (jamendo.com) is a music distribution site initiated in 2004 by Sylvain Zimmer, a charming young fellow from France in his early 20’s. This website applies Creative Commons Licenses (CCL) to all of its wonderful music sources over 310,000 for its users for free play and download. It is a great platform for indie musicians to promote their music and have more fans. But it is also a good representative for the musicians to collect usage fee from commercial uses such as background music of a store or soundtrack of a film so that the musicians can continue their musical career on the income.
Wikipedia, the famous online encyclopedia, is absolutely one of the most remarkable results of the innovation. It allows anyone to edit, even the contents that someone else has already wrote. This extreme freedom made this challenge the world’s largest online encyclopedia. Numerous editors of wikipedia have no hesitation to make their contributions commons, and that is what leads so many people to be advantaged. They are the true innovators.
We have more examples of commons created by innovators like them: Loftwork, a provider of free illustrations and digital contents, makes profit from tangible product sales or individual art project; Bloter.net, a Korean online news media, allows free distribution through CCL to increase the brand awareness and reduce the expense on right reserving as results; MIT Open Course Ware opens almost every course in the school curriculum, helping anyone around the world who wants to learn, and dragging brilliant individuals to attend the institute; CC Mixter lets its users to upload their performance of a capella content under CCL and permits copying and remixing for free to encourage limitless collaboration work and creativity.
I gained hope for a breakthrough in freedom and commons through their innovations. Even if they are sometimes under pressure or ignorance, but the constant innovations reminds us of what has been making these innovations to be possible. Lessig also does not let go of his hope though he recognizes despites. He calmly explains several ways to reverse this dismal situation, and emphasizes that we are out of the track of innovation and returning to admit the track of control.
I eagerly hope for you that this book can be a turn-arounder, an opportunity to deeply consider what is the best for us. Let us think about rather it is really better to protect intellectual property rights even more severely, more than necessary. Let us think about taht too much control is even worse than little control. Let us question ourselves if “the more, the better” is true in all occasions. Whether you are an expert in intellectual property right or network or nobody, let us think about where these innovations truly came from if they deserve appreciations.
Creativity and innovation are not something too enormous for ordinary people. They come from a free way of thinking and courageous action. And what initiates them is, enlightenment. This not only will decide the future of creativity and innovation but also our future. This is why the title of this book is the Future of Ideas.
Original text: 윤종수(Jay Yoon), http://jayyoon.kr, @iwillbe99
Translator: 정다예(DaYe Jung), @dayejung