What’s so great about Code?

Aha! I was repeatedly exclaiming! The mental hiccups caused by swallowing Lawrence Lessig’s Code and other laws of Cyberspace when I first read it in 2004. You can make it out from the first page itself that the book is going to alter the way you think about the Internet. It has special relevance for lawyers and policy makers seeking to regulate the Internet.

It deflates some prevalent myths that have dwarfed constructive and creative thinking about the Internet’s relationship to law. The first myth is that the Internet represents a special character that it should be thought of as its own sovereign with no relevant ties to traditional legal systems (internet anarchism). The second myth is that technical solutions to misconduct on the Internet always are better than legal solutions (defamation via wikipedia, report abuse on orkut).

The book is groundbreaking in content as well as form. Lessig engages the reader with four stories that illustrate the issues posed by the Internet on traditional legal institutions. These stories converge into four main themes, “(1) regulability, which is a function of network architecture; (2) regulation by code, likely to increase in importance as governmental pressure for regulation stimulates private actors to express rules in computer programs; (3) competing sovereigns, not only competition among nation states, but also between nation states and private communities and governments in cyberspace; and (4) latent ambiguities in constitutions and other basic law, which present the risk that constitutional protections will become even thinner as cyberspace becomes a more important marketplace and political arena.”

Here there are a plethora of arguments for the tech lawyer, how to control the internet (through the famous norms-market-architecture-law quadrilateral), and why regulation is necessary to prevent further erosion of liberties.

The second edition of the book (titled Code Version 2.0) is available free for download under the Creative Commons License. Yes, Lessig is a smart man, he believes in freeing up content and in the same breath states, “obviously, you can also buy the book at the links to the right. (A wise choice, as it is cheaper than printing the book in most contexts.)”