Saturday, February 1, 2014

"What Things Regulate"

            “What Things Regulate” is the seventh chapter in Code: and Other Laws of Cyberspace by Lawrence Lessig. Published in 2000, his book discussed the impending regulation of cyberspace, and what laws or codes would look like in the internet. This particular chapter discussed the forces of  law, social norms, market, and technology/architecture and how they constrain the choices an individual might make. He discusses these four constraints using various legal, "real space" examples to illustrate what could happen in the cyberspace.
           This book is intended to be a call to action. Lessig argues that people need to understand how regulation works and “think beyond the narrow threat of government. The threats to liberty have never come solely from government, and the threats to liberty in cyberspace certainly will not” (86). Lessig believes it is the responsibility of the citizens to guide the regulation of the internet in their favor rather than accept the guidance of the "invisible hand" principle that will allow government or commerce to write the code of the cyber space. Left to its own devices, Lessig argues, the cyber space would fall victim to direct and indirect government control.

            Lawrence Lessig is a currently a professor at Harvard Law School, and still advocates for limited government regulation and the power of the citizenry. An updated version of his work was published in 2006 as Code: and Other Laws of Cyberspace 2.0. According to the book description on, it is "the first reader-edited version of a popular book" as many revisions came from readers via a wiki on his website. Before the days of Code, Lessig was was an expert witness during the Microsoft anti-trust trial in 1997. More recently, in April 2013, Lessig spoke about his opinions through a Ted Talk, “We the People, and the Republic We Must Reclaim”. This Talk was not about internet regulation, but about how political campaigns are funded by the smallest percentage of Americans and why citizens should be concerned. He continues to encourage the citizenry to take charge and make their democracy what they want, just as he encourages them to take responsibility for the cyber space in Code.
          Lessig's Code was received well upon its publication. Temple University Law Professor David Post published an interesting review where he discussed and countered some of Lessig's points about the detrimental effects of allowing the "invisible hand" to determine cyberspace law. Although this book was published over ten years ago, government regulation of the internet remains a relevant issue. As information professionals, we have an obligation to promote equal access to information. How does government regulation of the Internet, the largest information resource at our disposal, affect the LIS field? Should the internet be truly free of legal, norm, market, and technology constraints? Is there any need for government intervention in the cyber space?

Lessig, Lawrence. “About.” Lessig. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.
Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Web. 2 February 2014.
"Jacket." Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Web. 2 February 2014.
"Code: Version 2.0." Web. 2 February 2014.
Lawrence Lessig, "What things regulate," in Code and other Laws of Cyberspace (New York: Basic Books, 1999), pp. 85-99. 
Markoff, John. “Judge’s Ruling Is a Setback For Microsoft.” The New York Times 12 Dec. 1997. Web. 2 February 2014.
Post, David G. “What Larry Doesn’t Get: Code, Law, and Liberty in Cyberspace.” Stanford Law Review 52.5 (2000): 1439–1459. JSTOR. Web. 2 February 2014.
"We the People, and the Republic We Must Reclaim." Ted Talks. Web. 2 February 2014.

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