Law in the Internet Society

Innovation Under Austerity: Discussion

In some respects, the Q&A section of the video identifies useful points of further discussion. But because the speech was given to what is obviously a "home town crowd," some important objections are not raised, as Mike Nelson suggests in his comments. One useful place to begin is with those objections, which I leave others to state below.

The analysis I offered in this talk is undeniably only a first draft. Many areas I touch upon remain to be filled in. There are basic questions about which I have tried an approach in the talk, where other approaches are also evident. The nature of the immediate situation is apparent, and so (at least to me) is the nature of the Free World's experience, which seems relevant. How to explain the bearing of the latter on the former, however, is not quite so evident, despite my effort here. I look forward to your suggestions.

-- EbenMoglen - 20 Oct 2012

If ~12:00 in speaks to you, please join my and Elvira's (very nascent) conversation over at GoogleNoAppleYes.

-- MatthewCollins - 25 Oct 2012

In your speech (~10:25-11:10) you discuss how the individuals involved in the creation of the internet made it easy to read (through such innovations as the browser and apache) but not easy to write. Was this a conscious and voluntary decision? If so, what was the rationale behind it?

Partly yes, partly no. A browser, which made the Web easy to read, is simply one application, running on a "client" computer. So, from the moment the first browser (Mosaic, a piece of free software at written at NSCA) appeared, it could be used in any computer system. Web servers, on the other hand, were more complicated programs located in the sorts of computers that individuals didn't use. The Web needed most of its first 4,000 days (being still less than 8,000 days old), to develop until tools like the one we are using, which made it easy for people to publish on the Web, were in place.

Also, MS, as the dominant maker of server-side software until we in the Free World destroyed its monopoly forever, was not interested in the Web for 1,000 days. When it did become interested, its primary desire was to break compatibility with the other parts of the Web, though the "embrace and extend" behavior that was MS's characteristic technology strategy until we minimized and crippled them. So MS made the Web corporate, through a proprietary publishing platform called "Frontpage," which deliberately tried to prevent other browsers from working, by creating non-standard web data. That individuals should have server computers was contrary to the MS view of the world. This week's lecture, Freedom in the Cloud, discusses why.

You then mention that Zuckerberg made the internet easy to write and ultimately created social harm. But was making the internet easy to write a cause of this social harm, or just a means to an unfortunate end? Wouldn't it be possible that an easily writable internet could create substantial social good, much like the way in which accessible free software that anyone could “write” or use could have profound impacts around the world? I believe you touch on this between 12:00 & 13:00, but could you please expand on this further?

-- ConradJohnson - 31 Oct 2012

The harm created by Zuckerberg wasn't in making things easy, but in making things centralized. Instead of a universe of peers, each publishing for itself, logging access for itself, storing data for itself, we got instead One Great Big Database run for profit by a thug. I expand on this further, as I say above, in this week's talk on Freedom in the Cloud.

You seem to acknowledge in this speech that most of mankind’s knowledge is not protected by copyright (or at least not protected anymore). In class, however, you pointed out several times that copyright law remains an important barrier to spreading knowledge. In my opinion, guaranteeing free (and “neutral”) access to the net to everyone remains still a far more important issue in 2012 to fight ignorance than abolishing copyright law. I am not arguing that copyright does not represent a problem in this regard, but the unlimited and uncensored access to the net by everyone appears more important to me today.

I don't disagree with you. Abolishing copyright is quite unnecessary: my point is that it is obsolete and will die by itself. All forms of limitation of knowledge, however, are now mere efforts to impose ignorance on the poor, and should be regarded as equally immoral and equally unethical. Public policy should be directed, everywhere, at eliminating ignorance everywhere. That has never before been possible in human history, owing to the high marginal cost of knowledge. It now is. See, if you like the dotCommunist Manifesto for the fuller analysis.

My other question (linked to the above) concerns your suggestion that the European Commission should scan all books (in the public domain) in European libraries and enable anybody to access them via the net. I fully agree with your suggestion that Google offering the same service in return for the right to spy on all readers is a bad bargain and that there should be competition from the “free world” on the same service. However (as a citizen of an EU member country, perhaps), I do not see any necessity for such initiative to be conducted by a state body or financed by taxpayer money (even if the amount does not seem to be as high as one could expect). Don’t you think that the same result could be achieved even more efficiently by a decentralized initiative built by readers themselves (a kind of Wikipedia of books where anyone can submit a scanned and OCR-ed version of any work in the public domain)?

Do you really think that taxpayers' money should not be spent on public libraries?

So, yes but no. I have pointed out before, and will discuss at further length later in the term, that book scanning is a do it yourself activity that all of you ought to know how to do. Building the sharing platform for books is resisted by publishers, because even if we only scan and distribute books in the public domain, we by doing so will destroy the immense and indefensible profit margins in making "e-books." Everyone is building "platforms" which real decentralized book scanning will make obsolete before they are expensively built and promoted.

So what is really the maneuvering here is the politics of implicit subsidies for future ignorance-imposition by publishers, and the global politics of knowledge-provision and cultural development. I will be speaking to those issues, specifically again in the European context, in a speech we shall watch together shortly.

-- PeterLing - 01 Nov 2012

Disintermediation, as you’ve discussed in class and in your talk, is disrupting a variety of industries. As 3rd party intermediaries are removed in a variety of contexts it’s become clear many have not served much of a purpose and have stifled innovation in a variety of ways. Unfortunately intermediaries are still pervasive - you mentioned the healthcare and financial industry as being recent examples of successful intermediaries.

In the past few years there’s been discussion of the financial services industry taking the country’s best and brightest and channeling their talents into an industry that does not produce a societal benefit. It seems the same might be said for Silicon Valley’s top engineers when they go work for Facebook or an Apple. You mentioned that the internet itself was the product of disintermediated innovation. Those who did the innovating must have worked for intermediaries themselves, even if that is not who they were “innovating” for.

My question is how do you prevent intermediaries, no matter what industry they’ll form in, from attracting the top talent that otherwise could be innovating absent a formal structure and entrenching their own power? Facebook’s motto, “the hacker way” seems to have co-opted the very mentality that would produce innovation under austerity. Is this something you think is a problem?

-- JohnStewart - 06 Nov 2012



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r6 - 06 Nov 2012 - 03:47:04 - JohnStewart
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