Posts Tagged ‘copyright/cyberlaw’

Creative Commons as a hacking exercise in triplicate

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

A lot of Lessig’s thinking in Code can be seen in the way in which the Creative Commons project developed and ultimately went about achieving its goals. Specifically, you can see Lessig’s thinking about hacking, and about the way code affects behavior, in the three-level approach of the Creative Commons project. The way the project defined its three levels to write for (machine, human, legal) is interestingly analogous to writing a given piece of code for three different programming languages or operating systems. In fact, I think the operating systems analogy might be apt here.

With its goal of changing the way that people think about, distribute, and reuse creative works, the Creative Commons had to target multiple levels of society. Interestingly, though, each level needed similar things, but accomplishing those things was vastly different depending on what was being targeted.

The legal system, the code of law (an especially apt turn of phrase in this instance) required a strict and carefully defined set of documents which conformed to the “operating system” of the courts. This code had to be comprehensive, well-planned, and legally unassailable if the project as a whole was to succeed. Errors at this level could easily cause the entire project to collapse as they could lead to the social goals of the project failing due to the lack of legal support. If the project claimed to encourage sharing, but legally did nothing, then it could not possibly succeed.

On the opposite end of the spectrum there was the machine-readable code. Computer code in a literal sense (it actually might be more accurate to talk about it being a code schema rather than actual code). It isn’t entirely clear to me just how make-or-break this was to the project’s success, but it could easily be rather high. The machine-readable part of the project was primarily about reducing the effort of using Creative Commons-licensed work. By marking such work in ways that computers could filter, it made it much easier for people looking for materials to use to find them. This sort of friction reduction often makes the difference between achieving a critical mass of adoption for a big project and it ending up in a niche of people who like the idea and are willing to put up with the tremendous amount of work required to sustain participation.

Finally, there was the human code. Making the Creative Commons project understandable in plain language (with the legal language supporting that plain language understanding) was vital for a number of reasons. It allowed non-lawyers to see what was going on with the project, but more importantly it allowed the project to explain itself. This was vital because at its core the Creative Commons is an attempt to hack the way society thinks. The legal and machine-readable code all exists to support a shift in human thought and behavior patterns, and the code of human society, while supported by both, is neither legal nor machine-readable.

Ultimately the Creative Commons project succeeded to the degree that it did because it combined hacks to all three of these “operating systems”. Hacking any single one of them would have failed because, for instance, changing the legal code without making people care about those changes would have made the project basically inert.


A look at Lessig’s “Code”

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

I’ve always been very interested in looking back at the things people wrote about the internet ten or fifteen years ago. Back when the shape of things was so different, and we didn’t really have much of an idea of what was going on, or especially where things were going, but we tried to get a handle on it all anyway. Code was published in 1999, over a decade ago, before the dot-com bubble burst. Given the time (and the timing) it is not in any way surprising to see that there are plenty of things Lessig got wrong. What I find most fascinating is the number of things he got right, or at least right enough.

As is inevitable with this sort of predictive stuff, when you’re right, you tend to be right about structural things rather than specific details. Lessig rightly observed that 1) the structure of the internet, the protocols upon which it is built, are viewpoint agnostic, 2) commercial interest drives development of new protocols, 3) commercial interest benefits from better identification technologies for all sorts of reasons.

He was wrong about details like the advent of a wide-spread unified identity protocol. Which, in some ways, strikes me as quite interesting. It seems to suggest that users are willing to provide identifying information for specific purposes, but that carrying a sort of “photo ID for the web” isn’t something they want to do. This, perhaps, has to do with the increased awareness of identity theft risks, and people would rather not put all their data in one place due to the risk of compromise. Even if, ironically, that’s safer than the current “put it in many places” strategy.


My angle on Cyberlaw

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

While it’s not really in line with the readings, I did want to get my thoughts written down before the class really gets rolling.

While I’ve bounced around the internet enough to have plenty of different angles and takes on the copyright issue (music, media, software, and so on), my most recent looks have been focused pretty heavily on fan-produced derivative works. Fanfiction, amateur music videos, that sort of thing. And that has provided me with a number of interesting takes on why copyright matters, why people care, and also where people feel comfortable ignoring it.

So while I’m certainly interested in the actual legal structures which surround copyright law both domestically and internationally, especially as those structure struggle to deal with the massive changes the internet has inflicted on the media landscape, my main interest is really in things like personal reactions and justifications. Why do people think it’s important to protect the sanctity of authorial control.

I’ll almost certainly end up talking about this sort of thing quite a bit, but one of the examples that strikes me as extremely interesting is that fan-based groups, which tend to play pretty fast and loose with the letter of copyright and produce staggering amounts of highly derivative work without even thinking about seeking permission from the original creator(s), tend to be very upset when their other people in their communities make derivatives of their (already derivative) work without permission. That juxtaposition is fascinating, and hints at a lot of complexities in what people want out of copyright law, or at least what people want out of whatever rules/norms end up defining authorial control of generated content.

Yeah. You’ll probably hear me talking about this a lot.