Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Participatory Authoring in Lessig's "Code v2"...

As a student of Internet Governance, there is one seminal book which is THE must-read in the field (not to mention one of my all-time favorites) - "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace", written by Stanford Professor Lawrence Lessig.

Lessig has just released the sequel, aptly titled "Code v2". While he claims that it furthers the same argument, what is unique is that the book was written through a collaborative effort with the general internet-using public. For the past year or so, people could go to his website and make their own edits to the book, add their own examples, update certain arguments, bring in new facts - basically write portions of the book that they thought applied. In doing so, and in the grand tradition of Web 2.0, Lessig has blazed a new trail of fostering user-generated content to act as his co-author.

While Lessig maintained final editorial control over what ultimately made the just-released final copy, this must be considered one of the first examples of participatory authoring in a print publication of such magnitude - which is quite a revolutionary idea, particularly in the world of academia. Furthermore, "Code v2" is licensed under the Creative Commons license, meaning that, similar to many Open Source projects in the computing world, the book can be freely downloaded, shared with others, and even changed or modified by anyone. The only caveat is that any modifications must be similarly licensed.

Imagine that - a book that incorporates the values of Web 2.0 participation, as well as the Open Source community. Lessig has officially broken down the ivory tower of academia by allowing non-PhDs to actually write "his" book. For these reasons, he may just be my new hero. But as a burgeoning PhD myself, I am ultimately left to wonder: Has my entire career just been rendered obsolete?

(And for the record, what the book argues is that, on the internet, "code is law". For example, when AOL programs its chatrooms to have a maximum of 12 users at a time, it is essentially creating a law that sets a limit on public gatherings (as opposed to in real-space, where the U.S. Constitution gurantees freedom of association). Lessig himself summarizes his full argument as the following: "Simple libertarianism will not preserve liberty in cyberspace. As the code changes in light of the values of both commerce and government, cyberspace will become an increasingly regulable space. The aim of anyone concerned to protect a particular mix of liberty in cyberspace must therefore account for this mixture of code and law that currently exist, and how it is likely to evolve... [T]hat mix will tend to overprotect intellectual property. It will underprotect privacy. And paradoxically, the failure of effective regulation in the context of at least two speech contexts will tend to weaken free speech values in cyberspace. Finally, ...the emerging architecture of the Internet will enable the reemergence of local regulation of behavior on the Internet.")

As fascinating as the "participatory authoring" nature if the book is, it also just so happens to be a very accessible and fun read :-)


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