Notes from iLaw
OCW was kind enough to send me down the road to Harvard for the latest iteration of iLaw, the Berkman Center for the Internetand Society‘s road show detailing the current state and future of Internet law. If you’re not familiar with the Berkman Center, they’re a really wonderful resource and publish a great little newsletter called The Filter (which sounds ominously censorious, given their commitment to freedom on the web).
It’s always fun to catch the Larry Lessig show, live and in courier, and his new book, Free Culture is clearly a must-read for open sharing advocates. Worth noting too, is Jonathan Zittrain’s dire prediction that we are approaching a 9/11-like moment (my comparison, not his) for the Internet, in which someone finally turns the openness of the system against the system itself, and releases a virus that actually does catastrophic damage to computers worldwide. (He pointed out several times in the three day event that the only reason viruses to date don’t erase hard drives as they circulate is that virus writers have not written them to do so–and one line of code is all it would take.) It’s not hard to imagine how this will lead directly to a CyberPatriot Act.
But I have to say, the most interesting of the presenters to me was Yale law professor Yochai Benkler, with whom I’ve previously been unacquainted. Benkler painted the largest picture I’ve yet seen of free sharing economies, describing examples of resource sharing far outside of open educational resources and the free culture movement Lessig describes. He discusses the emergence of open wireless networks, which are essentially AirPort grids with only a few nodes plugged in the net, and the others functioning as repeating stations (start one in your neighborhood now.) He also describes innovative ways that people are harnessing the excess processing and storage capacity of large numbers of PC’s (as well as the excess attention of large numbers of people).
What I find most engaging about Benkler is that while his arguments have a moral underpinning for sure, they are largely economic arguments along the lines of “It works.” The open educational resources movement, and the larger open sharing movements, will get traction on moral arguments, no doubt, but that traction is limited. To pull a phrase from OCW-speak, Benkler gives these movements a real sustainability model, which will ultimately be most compelling to the largest number of people.