Journal entry #4

Question #8 from the syllabus. Is Lessig overly pessimistic? Is innovation really threatened?

Yes and no. Yes, I believe Lessig is correct in believing that Microsoft and other corporate entities trying to assert control over access and the scope of change on the Internet do represent a threat to innovation, at least innovation as it has so far occurred over the "free commons." So innovation I believe is under threat, not of being extinguished, but simply of taking a different form. A problem with Lessig's argument is that he is overly legalistic - if an activity is illegal, it will stop. This is not always true, however. If a law is not accepted by the people as whole, it will be circumvented, regardless of penalties. Witness prohibition or the black market phenomenon prevalent in the old Soviet Block. Lessig has not considered extra-legal action.

As Lessig points out, America is becoming more legalistic as time goes on - but he fails to mention that we, as a nation are not becoming more law abiding. In fact, I would argue the opposite. People increasingly see fit to bypass the law, not to take it into their own hands (as with lynchings), but to circumvent it entirely. Seatbelt laws, arcane tax codes, copyright laws, anti-drug laws all provide examples of this behaviour being excercised by individuals who either oppose the laws or find them to be inconvenient. Partly this is the fault of legislators - if you cannot effectively enforce a law, it should not be made a law - some other way must be found to achieve the desired affect. To promulgate an unenforceable and unpopular law is to encourage scoff lawry.

I suspect that innovation on the net will continue with or without legal sanction - but the form of innovation will undoubtably change, as will its underlying motivations. This is the danger in my mind - the politicization of the process of innovation as it is forced underground. To innovate in this sense will be an act of rebellion, and the spirit of "free" innovation will be lost to a politically radical fringe.

So, I do not not believe that Lessig is overly pessimistic in the sense of the motivating spirit of innovation, but I do believe that innovation outside of the large corporations will continue to occur.