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The Missing Regulation: A Lessig Response

So I am rather confused having read the first 5 chapters of Code 2.0 and chapters 7 and 8 of Remix. The two books do not seem to jive with one another. Sure, both books have an interesting focus on the digital economy but they seem to be asking different questions and coming to radically different conclusions. Before going much further I will admit that these books may coalesce better if I had read them completely, but as time and graduate school are, I do what I am asked and will hopefully go back and finish them some other time.

Anyway, in Code 2.0 Lessig is arguing for a level of regulation in the digital realm. Without regulation, he argues, we come to a economy and culture that is too wildly free and the anonymity of the Internet breaks down too many barriers for being effective agents. Essentially, what I take from Lessig is that regulation imparts a level of order that the Internet and other aspects of the digital age lack. Lessig is arguing for more centralization in an age where everything on the net seems to be decentralizing. Crowdsourcing and collaboration seem the ways to go and regulation does not always seem to fit into those categories. Sure, they need a set of rules to abide by, but as they say in Pirates of the Carribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, “the Code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines.'”

Yet in Remix, it would seem that Lessig is now singing a different tune. Suddenly strict copyright and all this heavy regulation is weighing down the economy that the digital age is building. Those strict copyrights, or copylefts as many (including Lessig) like to call overly restrictive and prohibitive copyright, are closing off avenues of revenue and whole swathes of users and customers because people are turned off in the face of being sued for putting up the lyrics to “All the Single Ladies.” I don’t think Lessig wants to get rid of regulation in Remix, but it seems that what he was looking for before no longer is what drives the economy but rather hinders it.

I think what Lessig is seeing is that the older ways are starting to fade. Though it is a bit late if you ask me, people are finally beginning to see the massive flaws in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Such restrictive measures are keeping people away from the online community which denies value both to the community and to those who profit off the community. There is a much needed shift towards hybrid markets, ones that value money but also value the community and the value the community can impart on the product. A prime example of this is video games. Developers who release free SDKs (Software Development Kits) tend to have a better following because they give the power to the users to create more content. The users, in turn, add more value to the game by adding more features or gametypes which the developer may not have thought of or had the resources to devote to. People marvel at the video game industry and its meteoric rise but it just follows the idea of a hybrid model that Lessig elucidates.

Bottom line? I think Lessig sees the value of what regulation can do, but also recognizes that regulation can, and will, run amuck when profit is the only goal. This is why we need to focus on the community to help reinvest value into the digital economy rather than using the community merely as a means to an end of achieving quotas.


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