Category Archives: ideas

Help needed: Looking for examples


So I’m looking for some examples of sites or companies that fit this particular way of carving up the world. This matrix builds upon stuff I’ve been talking about. But to be clear, let me begin by defining the categories:

RO v. RW environments

This is a distinction between the primary use intended for creative work that the site makes available. It answers the question: “What can you do with the content on this site?”

RO means the primary use intended is “read only” — the content is offered for the purpose of consumption; there’s no invitation to add content back, or to modify the content offered.

RW means the primary use intended is “read/write” — the content is offered in a way that invites others to add or modify the content that is offered. RW sites can be more or less RW: some invite contributions to the site without permitting modification of content offered.

Commercial v. Sharing environments

This is distinction between the objectives of the site. It is a fuzzy distinction, but the core difference is this:

Commercial sites aim primarily to make money. They are usually run by commercial enterprises, and they measure their success in financial terms.

Sharing sites are not aimed primarily at making money. It’s not that creators and users of these sites are communists. It’s just that creators and users of these sites do things other than (try to) make money at least part of the day. Think of the Wall Street mogul who teaches Sunday School (and there are these).

Maybe the best way to feel the distinction between a sharing and commercial site is to imagine the role of money in each: There’s nothing weird about the owner of a commercial site offering her employees more money in exchange for more work. There would be something very weird in our Wall Street mogul trying to opt out of Sunday School one week by offering each of the kids $50. Money is normal in one context; it is out of place in the other.

It’s fairly easy to build a list of examples of each of these four categories. I’ve done that here.

But what I’m particularly interested in is the combination of these two distinctions — the matrix above. I’d be grateful for more examples to fit within each of these four boxes. I’ve built a stub for that list here.

Now obviously, this is social space, not logical space, so the matrix does not describe everything. And indeed, the most interesting category I’m keen to explore are hybrids between commercial and sharing sites — plainly commercial organizations that try to exploit (in the best sense of that term) a sharing economy. The key to success with the hybrid is to exploit without poisoning the sharing community. Linux is the most familiar example of this: Sharing economy motives push many, perhaps most, to contribute; but plainly commercial entities (RedHat, IBM) are trying to exploit that sharing economy.

I’ve got a stub to collect examples of hybrids here, with a bit more explanation about what they are.

Importantly: My aim here is descriptive, not normative. It is to see a wide range of examples to begin puzzling through what makes the most successful within each work. For these purposes, the only evil is force or fraud, and none of the four kinds I’ve mapped need rely upon either. So please direct the flame wars about good and bad elsewhere. Continue reading

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Fair Use and Network Neutrality

So the recent struggles about network neutrality have led me to recognize something I hadn’t quite seen before. And that something in turn makes more puzzling the debates that have been raised around network neutrality.

The something to recognize is that in a fundamental sense, fair use (FU) and network neutrality (NN) are the same thing. They are both state enforced limits on the property rights of others. In both cases, the limits are slight — the vast range of uses granted a copyright holder are only slightly restricted by FU; the vast range of uses allowed a network owner are only slightly restricted by NN. And in both cases, the line defining the limits is uncertain. But in both cases, those who support each say that the limits imposed on the property right are necessary for some important social end (admittedly, different in each case), and that the costs of enforcing those limits are outweighed by the benefits of protecting that social end.

So from this perspective, it is easy to understand those who reject FU and NN (who are they?). And it is easy to understand those who embrace FU and NN. What gets difficult is understanding those who embrace one while rejecting the other — at least when that rejection is articulated in terms of “government regulation.”

For there is a consistency problem for those who embrace FU while arguing against “government regulation to support NN.” For FU and NN are both “government regulations” — each government defined limits on government granted property rights. In both cases, a government official (a court, or the FCC) is telling a property owner “this use of your property is opposed by the state.” And while there are important differences in the way FU and NN get administered, if anything, FU is more vague, more complex, more expensive, and more uncertain than the regulations being called for under NN.

So too are other arguments advanced against NN also available FU. NN opponents say the market will take care of the problem — that people won’t use networks that don’t give them the freedom they want. But the same could be said about copyright — if Madonna’s too restrictive, you could try Lyle Lovett. Some say there’s not a showing of market power with NN sufficient to justify state intervention. But on that standard, could there ever be a justification for FU? Who could possibly have enough culture as to have that amount of market power over culture? And finally, NN opponents say NN would sap the incentives from network owners, and they won’t build fast networks. But again, the same argument is made against FU — that giving up perfect control destroys the incentives of copyright holders. In both cases, the arguments are the same — on the one side, the call for perfect control over a property right; on the other, the demand for some limit in the exercise of a property right.

There’s also a consistency problem of course for those who embrace NN and criticize FU (me, for example). For the reasons I’m critical of FU are exactly the reasons people are fearful of NN. That recognition has helped me understand the nature of the concern about NN. But again, having lived the legal battles over fair use, and watched the regulatory battles over NN(‘s equivalent), I don’t see how anyone can be categorical in embracing FU while rejecting NN.

No doubt, some of those who embrace FU while rejecting NN (or the other way round) do so because the value said to be protected by each is not, in their view, sufficiently strong. That difference wouldn’t raise questions about consistency. It would simply reflect differences in values.

But then let’s hear that debate. Let’s hear people who say competition in applications and content isn’t important. Or that it doesn’t raise issues of free speech. Or whatever other reasons might be advanced to argue that government shouldn’t intervene here. Such arguments would at least be progress in a debate that seems to me so far just stuck in a confusion. Continue reading

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The Anticommons Problem, theory and practice

In this paper, Michael Heller introduced the concept of the “anticommons” — a resource subject to many different “property-like” claims, thus leading to its underutilization. The context was post-Soviet Russia. That context made it sound remote. But the idea was soon domesticated in this paper by Heller and Eisenberg appearing in Science. And then the concept got its most important play in a paper by Nobel Prize winning (and conservative) economist James Buchanan and Yong Yoon, titled Symmetric Tragedies.

That’s all fantastically good theory. Here, however, is the anticommons in practice. There are many more examples like this. I’ll make it a practice of collecting them. Maybe enough examples will get the thick-political types to recognize (as the very much not thick Buchanan recognizes) that the issue of IP reform is not about whether you favor property or not, but whether THE PARTICULAR FORM OF PROPERTY the government has crafted operates efficiently.

(Thanks for the pointer, Tom!) Continue reading

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an odd lessig-blog entry

So Veni Markovski, source of many many great things, especially in Bulgaria (including cc-Bulgaria), asked me to mention a film, The Optimists, which will debut in New York on October 21st. The film is about the Bulgarian conspiracy to save Jews from concentration camps. Veni says it is a fantastic movie.

(For the record: I don’t do movie recommendations except if they come from Veni. So if you ever want your movie mentioned on my blog, don’t ask me. Ask Veni.) Continue reading

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buzz tracking, globally

Here’s a cool remix of the news, in a new service called Buzztracker. Using Google, the site gives a visual representation of news on the net. Continue reading

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the best of reason

choicecover.jpg There is lots to Reason. This book collects the best — including one of my favorites, Copy Catfight, by the great Jesse Walker. Continue reading

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Timing & Vested Rights

Doug Lichtman is an information law scholar at University of Chicago and one of the best of our generation (I recommend in particular his information platforms piece). He and I agree on many things, but disagree on some too. And when you boil things down, the differences come down to something simple: our views on timing…. Continue reading

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Who Cares about Innovation?

Technologists are divided in some ways, but united by a common faith. Stated simply, we worship innovation. Openist, deregulationist, libertarian, or cyber-anarchist all take innovation as deliverance. Our battles are mostly internecine warfare, fights about how best to achieve that common goal. But how often do we ask ourselves: Why? What is the �end� importance of innovation? Is it more than just liking new stuff? How, if at all, does innovation connect with, say, human happiness?… Continue reading

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The Loser's Paradox

Economists who study government (public choice theorists) have since the 1970s been interested in the “Loser’s Paradox.” Can it help explain the content of our copyright and telecommunications laws?… Continue reading

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The Balkanization of the Internet

So how often do you actually visit sites in other countries? How about in other languages? If you’re like many users, the answer may “not that often” (apologies to the foreign readers of Lessig Blog). Its a small sign of the Balkanization of the Internet, a process that is happening faster than anyone is noticing. What we once called a global internet is becoming, for many practical purposes, a collection of nation-state networks, still linked by the internet protocol, but for many purposes, separate. Some of the evidence:… Continue reading

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