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The American Prospect: Innovation, Regulation, and The Internet

Mar 26, 2000, 17:35 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Lawrence Lessig)

[ Thanks to Wendell Cochran for this link. ]

"About five minutes into the session, two staffers came in late. And after about a minute more of my presentation, one of the latecomers had heard enough. Here I was, he objected, arguing that the government should "begin regulating the Internet." Where was the limit? Where would I draw the line? Today I was calling for the regulation of broadband cable; should we also regulate broadband wireless? And if wireless, then satellite too? Was there any stopping this "new" regulation of cyberspace? Was I proposing that we regulate Linux (or "Line-Ucks," as he mispronounced it) because it might become as popular as Windows?..."

"At the core of the open-source and free software movements lies a kernel of regulation as well. But this regulation is quite different from the regulation that governed AT&T. At its root, open code rests upon a license--upon a kind of law or regulation that controls how this "open code" can be used. Despite the monikers "free" and "open," this license is not forgiving. It is a fairly strict requirement about the uses to which free or open-source software can be put. One does not take open code in the sense one might take a free leaflet from a vendor on the street. A free leaflet one can burn, or box up, or keep from others in a million possible ways. Open code gives the recipient no such power...."

"End-to-end differs from open code, however, in an increasingly important way. Unlike the restrictions that govern open code, the principle of end-to-end is not enforced by law. It is perfectly possible, and in the main, completely legal, to build technologies that violate end-to-end, and then to integrate those technologies into the Internet. Many companies have, and among the technologies being proposed for the future, many more will. Thus, rather than a rule, end-to-end is a norm among network architects. And like many norms, it is increasingly becoming displaced as other players move onto the field."

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