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the ’60s and ’70s communications guru who gave us such digital age koans as “the medium is the message.” \(Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow’s essays, redolent of patchouli and a there are the business tracts dressed up as pop philosophy: odes to free markets and technology that, as it happens, will help make you a billionaire! Finally, there’s the technical stuffpenned by lawyers, programmers, and academicsoften as bland as it is nutritious. The Future of Ideassober, publicminded, yet eloquentis an exception. I was once a student of Lessig’s, and the experience of reading The Future of Ideas is much like absorbing one of his lectures: He is a demanding but able guide, leading you through a number of theoretical and technical thickets, but always for a purpose. Lessig aims for an informed lay audience; he often seems to speak directly to the U.S. Congress, or to the high-tech boardrooms in the West. He can hold his own with both economists . and engineers, and manages to explain concepts from their disciplines in everyday English. \(for the most part: be prepared to learn about “nonrivalrous resources” and “802.1 lb protocols,” among other mouthfuls. And geekier readers can opt to frolic in the forest of endnotes, dense with nuanced qualifications, academic citaLessig is also a talented storyteller who draws upon anecdotes and short histories to help drive his High Thoughts. He gives a clear overview of the origins and benefits of the opensource and “free” software movements. His tale of AOL-Time Warner rises above the knee-jerk merger-bashing that often passes for criticism. \(The merged company’s concentration of power isn’t inherently dangerous, he argues; what’s dangerous is that power combined with the company’s apparent will to exclude others from accessing its network, which, like public roads or telephone lines, millions have Microsoft’s tangles with the lawhe was for a time the “special master” in the antitrust caseis must-read for anyone who never quite got it the first time around. It also exemplifies Lessig’s broader thesis: Behavior like Microsoft’s is only possible, he argues, when a company perfectly controls its software’s source code. It can thus “behav[e] strategically, by changing its code to challenge competitors. It can `control the pace of innovation’ because only it can muck about with its code.” Some of the book’s factoids, while serving Lessig’s larger purpose, are just plain cool in their own right. Did you know that Native American tribes, with the help of a guy who wired the Kingdom of Tonga, may soon “be connected at higher speed than the fastest cable modems in AT&T’s labs”? Or that Hedy Lamarr, the Hollywood beauty, pioneered a way for submarines to communicate in secretan invention that may one day help a full-on wireless Internet happen? \(During World War II, Lamarr helped create a transmitter that jumped from frequency to frequency, while the receiver, programmed to anticipate the transmitter’s jumps, would tune to different frequencies accordingly. When finally perfected, this same technique will allow users Lessig’s user-friendly approach perhaps has an ulterior motive. By resisting handed-down terms of art’ legalese in particularLessig subtly frees himself to redefine the very landebate. In the process, he scrambles conventional notions of ideology as they apply to the Net. Lessig rejects the term “intellectual property” itself as misleading. “By simplifying the nature of the rights that IP law protects, by speaking of it as property… our thinking is guided in a very particular way…. [W]e see endless arguments for strengthening IP and few for resisting that increase.” Lessig would instead describe patents and copyrights as they are: “monopoly rights”licenses that, like grants from the crown, give their recipients an exclusive right to . trade in a certain good. Is this mere semantics? Not quite, because as capitalist godfather Adam Smith first told us, true “free” enterprise abhors monopolies. In a feat of linguistic judo, Lessig recasts the expansion of “intellectual property” as capitalism’s scourge, not its savior. He doesn’t go so far as to blame the dotbust on the boom of private control; he is more concerned with innovation’s inherent value, and its impact on culture, than its effect on the market. He fears not just for “the innovation of Internet entrepreneurs… but also the innovation of authors or artists.” More generally, Lessig insists that the fight over the Net’s future is “not the traditional struggle between Left and Right or between conservative and liberal.” This is not, he says, “an argument about commerce versus something else.” He’ quotes several free-market darlings to further his point: Friedrich von Hayek, Ronald Coase, Richard Posner, Alex Kozinski, and George Gilder all make cameos. And Lessig’s final chapter, “What Orrin Understands,” praises the Republican senator’s “concern about market power and behavior of the Microsoft Corporation” and “his affection for emerging technologies like Napster.” “Decentralized, diverse, nominated: this is the tradition Hatch defends; this is the architecture of the original Net.” It’s not about left and right, says Lessig, but new and old, innovation and stagnation, “disrupters” and “incumbents.” The great policy question of the 21st century, “will not be which system of exclusive control the government or the market should govern a given resource,” but rather “for any given resource, whether that resource will be controlled or free.” By “free,” Lessig takes care to note, he doesn’t mean zero cost. “Free, not in the sense of free beer, but free in the sense of free speech,” as Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, likes to put it. 12/21/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27