The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World by Lawrence Lessig - ISBN 0375505784 - Random House 2001


note that this was finished much earlier but without recall, recall starts a month before the current date to already start with very spaced recalls


Learning a lot in reading Information feudalism and thus wanting additional view points. Also the title, seen my research area, is of course very appealing.

Pre-reading model

Draw a schema (using PmGraphViz or another solution) of the situation of the area in the studied domain before having read the book.


  • Part 1 : (80 pages, ~35%) Dot.Commons seems to focus on the history of commons at large with a special focus on telcos and provides a "layered model" (Code/Content/Physical)
    • very technological view and focusing much more on IT than on the broader NBIC problematic
    • some studies on GPL and other licenses
  • Part 2 : (40 pages, ~15%) Dot.Contrast studies the more creative aspect, culture and methods like remixing existing material but also the innovations
    • classical cases like DeCSS, Napster, SETI, ...
  • Part 3 : (130 pages, ~50%) Dot.Control details the appropriation aspect, evolution from the pre-Internet era
    • important emphasis on Alt.Commons aka the sensible alternative


  • Chapter 1 - "Free"
    • "The argument of this book is that always and everywhere, free resources have been crucial to innovation and creativity; that without them, creativity is crippled. Thus, and especially in the digital age, the central question becomes not whether government or the market should control a resource, but whether a resource should be controlled at all. Just because control is possible, it doesn’t follow that it is justified. Instead, in a free society, the burden of justification should fall on him who would defend systems of control." (p14)


  • Chapter 2 - Building Blocks: "Commons" and "Layers"
    • introducing the notion of commons (p20)
      • "the Internet forms an innovation commons" (p23)
      • the notion of rivalrousness makes the Tragedy of the commons by Garrett Hardin debatable
        • "There is a tragedy of the commons that we will identify here; it is the tragedy of losing the innovation commons that the Internet is, through the changes that are being rendered on top." (p23)
    • introducing the notion of layers by Yochai Benkler (p23)
      • physical layer : across which communication travels.
      • logica/code layer : makes the hardware run.
      • content layer : the actual stuff that gets said or transmitted across these wires
      • seems like a simplification and extension of the OSI model but usable for any particular communications system.
  • Chapter 3 - Commons on the Wires
    • "private networks have created an open resource that any can draw upon and that many have. Understanding how, and in what sense, is the aim of this chapter." (p26)
    • study of the telco evolution in the US, the growing monopoly on AT&T through interconnection (counter-intuitively) by removing competitive advantage from others
    • "rules [Kingsbury Commitment, FCC, ...] had an effect on innovation in telecommunications. Their effect was to channel innovation through Bell Labs." (p30)
    • role of Paul Baran in building a redundant network against initial centralized AT&T design in order to withstand potential nuclear attack
    • Mitch Kapor, Architecture is politics (p36)
      • "The question I want to press here is the relationship between architecture and innovation - both commercial innovation and cultural innovation." (p36)
      • see also my analysis Research.StrategicalEpistemology
    • "Plasticity.the ability of a system to evolve easily in a number of optimal in a world of uncertainty" (p39) makes one wonder with the link to neuroplasticity (see also my notes Que faire de notre cerveau ? by Catherine Malabout)
    • "the end-to-end principle renders the Internet an innovation commons, where innovators can develop and deploy new applications or content without the permission of anyone else." (p40)
    • QoS as marketing for Internet Neutrality?
  • Chapter 4 - Commons Among the Wired
    • Bell Labs devlopment of UNIX, it's closing move, the appearance of free licenses (GNU by Richard Stallman) and free software (Linux by Linus Torvald) as answers
    • Microsoft strategy of bundles to expand monopoly to each key emerging area
    • "Innovators nonetheless innovate. And they innovate because the return to them from deploying their new idea is high, even if others get the benefit of the new idea as well. Innovators don't simply sit on their hands until a guaranteed return is offered; real capitalists invest and innovate with the understanding that competitors will be free to take their ideas and use them against the innovators" (p71)
    • recurrent argument of open-ness, platform neutrality, as key to foster innovation, rather than controlling it.
  • Chapter 5 - Commons, Wire-less
    • history of regulation of the spectrum
      • classical argument of "potential chaos" (sic.)
    • Hughes and Hendricks actions, including in Tonga, "against" FCC qualified of "regulatory activism"
    • proposition of wireless commons
  • Chapter 6 - Commons Lessons
    • same argument of the risk of property
    • Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma
      • "The blindness that keeps the company fixed in a dying path is actually its clear understanding of probable returns. It sees real revenue from existing customers who need marginally better technology. It doesn't see the revenue from radically new technologies that depend upon unidentified or undeveloped markets. From its perspective, given its customers and reasonable expectations, these successful companies rationally fail." (p90)
    • "If the platform remains neutral, then the rational company may continue to eke out profit from the path it has chosen, but the competitor will always have the opportunity to use the platform to bet on a radically different business model." (p91)
    • "This again is the core insight about the importance of end-to-end. It is a reason why concentrating control will not produce disruptive technology. [...] The disrupters are hungry to build a different market; the incumbent is happy to keep the markets as they are." (p91)


  • Chapter 7 - Creativity in Real Space
    • "facts remain a resource that - constitutionally - cannot be subject to a system of legal control." (p106) begs for the biology question and genes patenting
    • "Our outrage at China notwithstanding, we should remember that before 1891, the copyrights of foreigners were not protected in the United States. We were born a pirate nation." (p106) echoes chapter 2 of Information Feudalism perfectly
    • "creative works are both an input and an output in the creative process; if you raise the cost of the input, you get less of the output." (p108)
    • "The aim of an economy of ideas is to create incentives to produce and then to move what has been produced to an intellectual commons as soon as can be." (p116)
  • Chapter 8 - Innovation from the Internet
    • emergence of services like or Napster that focused on using technology to provide access to content
      • disturbing the previously well established (and thus controled) channels
    • "But I doubt any of your friends knows your tastes in music and books as well as Amazon knows mine. After a three-year relationship, dutifully remembered by Amazon.s data-mining engine, Amazon can recommend to me things that I ought to buy." (p132-133)
    • "The story is about the bureaucratization and capture of the innovation process—relocating it back to where it was—as a response to the structures originally enabled by the Internet itself." (p140-141)
    • "Put differently, this is a story about changes in code, both East Coast (by lawmakers in Washington) and West Coast (by software writers in Silicon Valley) code, which will restore some of the power of the old against some of the threat of the new." (p141)


  • Chapter 9 - Old vs. New
    • parallel between corporate stability dilemna with political cases
  • Chapter 10 - Controlling the Wires (and Hence the Code Layer)
    • " AT&T had eaten a bunch of cable monopolies and was now beginning to prove that you are what you eat: like the cable monopolies in the 1970s (and like AT&T in the 1920s), AT&T claimed a protected network was needed if broadband was to develop." (p154)
    • " Where a disruptive technology emerges, there may be good reason not to extend the power of existing interests into power over that technology." (p160)
    • "We should treat them as statements by individuals [Corporations have a duty to their shareholders] who are required by law to be self-serving. This is not just 'bias' - this is legally mandated bias." (p165)
  • Chapter 11 - Controlling the Wired (and Hence the Content-Layer)
    • "My aim in this chapter is to describe this dynamic [The pressure to protect the controlled is increasingly undermining the scope for the free] and to suggest how changes that we are seeing right now will affect this dynamic" (p177)
    • classical cases
      • CPHack
        • "The law has become a tool for effectively disabling the ability of others to criticize a corporation." (p187)
      • DeCSS
      • Napster
    • "Here was a government official overseeing a radical expansion in patent regulation, within a field that had been the most important component of growth in the United States’ economy in the past twenty years. Yet the government didn’t have time to learn whether its patent policy would do any harm or good?" (p211)
    • "The law should resist becoming a tool to defend against the new; when change is on the horizon, it should allow the market to bring about that change." (p217)
  • Chapter 12 - Controlling Wire-less (and Hence the Physical Layer)
    • "Every new idea is a threat to those who depend upon old ways of doing business." (p223)
      • makes one think that existing player should monitor against new ideas or, more precisely, on how to integrate them. In nature, similar system with a lot to filter to gather few particles, fractal systems seems to oftem be very well adapted (lung, trees, ...)
        • consequently, existing player with sufficient resources could set in place innovation filters based on fractal filtering, gradually delegating finner details and gathering up to the core the key elements
        • somehow competition, innovation centers with start-ups in business incubators scouted by capital investors and such are already similar networks in place
  • Chapter 13 - What's Happening Here?
    • " As the old Net gets replaced by the new, as old interests succeed in protecting themselves against the new, we face a fundamental choice. We can embrace this return to the architecture of creativity that has defined modern American life - perpetual control by homogeneous corporations of a system for creativity focused primarily on a mass audience. Or we can embrace the architecture the Net was." (p239)
  • Chapter 14 - Alt.Commons
    • practical propositions for the 3 layers
  • Chapter 15 - what Orrin Understands
    • "The law is the instrument through which a technological revolution is undone." (p265)
    • John Gilmore: "[W]e have invented the technology to eliminate scarcity, but we are deliberately throwing it away to benefit those who profit from scarcity... I think we should embrace the era of plenty, and work out how to mutually live in it." (p265)

See also

Potential solutions

Overall remarks and questions

  • this? that?


  • the book in general beg for a proper framework of analysis (hopefuly a simple visual one) regarding the resource at hand and to seriously scrutinize every example using metaphores or parallel from older resources (very clasically, physical property vs other kind of property)
    • rivalrous vs non-rivalrous
    • exhaustable vs non-exhaustable


Point A, B and C are debatable because of e, f and j.


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Post-reading model

Draw a schema (using PmGraphViz or another solution) of the situation of the area in the studied domain after having read the book. Link it to the pre-reading model and align the two to help easy comparison.


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