2.4.1 Why this book?

The internet, and the law relating to it, are changing rapidly, and the danger in selecting a set book is that it will be out of date as soon as it is printed. When creating the T182 course we looked at a large number of books. These ranged from serious legal texts to reasonably readable but narrowly focused stories of particular cases. We wanted a book about internet policy that shows the effect it can have on ordinary people. The Future of Ideas provides a robust intellectual framework that you can rely on to interpret these issues. Few academics have influenced the way in which people think about the internet as much as Lessig.

The Future of Ideas is a very analytical book, and this is where its real value lies. Its analytical nature means that some of the material requires the reader to pause and think before continuing. It is, however, aimed at a general audience and is very readable. Absolute beginners may have some difficulty with the more complex ideas, but the book tells a relatively simple story that is worth remembering as you work through it and this unit:

  • the internet led to an information revolution – an explosion of innovation;

  • many of the resources used in this innovation were free, and this is not widely recognised;

  • some large commercial interests felt threatened by the innovation and decided to mount a counter-revolution;

  • commerce used financial and political clout to get laws and technologies changed to protect their markets;

  • these changes have a wider effect than intended – so did the internet change commerce or did commerce change the internet?

The book is persuasively argued, but it is important that you learn to read it critically. Try to question, for example, whether Lessig or his protagonists have oversimplified matters or have been selective in their use of evidence.

"A thing is not proved just because no one has ever questioned it. What has never been gone into impartially has never been properly gone into. Hence scepticism is the first step toward truth. It must be applied generally, because it is the touchstone."

(Denis Diderot)

2.4 The Future of Ideas

2.5 Reading the book