Declan McCullagh on Thu, 7 Oct 1999 04:27:23 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> cyber-communism

At 19:05 10/6/1999 -0400, nettime's_roving_reporter wrote:
>[In just one month Richard Barbrook's seminal Cybercommunism manifesto,
>posted in four long installments on nettime [Mon, 6 Sep 1999 00:56:56
>+0000], appears to have triggered a revolutionary shift in the
>consciousness of the average net user. He (as we learned from the

Oh. Of course. Tens of millions of users around the world read that
manifesto and have shifted their consciousness appropriately, perhaps
spurred along by the widespread coverage it received such as the Newsweek
and Time cover stories and 60 Minutes special report, not to mention the
endorsement by leading CEOs and statesmen. Heck, my AOL-using grandmother
called me last night and tried to convert me to the cause. Did I miss


PS: Just for the hell of it, I'll include my review of Lessig's forthcoming
book. Not "cybercommunism," but maybe close enough that the same criticism

Date: Wed, 06 Oct 1999 13:03:57 -0400
From: Declan McCullagh <>
Subject: FC: Review of forthcoming book by Larry Lessig: "Code"
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                     Lessig Suffers from Bad Code
                     by Declan McCullagh (

                     3:00 a.m.  6.Oct.99.PDT
                     Remember technorealism? If not, you're
                     lucky to have missed one of the more
                     forgettable fads of early 1998. 

                     At a Harvard Law School conference that
                     spring, a host of left-leaning intellectuals
                     passed out a turgid manifesto and
                     demanded additional government
                     involvement in the infrastructure of the
                     Internet. The technorealists argued that
                     the future is too important to be left to
                     programmers, engineers, and executives.
                     Instead, they claimed that technical
                     standards "are too important to be
                     entrusted to the marketplace alone." 

                     But they never explained why Washington
                     bureaucrats would be any smarter or do a
                     better job. 

                     Fortunately, the world forgot about this
                     silliness and moved on. 

                     Sadly, Harvard Law School professor
                     Lawrence Lessig didn't, and has expanded
                     that "technorealism manifesto" into a
                     400-page book called Code, and Other
                     Laws of Cyberspace.

                     Lessig, a former special master in the US
                     v. Microsoft antitrust trial, readily admits
                     that "much in this book draws from the
                     picture that [author David Shenk] and his
                     technorealists have sketched." 

                     And it suffers from the same flaws. It's
                     not that Code is poorly written, because
                     Lessig is -- for a lawyer, at least -- an
                     entertaining author who offers real-world
                     examples like the Communications
                     Decency Act, death-porn scribbler Jake
                     Baker, and the ICANN domain name
                     disputes to buttress his argument. 

                     And it's not that that Lessig is entirely
                     mistaken, for he makes many well argued
                     and cogent points. Yes, public key
                     cryptography is one of the most
                     important discoveries of this century. It is
                     true that the design of technology can
                     influence society, and that commercial
                     firms can corrupt and even pervert
                     supposed industry standards. By ginning
                     up their own custom HTML extensions,
                     Netscape and Microsoft have done
                     exactly that. 

                     The real problem is that Lessig's proposed
                     solution is no better. He bemoans that
                     too much of the Internet is run by
                     companies and individuals instead of by
                     bureaucrats and legislators -- and the
                     private sector isn't limited by
                     constitutional restrictions on the


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