Book Review: Lessig’s Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace
Reviewed By: Kimberly Hall
book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (1999) reveals the regulability of the
Internet and the online experience. With stories and engaging examples, Lessig
details how the Internet is regulable through architecture, code, law and social
influences while emphasizing that regulability is critical to maximize the Internet’s
benefits. This is pertinent to policymakers, educators and others who have a stake
in shaping the Internet to be a productive, informative common space where users
feel motivated to explore and communicate. In formal educational contexts of the
Internet, such as in an online class, the issues and strategies Lessig discusses
can be applied to optimize the learning process. Code identifies and investigates
forces that shape the culture of an online space.
Code is organized
in four parts. "Regulability," "Code and Other Regulators,"
"Applications" and "Responses" construct the frame that
demonstrates how the Internet is regulable. In "Regulability," Lessig
lays his groundwork; he explains that the Internet is made up of architecture
and code written by software developers. He compares code to law. Code restricts
what users can do on the Internet, as law does in real space. Architecture is
compared to the US Constitution, a general framework for behavior and functioning.
Part 2 expands
this argument. In real space certain factors regulate our behavior; these include
social norms, the law, the market and the physical architecture of our community.
This structure also exists in cyberspace, but through different means. The culture
of a chat room, the perceived level of privacy and the mask of an online identity
influences people’s behavior and contributes to the shaping of cyberspace.
In Part 3, "Applications,"
Lessig argues that non-regulation puts individual rights such as privacy, the
fair use of intellectual property, and free speech at stake. With historical
references, he chronicles how protection of these rights has fluctuated via
new technologies, court cases, and the law. Lessig argues that "the lesson
of the future will be that copyright is protected far too well" (p. 127),
which nullifies the Fair Use Limitation of Copyright Law. He proceeds to discuss
the invasion of privacy with the proliferation of online marketing, "others
now have the right to collect data about your public behavior and do with it
what it suits them to do" (p. 151). Lessig continues to emphasize that
before we decide what to regulate, we have to carefully translate constitutional
rights and laws from real space to cyberspace. For example, privacy is protected
by the Fourth Amendment, and this protection should regulate how new means of
communication are used. This right to privacy has been applied to the telephone
but not yet to e-mail (pp. 111-118).
Finally, Part 4,
"Responses," focuses on the means we have to influence regulation
under our political and social structure. Lessig warns if government chooses
not to regulate, then the Internet will regulate itself via organizations and
actors such as businesses and programmers. This is pertinent to educational
leaders and policymakers who want to ensure that the Internet is shaped to offer
valuable educational resources and productive environments to students and the
Of particular interest
to teachers and distance educators is the account of the IBEX incident in Lessig’s
law class. The incident exemplifies that although the Internet allows for more
freedom of speech, promotes cohesion and deeper class discussion, there are
occasions when inappropriate speech can be destructive. IBEX, an anonymous student
identity, displayed "vicious" behavior that adversely affected the
thriving atmosphere in the class online forum (pp. 79-82). The online experience
materialized in the physical classroom, "people felt the creature in the
room this was their classmate, hiding behind a smile, or a joke, in real
space, but vicious in cyberspace" (p. 82). With this example, Lessig clearly
conveys the importance of vigilance and structure appropriate to the goals of
an online forum and demonstrates how destructive online behavior can affect
day-to-day experiences offline.
All in all, Code
offers critical insight on the potential for society to shape the Internet as
well as the Internet’s impact on society. Stakeholders of online learning can
gain insight into how courses, programs and information can be shaped to attain
a productive learning experience in the class and beyond where students search
the World Wide Web, venture into chat rooms and consume online products and
services. Most notably, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace emphasizes that we
all have a stake in shaping online space.
Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace on Amazon.com
is Senior Instructional Designer at Emerson College in Boston, MA. She is a
Ph.D. candidate in Law, Policy and Society at Northeastern University and received
a Master of Arts in Educational Technology and an M.A. in History at San Diego
State University. She has taught English as a Second Language at the university
level and worked with faculty and educational professionals in designing online
instruction at San Diego State University, the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine,
the National Park Service, BBN/GTE Internetworking and at Northeastern University.
She is currently researching women’s experiences as online distance learners.