Category: Technology


Will We Be Ever Able To Go Off-grid Again? And Other Questions about the Electronic Silk Road

Will we ever be able to go off-grid again? What do we gain and lose if not? These questions came to mind as I was reading Anupam Chander’s Electronic Silk Road. The book is excellent. Indeed, these questions and the rest of this post’s ideas would not have come to mind had he not set out how the Electronic Silk Road operates and might operate. And my questions are perhaps prompted by a good book that addresses much and better still opens the doors to the next questions. Chander makes a strong case for benefits of a modern silk road where trust and trade work together and promote “net-work” which he defines as “information services delivered remotely through electronic communications systems.” This two way world facilitates labor shifted to Asia but also Google and Facebook spanning the globe with their services. His plea for new laws to address this change in trade makes sense. Our world of goods is fading to a world of digital things. Yet I wonder whether this new rule of trade maps to all the wonders we may want.

There may be unintentional irony here. Chapter One epigraph quotes Keynes “What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914!” Does trade stop war or at least make countries less likely to war against each other? Maybe. To get there Chander points out that, “the characteristics that permit net-work trade might be deployed to create a robust infrastructure for such trade: real-time information transfer, low information and other transactions costs, the ability of individuals around the world to collaborate, and electronic identification.” But the same systems that may promote trade can lead to greater surveillance and repression.

In other words, the recent spying amongst countries may be a good thing. I fear greater coordination amongst countries rather than friction. Chander calls this issue “Stalinization—the imposition of the world’s most repressive rules on cyberspace, in aggregated form.” He acknowledges this point at p. 197. Nonetheless this greater connection and improved grid may be inescapable. The idea that local laws must balance global over-reach does not appear to address what happens when the big boys agree. The electronic silk road thus seems to kill the romance of the silk road.

The Silk Road evokes adventure, the ability to test, change identities, and yet somehow trade worked. Failure on the Silk Road or even mistakes or cheating could be hidden by moving from the Road to some other country. In that sense, a modern system of trade on a global scale seems to defeat the room for play that Julie Cohen has described in Configuring the Networked Self. To where would one go to experiment, reinvent, and rehabilitate? Even with greater freedom to communicate things can go awry. A WTO response may be futile if all agree on bad behavior. Public shaming of corporations may mean little when they are forced to comply. To be clear, I agree with much of what Chander offers and have hope that the mitigation he offers will take it root. At bottom it may be a faith that discourse and debate defeats evil in all forms. Part of me thinks this idea is true. Part wonders whether we have come that far from the days leading up to World War I or II. If not, tighter understanding and trade may do less than both Chander and I hope. Then again Chander may be setting us up for the next step in his ideas. I certainly hope so.


Introducing the Electronic Silk Road Online Symposium

Silk Road coverThis week, a great group will be blogging about Professor Anupam Chander’s book, The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce. Professor Chander is a leading scholar on globalization and digitization. He is Director of the California International Law Center and Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall Research Scholar at UC Davis. He has been a visiting professor at Yale Law School, the University of Chicago Law School, Stanford Law School, and Cornell Law School. He is also a dear friend. Nonetheless, it is time for us to do what we hope to do well, and if lucky, our friends do for us. That is, it is time to press Professor Chander about his work as it tries to show us how the new Silk Road operates, what it promises, what is yields, and what it threatens. Work and services are now blending, if not blended. Old rules for trade struggle to adapt to new rules for information. Where will we go from here? Join Professor Chander and our panelists including Paul Berman, Miriam Cherry, Graeme Dinwoodie, Nicklas Lundblad, Frank Pasquale, Pierluigi Perri, Adam Thierer, Haochen Sun, Fred Tung, and of course Danielle Citron and me for the fun this week.


Heads Up 3D Printing and more: The Georgetown Law Journal Volume 102 Symposium: “Law in an Age of Disruptive Technology”


As you know Gerard and I have been working up our paper Patents, Meet Napster: 3D Printing and the Digitization of Things . It will be part of The Georgetown Law Journal Volume 102 Symposium: “Law in an Age of Disruptive Technology” which will take place on Friday November 8, 2013. There will be panels about driverless cars and mass surveillance as well. We hope to see many of you there. (RSVP at this link).

It is a great honor to be part of this lineup:

Keynote Address by Professor Neal Katyal

3-D Printing
Chaired by Professors Deven Desai and Gerard Magliocca

Driverless Cars & Tort Liability
Chaired by Professor Bryant Walker Smith

Mass Surveillance Technology
Chaired by Professor Christopher Slobogin


Announcing Symposium on Orly Lobel’s Talent Wants to be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding

Talent Wants to be FreeThink you have enough to read? Think again! I am honored to announce that Concurring Opinions will host a symposium on Orly Lobel’s book, Talent Wants to be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding. The event will run from Monday, November 11 to Friday, November 15. I came to know Professor Lobel’s work as I shared some of my thoughts on intellectual property, property theory, and technologically mediated creation in her seminar, Work, Welfare, and Justice, in 2008. I was thinking about who owns your email? What about work place creation? Who owns what you come up with at work? Does it matter whether you used company technology to create and learn? Professor Lobel was digging into related questions, and it has been a blast seeing her run with them. Now we have the pleasure of her book. The accolades have been coming in from academics in law and other fields as well as the business world. Business Week, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review have run articles by Professor Lobel that draw on the insights from the book.

Professor Lobel argues that as we move deeper into a world driven by human capital and talent is in increasing demand, we have to understand that a lock-down approach to innovation is a losing strategy. Nonetheless:

Many companies embrace a control mentality—relying more on patents, copyright, branding, espionage, and aggressive restrictions of their own talent and secrets than on creative energies that are waiting to be unleashed.

Unlocking talent, setting it free as she puts it, sets up a system where everyone wins. Will our discussants or you agree? I think so, but I am sure there will be new ideas and challenges during the event. Our panelists include Professor Lobel as well as:

Matt Bodie

Anupam Chander

Danielle Citron

Catherine Fisk

Vic Fleischer

Brett Frischmann

Shubha Ghosh

Ron Gilson

Peter Lee

Frank Pasquale

Awards for High-Impact, Federally Funded Research

In a world where attacks on inquiry are all too common, it’s nice to see great research recognized. The Golden Goose Awards are a forum for such encomia, focusing on federally funded research:

The purpose of the Golden Goose Award is to demonstrate the human and economic benefits of federally funded research by highlighting examples of seemingly obscure or unusual studies that have led to major breakthroughs and have had a significant impact on society. Such breakthroughs may include development of life-saving medicines and treatments; game-changing social and behavioral insights; and major technological advances related to national security, energy, the environment, communications, and public health.

Read More


Upcoming Online Symposium on Professor Anupam Chander’s The Electronic Silk Road

Silk Road coverDanielle and I are happy to announce that next week, Concurring Opinions will host an online symposium on Professor Anupam Chander’s The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce. Professor Chander is a professor at U.C. Davis’s King Hall School of Law. Senators, academics, trade representatives, and pundits laud the book for its clarity and the argument Professor Chander makes. He examines how the law can facilitate commerce by reducing trade barriers but argues that consumer interests need not be sacrificed:

On the ancient Silk Road, treasure-laden caravans made their arduous way through deserts and mountain passes, establishing trade between Asia and the civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Today’s electronic Silk Roads ferry information across continents, enabling individuals and corporations anywhere to provide or receive services without obtaining a visa. But the legal infrastructure for such trade is yet rudimentary and uncertain. If an event in cyberspace occurs at once everywhere and nowhere, what law applies? How can consumers be protected when engaging with companies across the world?

But will the book hold up under our panel’s scrutiny? I think so but only after some probing and dialogue.

Our Panelists include Professor Chander as well as:

Paul Berman

Miriam Cherry

Graeme Dinwoodie

Nicklas Lundblad

Frank Pasquale

Pierluigi Perri

Adam Thierer

Haochen Sun

Fred Tung

And of course

Danielle Citron and I will be there too.


MMM 3D Printing: It’s magic! But may need some help from the law

As Gerard noted, we have posted our draft of our paper “Patents, Meet Napster: 3D Printing and the Digitization of Things. The area is much fun. Along the way, claims about maybe possible became, oh they’re doing that? OK. Fix the draft and cite. Guns, compounding chemicals, low-temperature metals, oh my. The technology has moved and continues to move in many different ways. The paper has some doctrine, some science and technology studies, and some just plain old wow that’s wild technology. We are excited for the symposium at Georgetown, and we have time to edit and develop. We would love feedback about the legal implications and the technology.

Here’s the abstract perhaps to whet your appetite:

Digitization has reached things. This shift promises to alter the business and legal landscape for a range of industries. Digitization has already disrupted copyright-based industries and laws. As cost barriers dropped, individuals engaged with copyrighted work as never before. The business-to-business models of industrial copyright faltered and in some cases failed. Industries had to reorganize, and claimed foundations for copyright had to be re-examined. This Article examines a prime example the next phase of digitization: 3D printing and it implications on intellectual property law and practice.

3D printing is a general-purpose technology that will do for physical objects what MP3 files did for music. The core patent bargain—sharing the plans on how to make something in exchange for exclusivity—may be meaningless in a world of digitized things. While these devices will unleash the creativity of producers and reduce costs for consumers, they will also make it far easier to infringe patents, copyrights, and trade dress. This will force firms to rethink their business practices and courts to reexamine not only patent doctrine but also long established doctrine in areas ranging from copyright merger to trademark post-sale confusion. Moreover, Congress will need to consider establishing some sort of infringement exemption for 3D printing in the home and expanding the notice-and takedown provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to websites that host software enabling the 3D printing of patented items and distinctive trade dress. While a 3D printer is not yet a common household item, the time to start thinking about that future is now.


Rent books on Amazon? Hmm.

As I work away on 3D printing I am looking at regulation literature. Ayres and Braithwaite’s Responsive Regulation is available on Amazon for 34.99 for Kindle or you can rent it starting at $14.73 (no kidding, it is that precise). There is a calendar and you can select the length of the rental (3 months comes out to $22.30 and to Amazon’s credit hover over a date and the price appears rather than having to click each date). On the one hand this offering seems rather nifty. Yet I wonder what arguments about market availability and fair use will be made with this sort of rental model for books in play. And this option brings us one step closer to perfect price discrimination. Would I see the same rental price as someone else? Would I need some research assistant to rent for me? Would that person’s price model be forever altered based on some brief period of working for a professor? What about librarians who rent books for work (I suppose work accounts would be differentiated but the overlap between interests may shift what that person sees on a personal account too). Perhaps Ayres and Braithwaite’s regulation pyramid is needed yet again.


What Are the Limits to What Hackers Produce?

I’m writing this from an airplane somewhere over the US-Canadian border. I forgot my copy of Coding Freedom at home, and was cursing my ineptitude. But then it occurred to me that, given the subject, I could probably find a copy online. Sure enough, I downloaded a pdf via the airport wifi. (For free! – those Canadians…).

This, in the most mundane of ways, is a simple reenactment of what Gabriella Coleman writes of so compellingly in her new book. Gabriella, inspired no doubt in part by her years of exposure to hacking culture, struck a deal with her publishers. The resulting CC license gives all of us who might want to read the book more freedom to do what we want with it – read it on any device, search it, and even pull it up in an airport so we can file a nearly-too-late contribution to a terrific online discussion. Gabriella didn’t know I’d forget my book at home when she decided to negotiate the license. But she did have the sense – I assume – that she needed something more than copyright law to help her achieve what she wanted from her book. Which was in part to give to the rest of us more freedom than standard copyright law would allow.

But how far does that freedom go? This is surely one of the most important and interesting questions about this new form of making software, and the new legal forms that attend it. So that’s what I want to focus on here. One of the book’s great strengths is the spectacularly detailed and clear-eyed account that it provides of hacker culture, or at least a certain hacker culture. As it points out, this is a culture that is built upon a deep commitment to the pleasures of technology (like Ed Felten, I loved the bit on hacker humor), a ferocious conception of self-help and meritocratic ordering, and also to an overt aversion to things “political.”

As a few others have in the course of this discussion, I wonder too about the limits of a form of practical revolution that starts here. How far can this new mode of production take us, if it is characterized by technoelitism, an aversion to politics, and by a subject position that is decidedly fairly privileged and high-skilled? After all, you can’t be part of this crowd and lack access to a computer and internet connection, or be bereft of free time.


Read More


Fifty Shades of Code

k9883I recently read a trilogy of books addressing the politics of “coding.” Recoding Gender: Women’s Changing Participation in Computing, by historian of technology Janet Abbate, describes the gender transformation from the prominent presence of women programmers in early computer history to the more contemporary cultural stereotype of men as computer geeks. Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace, by University of Toronto Professor Ron Deibert of the Citizen Lab, examines types of coding by hackers, governments, and corporations alike designed to restrict freedom and enact surveillance, whether as part of new business models, political suppression, or national security tactics. Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, by McGill Professor and digital activism anthropologist Gabriella Coleman, explores the culture of certain types of hacking as a form of engaged citizenship promoting both the freedom to communicate and the freedom to innovate.

How are we to resolve the cognitive dissonance of such disparate representations of the politics of coding: as reflecting broader gender struggles; as mechanisms of control and repression; and as culturally and ethically promoting freedom? These accounts actually share a conceptual framework suggesting that software code, like other arrangements of technology, are also arrangements of power. Coding is historically specific and culturally contextual, reflecting broader social tensions and embedding decisions that have implications for individual civil liberties, social arrangements, and global economic conditions.

Long before Google, Facebook, Anonymous, or even the World Wide Web, Langdon Winner wrote “At issue is the claim that the machines, structures, and systems of modern material culture can be accurately judged not only for their contributions to efficiency and productivity and their positive and negative environmental side effects, but also for the ways in which they can embody specific forms of power and authority.” (From “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”) In this sense, technical design in the modern digital media context is a form of political engagement, but a form enacted primarily by the private sector, private citizens, or new global institutional forms. The salient question then becomes – what are the characteristics of technical design and production that imbue these practices with the legitimacy to enact such public interest effects and ultimately promote democratic conditions of communicative and economic freedom. Gabriella Coleman’s Coding Freedom makes a significant intellectual contribution in answering this question, backed up by meticulous research and a sophisticated understanding of political thought across history, cultures, and academic disciplines.

The term “hacking” is obviously malleable. As a scholar of Internet governance, the first issues that jump to my mind include practices such as regular attacks on the Internet’s Domain Name System; the Stuxnet worm sabotaging the control systems of Iranian nuclear centrifuges; infiltration and theft of corporate property; worms that exploit protocol vulnerabilities to disable systems; and the increasing governmental use of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to suppress human rights activists. For those who have not yet read Professor Coleman’s book, this is not the type of hacking that Coding Freedom addresses. It more specifically examines the free and open source software (F/OSS) movement and explains how this movement privileges values of freedom, access to knowledge, and privacy. As Coleman writes:

“F/OSS is an ideal vehicle for examining how and when technological objects, such as source code, are invested with new liberal meanings, and with what consequences. By showing how developers incorporate legal ideals like free speech into the practices of everyday technical production, I trace the path by which older liberal ideals persist, albeit transformed, into the present.” (p. 183)

Private corporations operating within free markets have created some of the most open and productive infrastructural components of the Internet, and human creativity and values of free expression can flourish in these environments. Furthermore, there are powerful corporations whose business models are predicated on free and open source software frameworks. But, in many areas of information policy, there are inherent and intractable conflicts between values of property and values of free expression. Coleman tells a convincing and empirically grounded story about how the F/OSS community sought to challenge the prevailing political economy of intellectual property law, create alternative modes of economic production, and produce software with productive potential for both economic and expressive liberty. Anyone examining citizen engagement in other areas of digital policy (e.g. online protests over the Stop Online Privacy Act) would be wise to emulate Coleman’s methodological rigor and interdisciplinary insights into citizen engagement in shaping freedom in the digital public sphere.

**A special thanks to Professor Danielle Citron and Concurring Opinions for the invitation to participate in this symposium**

Laura DeNardis, M.Eng., Ph.D., is an Internet governance scholar, a Professor in the School of Communication at American University, and the author of The Global War for Internet Governance