The Wealth of Networks:
How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
by Yochai Benkler, Yale University Press

Copyright 2006, Yochai Benkler.

Chapter 12
Conclusion: The Stakes of Information Law and Policy

This online version has been created under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike license - see www.benkler.org - and has been reformatted and designated as recommended reading - with an accompanying Moodle course - for the NGO Committee on Education of CONGO - the Conference Of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations - in conjunction with the Committee's commitment to the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World and related international Decades, agreements, conventions and treaties.

Epigraph

"Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing."

"Such are the differences among human beings in their sources of pleasure, their susceptibilities of pain, and the operation on them of different physical and moral agencies, that unless there is a corresponding diversity in their modes of life, they neither obtain their fair share of happiness, nor grow up to the mental, moral, and aesthetic stature of which their nature is capable."

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)

Chapter 12
Conclusion: The Stakes of Information Law and Policy

Complex modern societies have developed in the context of mass media and industrial information economy.

This book began with four economic observations.

The second economic point is that these expansions of rights operate, as a practical matter, as a tax on nonproprietary models of production in favor of the proprietary models.

The third economic observation is that the basic technologies of information processing, storage, and communication have made nonproprietary models more attractive and effective than was ever before possible.

The fourth and final economic observation describes and analyzes the rise of peer production.

A genuine shift in the way we produce the information environment that we occupy as individual agents, as citizens, as culturally embedded creatures, and as social beings goes to the core of our basic liberal commitments.

From the perspective of individual autonomy, the emergence of the networked information economy offers a series of identifiable improvements in how we perceive the world around us, the extent to which we can affect our perceptions of the world, the range of actions open to us and their possible outcomes, and the range of cooperative enterprises we can seek to enter to pursue our choices.

From the perspective of democratic discourse and a participatory republic, the networked information economy offers a genuine reorganization of the public sphere.

A common critique of claims that the Internet improves democracy and autonomy is centered on information overload and fragmentation.

The concepts of culture and society occupy more tenuous positions in liberal theory than autonomy and democracy.

The same capabilities to make information and knowledge, to innovate, and to communicate that lie at the core of the gains in freedom in liberal societies also underlie the primary advances I suggest are possible in terms of justice and human development.

If the networked information economy is indeed a significant inflection point for modern societies along all these dimensions, it is so because it upsets the dominance of proprietary, market-based production in the sphere of the production of knowledge, information, and culture.

We are seeing significant battles over the organization and legal capabilities of the physical components of the digitally networked environment.

At the logical layer, the ethic of open standards in the technical community, the emergence of the free software movement and its apolitical cousin, open-source development practices, on the one hand, and the antiauthoritarian drives behind encryption hacking and some of the peer-to-peer technologies, on the other hand, are pushing toward an open logical layer available for all to use.

At the content layer - the universe of existing information, knowledge, and culture - we are observing a fairly systematic trend in law, but a growing countertrend in society.

The political and judicial pressures to form an institutional ecology that is decidedly tilted in favor of proprietary business models are running head-on into the emerging social practices described throughout this book.

The relationship of institutional ecology to social practice is a complex one.

Even if laws that favor enclosure do pass in one, or even many jurisdictions, it is not entirely clear that law can unilaterally turn back a trend that combines powerful technological, social, and economic drivers.

We are in the midst of a quite basic transformation in how we perceive the world around us, and how we act, alone and in concert with others, to shape our own understanding of the world we occupy and that of others with whom we share it.

We have an opportunity to change the way we create and exchange information, knowledge, and culture.