Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I am embarrassed to admin that I had scanned The Future of Ideas by Lawrence Lessig, but had not READ it carefully. I find I do this with books where I know the author's position quite well in an area I know something about. I KNOW that the book is worth reading, but it feels like patting myself on the back. I tend to like reading books written by the enemy. ;-) Anyway, enough lame excuses. Tomorrow, I have a magazine article discussion with Larry and the translator of The Future of Ideas Hiroo Yamagata, who as I've said before, is an intelligent, but ruthless fellow. Hiroo is a menace to those who are unprepared, but is probably one of the most thoughtful people in this space... Anyway, now that I finished the book, I am prepared for tomorrow...

So about the book... everyone has probably read it already so I probably don't need to write a lame book review, but if you haven't read it, I can now urge you to read it. Larry talks about spectrum, code, and content control and calls them the physical, code and content layers. This is exactly how I think of these issues and how everyone should think of these issues. Although he addressed it in his last book, Code, Larry doesn't have time to talk about privacy in this book. I believe that identity and privacy are also important and probably represent for me the other BIG issue.

I had thought through most of these issues already in great detail so the logic was easy to follow and the detail and facts have added new ammunition to my arsenal. What was also interesting was Larry's continued pursuit of balance both politically and technically. When you are under public scrutiny, balance is very important to protect being attacked by people you are trying to change. The difficulty of taking a balanced view is that the message is difficult to deliver, you can sound wishy/washy and at the end of the day, you will end up being attacked by both extremes, the moderates apathetically fading into the background. Or at least that is my experience.

Maybe it's because Larry is a law professor, but he is able to navigate the detail and the logic well... But as the issues become more and more complex and one realizes that the government and public opinion become more and more obtuse, one ends up becoming VERY despressed as Larry appears to be by the end of the book.

I think Larry's mission, shared by most of the intelligent people that I know is one of the most important missions today. The commons and innovation are threatened by the old power structures which are more and more able to stay in power than ever before. I believe that a similar struggle is going on in the field of energy technology. Big oil protecting its interests and waging war.

Innovation in information technology and energy (See ECD) has the power to solve many of the problems we face today, yet this innovation is faced with great resistance. The public, which at the end of the day is the only group capable of causing real change, sits watching apathetically. How depressing.


So, I haven't yet read the book. I definitely plan to, but there are a lot of them in my queue still... ;)

But I really wonder where the evidence is for your statements like "The commons and innovation are threatened," and so on... My wife's cousin just invented a board game and is going to start his own company and market it. How is this creative entrepreneurial process threatened by heavyweights throwing their money around? He spent $9000 to protect his ideas, hardly an unattainable fortune...

In the end, I think it is those who cling to older ideas that will have the real problems. Japan's economy has a million problems, one of which is clinging to older ideas. People always find it so much easier to paw at others' creations and creativity, or follow set scripts, but real entrepreneurs are creative. Honestly, why should I care whether I have the right to build upon Disney's copyrights for my business? I can be much more successful by creating my own NEW characters and ideas, which do not infringe on older ones. This isn't easy, but has it ever been?

In fact, older corporations will increasingly have to find new ideas and new investments to fuel future growth -- a lot of money available for those with the know-how to take advantage of it.

To be fair, I agree emotionally with much that Mr. Lessig says about copyrights. It's easy to agree with his ideas... But I'm just not so sure that it's the right thing to do.

Hi Trevor...

Well, you should read the book. Lessig presents a very balanced view and describes many points that are quite interesting.

Well... If you try to file and protect a patent in the 8 major countries for the lifetime of the patents (20 years?) it will cost you more like $750K per patent. If you want to really win a fight you will need more than one patent and it will cost you a minimum of $1mm to engage in a fight. I wouldn't say that's really chump change for startups.

Did you know that the movie 12 Monkeys got pulled right after it was released because someone who had the copyright to the design of a piece of furniture in the movie didn't agree to let them use it in the movie? When you shoot a movie, you have to clear the copyright for the picture inside of a poster on the wall of a room in your movie. Doesn't this sound stifling?

Think about all of the books and music that people would like to read that are not printed/pressed, but can not be copied?

Anyway... You're getting me started. ;-) At least skim the book. This is an important issue and something that requires a bit of thinking since it's a bit counter intuitive in some ways.

OK, fine! I'm going out to buy it right now. ;)

And I'm sure I'll agree with much of what he says; certainly for movies it's tough... they have a really hard time getting permission to use all the works in their movies.

But consider this -- what if your trademark Neoteny were to be used in the backdrop of a film about something very negative, and people all over the world received a negative or incorrect perception about your trademark...?

It's a tough call there... Should they have to get your permission first, or should you have to just sue them afterwards...?

The fair use guidelines are quite clear about what you can do with stuff... Trademark is different from copyright. I think that trademarks should be protected differently.

The hard thing is to define what kind of space the internet is. We've got two relatively easy cases that I think we all should agree upon.

(1) On the one hand, when sitting around a table talking to my friends, there should be no doubt that I have the right to say anything I want about Joi's company, without his permission. If I slander the company, then of course, I could be sued. But I don't need his permission before I say something.

(2) On the othert hand, if Spielberg makes a movie about genius VC firms in Japan, there's no doubt he needs to clear lots with Joi before he includes IP from Joi's company in his firm.

Should the net be considered more like (1) or like (2)? The law is increasingly treating it like (2), which, imho, is a mistake. It might be different from (1), and so some differences may make sense. But it should not be controlled and regulated the way (2) has increasingly become.