1.3.1. Shaking the architecture’s foundations

However, in the forty years since the Internet’s earliest years, the Internet’s architecture has not proved unmalleable. Laurence Lessig famously made this point in describing the architecture of the Internet as “West Coast Code,” and claiming that it could enable the inherent freedoms of the Internet to be subverted at the behest of commercial interests just as could “East Coast Code”—legislation—at the behest of governments.[1]

It is true that the design features noted above have been affected by a variety of factors, including not only commercial interests, but also technical limitations and political or public policy pressures (since after all, it has been noted above that technical and public policy management of the Internet are inextricably linked). Examples of how such forces have been pitted against the architectural features of the Internet will be given in respect of three such features in turn; decentralisation, anonymity and egalitarianism:

The above examples illusrate that whilst the Internet no longer quite so closely reflects the values of its founders as it once did, endeavours by commercial interests, governments or even the Internet technologists themselves to work against the values implicit in its design meet with resistance or expense that work against change, and reinforce the status quo. To make this point is not necessarily to assert that it is a positive feature of the Internet; indeed, it poses considerable difficulties to those who, in accordance with near-universally-accepted public policy norms, seek to battle such evils as cybercrime, spam (unsolicited commercial email) and trafficking in child pornography and copyright material. On one view, Internet governance as it stands is out of balance in favour of egalitarian hacker values.[11]

Notes

[1]

Lessig, Lawrence, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (1999), 43–44

[2]

But see Section 4.1.2.

[3]

See MGM v Grokster (2004) 380 F 3d 1154 for the decision in the defendants’ favour, MGM v Gr0kster (2005) 545 US 913 for the decision on appeal which succeeded on different grounds, and Samuelson, Pamela, Legally Speaking: Did MGM Really Win the Grokster Case? (2005) for commentary.

[4]

Lessig, Lawrence, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (1999), 34-35

[5]

The first round of 261 lawsuits against individual Internet users at the suit of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) were filed in 2003: Cassavoy, Liane, Music Labels Declare War on File Swappers (2003).

[6]

Interestingly this is done for reasons of technical efficiency, not to frustrate the attentions of copyright owners, which is merely a side-effect.

[7]

See http://www.torproject.org/.

[8]

See also Section 4.1.

[9]

Cherry, Steven, The Net Effect (2005)

[10]

The CustomizeGoogle extension for the Firefox Web browser is one example: see http://www.customizegoogle.com/zh-CN/ for the extension itself, and http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/10/31/1414203&tid=217&tid=17 for some discussion on it.

[11]

Engel, Christoph, Governing the Egalitarian Core of the Internet (2005), 23