"The Politics of Code - Shaping the Future of the Next Internet" - Conference Report and Notes

This was a conference run by Oxford Internet Institute and Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, and held at the Oxford Union (which hosted the Free Music Debate with Hilary Rosen a few months back).

There is now the website http://www.codepolitics.info/, which has mp3's of all the talks, and most of the presentation slides on it. Well worth checking out.

Other articles on the conference include:

Yes, it's me again. The guy who wrote one of the many reports on the Union Debate on the Future of Music, which was strangely one of the most widely circulated, if not one of the most widely dissed.... Doubtless you'll be glad to head that I've no intention of changing from my eclectic writing style, but hopefully if you can cope with it you'll find some things of interest below.

Anyway, this Thursday I was back at the Oxford Union, this time for a conference entitled The Politics of Code - Shaping the Future of the Next Internet". The keynote speakers were everyone's favourite poster boy on copyright and law, Lawrence 'Larry' Lessig, and Esther Dyson, former ICANN Chairman. Also joining them were a number of heavy weights from most of the spectrum, though disappointingly this time we lacked anyone from the "far end" of the pro-control camp.


Internet at a Crossroads

The conference kicked off with a 20 minute slideshow and talk by Lessig (which owing to being quite early in the morning, I wasn't taking all that detailed notes for, doh!). The slideshow was quite similar to his Free Culture talk, but with a greater emphasis on the generalities of control and copyright, and less on the specifics, as would be expected given the audience. However, we were assured by the conference organisers that they'd be putting all the slides on their website shortly, so hopefully you'll be able to view it yourself (it was good).

One interesting addition to his talk, compared to what seems to be his norm, was a brief talk on the landmark 1774 House of Lords ruling, which for the first time freed the publishing of Shakespeare's works. He also gave some insightful comments on the differences between the US and the UK/EU stance on copyright issues (didn't write them down, sorry...).

Part way through his talk, he pulled up the infamous Adobe E-Book reader, and showed us the access controls it placed on three works - one now in the public domain, one which was never copyrighted, and his own book. It was a very insightful demonstration of just how easily code now removes our fair use abilities, and how much more could happen in future.

Disappointingly, he shied away from the debate on if we really need copyright at all. Maybe it was in deference to his audience, but it did lead to an interesting comedy discussion at lunch with an academic who was writing a paper on copyright, but had never heard of Richard Stallman, the GNU project, or the GPL!
Lessig was keen to point out that he wasn't anti-market, but quite the opposite. He tried (though I'm not sure how many people who hadn't got it did from his speech) to show how the current laws and lobbying were for control and concentration, not for competition and free markets.

An interesting statistic he rolled out (I guess you need to look in his Eldred vs Ashcroft filings to find the source) was on the value to the author with time. He said that for "Life+50" compared to indefinite, you would get 99.3% of the full value, while "Life+70" would give you 99.7%. Who, apart for a well rehearsed Bob Dylan at a congress hearing, would argue that an artist creating a work will be at all bothered by that extra 0.4%, to be claimed long after their death?

After Lessig's speech, we had two other shorter talks before a panel debate. Christian Larrinaga reiterated a lot of what Lessig said, but with a bit more of a technical slant. He kept things nice and short, and I'd say he's definitely a speaker to keep an eye out for.

Finally, it was the turn of Peter Davies to speak. Coming from a business background, he had a different slant on some things, which was a refreshing change. Most importantly, he seemed far happier to trample on individual's rights and accesses in order to stop large scale commercial piracy than the other speakers. He was against the recent US copyright extensions to "life+70", but did seem to hint he didn't think "life+50" was all that bad. One of his great lines was People will find there'll be some anomalies coming from this (in relation to content control). True, but who says we have to like or accept them?

During the Q&A session, Lessig talked the most, few of the questions were directly answered, and fewer of the audience could hear the questions! Still, it was interesting to hear the areas or agreement. Still, finding someone a bit more content company friendly than Peter would've spiced things up a bit.


Owing to my networking interests, I opted to attend the IPv6 panel rather than the DRM one. This had two parts, firstly and intro to IPv6, followed by a talk on how IPv6 can be a two edged sword for privacy.

The intro talk was given by Axel Clauberg of Cisco, and didn't contain much if anything that I didn't know, and presumably most people reading this wouldn't know either. However, I think the main points relevant to the issues under discussion were:

IPv6 And Privacy

After this talk (which was starting to make me wish I'd gone to the DRM one), Alberto Escudero Pascual did a talk that I thought was really good. I'd definitely recommend people interested in IPv6 and / or privacy go read some of his papers. His talk had no real message beyond "Think about what these things can do, and which way they can go". Below are many of the areas he touched on:

Internet Governance

First up was Esther Dyson. The Register did a big thing on her talk on ICANN, so I'll concentrate on what lessons she thinks we can learn from ICANN about internet governance.

Then we had Richard Hill of the ITU, telling us what he thought ICANN and similar internet governing body's could learn from the ITU:

(Hans Kraijenbrink and Diane Cabell also spoke)

Liberty By Design

Aland Davidson of the Centre for Democracy and Technology spoke about Liberty by Design, the idea of getting the public interest supported from the word go in code. He had a number of examples of where CDT is trying to do this, what problems they've found, and where they think the future for this sort of thing may lie. Here goes:

More on Internet Governance

This panel debate had a number of people speaking on it, not all of whom said new things. The focus of this section was more on standards and regulations. Firstly, Raymund Welre spoke on government involvement:

Then it was the turn of Harald Alvestrand, chairman of the IETF, to talk about standards and regulation. (the ->'s are supposed to indicate a cycle)

Last modified: Thursday, 20-Mar-2003 13:52:00 GMT
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