Openness of Internet amidst wisdom of crowds

Openness of Internet amidst wisdom of crowds

Nirav Bhatt is an LLM candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

The internet has been a useful resource for all ages across the globe. Although the first effects of the revolution were seen in the West, it subsequently spread across the world. Be it the open source software, access to literary and artistic works, music, and other forms of creative works, internet was seen as a useful tool for the purposes of education, disseminating knowledge and creating awareness amongst thepublic. The arrival of the internet also witnessed how the emergence of the online social community and the developments in the information and communications area took an unprecedented significance.

Recently, a New York Times article reported on the new book of Jaron Lanier, titled, “You Are Not a Gadget,” which is a manifesto against “hive thinking” and “digital Maoism,” by which he means the glorification of open-source software, free information and collective work is at the expense of individual creativity. Jaron Lanier was an early supporter of the Internet’s open culture. In the 1990s, he was one of the digital pioneers calling over the great potential that would be realized once the Internet allowed musicians, artists, scientists and engineers around the world to instantly share their work. But now, he is having second thoughts and his new book examines the downsides. He acknowledges the examples of generous collaboration, like Wikipedia, but argues that the mantras of “open culture” and “information wants to be free” have produced a destructive new social contract.

Although for many years, the Internet seemed to be open, free, and competitive, the last decades have witnessed the Internet's growing use or misuse. The complaints of piracy, copyright infringement etc. has left some musicians, artists, scientists and engineers dissatisfied and without trust in the internet. However it should be noted that the current legal policies, rules and judgments concerning fair use, freedom of expression and the public domain are having their presence felt too and therefore it is difficult to support the point that free information and open culture promotes a destructive social contract. If the necessary checks and balances are kept amidst the enormous users in the World Wide Web, there should be fewer complaints that the internet medium becomes an expense of individual creativity.

In today’s Information Society, wide dissemination, diffusion, and sharing of knowledge is important to encourage innovation and creativity. Facilitating meaningful participation by all in intellectual property issues and knowledge, sharing through full awareness and capacity building is a fundamental part of an inclusive Information Society. It is the internet which has enabled individuals to communicate with others in a borderless world.

In addition, the mere notion of recognition that the Internet supports a healthy open culture, counters many of the pessimistic predictions of enclosure and excessive commercialization in cyberspace. Undoubtedly these tendencies exist; however, they do not preclude the simultaneous distribution of volunteer-produced informational works. Moreover, the open culture has one great advantage over commercial offerings: it embraces the decentralized communicative architecture of the Internet. Enclosure strategies on the other hand necessarily entail limiting the communicative freedom of Internet users. From the perspective of political and legal theory, the existence of an open culture undermines some basic assumptions regarding the inevitability of public and/or private property. In respect of informational resources, the open culture represents an effective, and sometimes superior, model for organizing social access and use. It should therefore be afforded due recognition in policy debates concerning Internet regulation. Beyond the issue of the legal significance of the Internet’s open culture the phenomenon of volunteer producing information communities, raises many interesting economic and sociological questions that deserve attention from academics in those fields.