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A regulated Internet?

I heard the author of Without a Net interviewed briefly on my local NPR station, and I didn't like what I heard. Part of that was the necessary "dumbing down" for a mass audience; I felt that much of what was said deserved more analysis and was much more complicated than was presented in the interview. The full article is now available on the web at the link above, and I'm a little more comforted by that, but I'm still unhappy with some of it.

As I did sometime ago, Jonathan Zittrain brings up the idea of licensed code. The difference between us seems to be that he thinks it is a good idea.

It's a horrible idea. Yet to the general public, it will sound quite reasonable, and as I said in my original post, I won't be surprised if some Congress-critter introduces legislation like this. Microsoft and all the other big players will be solidly behind it, and if it kills Linux (other than specific, blessed distros which will have to become binary only) and every other non-mainstream OS, nobody but we geeks will give a damn. Innovation dies there and then, because only the big boys will be able to get new code licensed - very similar to how patents work now in the software arena: the little guy can't compete effectively.

But it goes beyond that. A lot of us routinely write little client-server apps to solve some problem we have. In the licensed world Zittrain proposes, we couldn't do that. We'd need a "license". Will a license be easy to get? Of course not. That wouldn't work, because if it were easy, the bad guys wouldn't be hampered at all. No, this would have to be serious stuff, with every application presenting credentials and getting authorization for its packets.

Some of the little one-off's people wrote to scratch their own itches became Internet standards. That goes away with licensing. I suppose this is probably going to happen no matter how stupid it is, but is the all of the world this dumb? If not, the parts that license will cut off the rest of the world, and that will no doubt lead to pirate access point gateways where people on the licensed side can still access the "wild" side and vice versa - it will be a mess.

Legislation shouldn't try to provide mechanism - that almost never works. Legislate against spam, against viruses, yes. Even cut off access for people spreading such things, but don't get involved in the mechanics of useful devices. It's like making a law that prevents you from striking another person with a knife using an over-hand motion: we don't need that law, and it has loopholes. It would be dumb, but if the "knife" were something most folks don't understand, and if "over-hand motion" was complicated and not something people do themselves, you'd get wide agreement that the law was good. That's what we have here: observation of undesirable behavior, and proposed legislation against the mechanics of the behavior. Bad, bad idea.



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© Anthony Lawrence







Wed Jan 25 13:29:01 2006: 1561   TonyLawrence

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I read this morning that Microsoft will be requiring signed drivers in Windows Vista - which of course means that you can't write drivers without their blessing.

These are difficult issues.. I understand why Microsoft needs to do this, but it's a slippery, slippery slope indeed.

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