EWII: Philosophy and Law   no comments

Posted at 11:00 am in Uncategorized

This week I read 2 books: Greg Latowka, Virtual Justice: The New Laws of Online Worlds, and David Berry, Copy, Rip, Burn: The Politics of Copyleft and Open Source. 

Greg Latowka, Virtual Justice: The New Laws of Online Worlds

This is an absolutely terrific book that I would recommend to anybody. I am particularly interested in it because it speaks to the law aspect of the internet, which I am working on for this module. Lastowka is this young hot-shot professor of law at Rutgers University, the same place Dan Dennett works at. He is a very good writer and he spends most of his time looking at real-life or imaginary case studies and then discussing the implications/interpretations from a legal, jurisprudential or moral point of view. I’ve never studied law before, but from this book I get a real sense that much of law in general, but in particular new areas of legislative law, work mostly by precedent. By this I mean that if there’s no law about this or that thing, then it basically hangs on what some judge has to say about  it. And judges are human – the judge might be in a bad mood one day and decides that someone broke the law, even if there is no strictly codifed grounds to ratify this. Some of Latowka’s real life case studies are fascinating. For example, he talks about the Habbo Hotel hacker, the scam artist who made 1000’s of dollars in real money by “stealing” virtual furniture and other online second life belongings on the site EVE online.

David Berry, Copy, Rip, Burn: The Politics of Copyleft and Open Source

I’m not quite finished this yet but this is a very good book for general reading which I recommend. It’s not too old (2008), and impressively research. Berry is a lecturer at Swansea in Media and Communication. The book is about what he calls FLOSS free/libre and open source software. He spends a lot of time talking about the difference between the free software movement and the open source movement. To be honest I am not entirely convinced that these definitely are different in the definitive way that he says. I get the impression that most people within these movements have in the past considered them to be separate, but that does not necessarily it has always been the case or that it is the case now. Like most historical arguments, it is probably subject to a little bit of doubt. In any case, it seems that the main difference between open source people and free software people is a question of philosophy: is it an issue of moral principle or is it an issue of pragmatism. Free software people like Richard Stallmann, the prophet who founded it, think that there is a moral high ground at stake. Open source people like Linus, who created the early versions of Linux, are more pragmatic. Linus believes that code should be freely available because it results in better programs. But programmers need to live – you can’t expect them to work for free or else we won’t get anywhere. To day, Linus has made a lot of money through working on projects related to Linux, even though it is still free. There are many large companies including IBM who have worked with Linus on or around Linux. I’m not sure to what degree these differences are really important. Stallmann they are very important. However all these FLOSS ideas have a lot in common – a focus on the collective good. A famous paper by John Perry Barlow (1996) A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace to some extent captures the emphasis of both sides, though Berry thinks it is closer to the free software position.


Written by Eamonn Walls on October 29th, 2012

Leave a Reply