The ties that bind the recession and software piracy

Provocative thoughts in Smithsonian Magazine from Jaron Lanier, a long-time internet guru and the author of a fascinating book, You are Not a Gadget. He suggests that there is a discomfiting parallel between the recession and the information age. He talks about his forthcoming book The Fate of Power and the Future of Dignity, suggesting “that a file-sharing service and a hedge fund are essentially the same things.” Fascinating. He says:

 “[T]he rise of networking has coincided with the loss of the middle class, instead of an expansion in general wealth, which is what should happen. But if you say we’re creating the information economy, except that we’re making information free, then what we’re saying is we’re destroying the economy.”

He illustrates, pointing to parallels between the mortgage bubble and software piracy:

“To my mind an overleveraged unsecured mortgage is exactly the same thing as a pirated music file. It’s somebody’s value that’s been copied many times to give benefit to some distant party. In the case of the music files, it’s to the benefit of an advertising spy like Google [which monetizes your search history], and in the case of the mortgage, it’s to the benefit of a fund manager somewhere. But in both cases all the risk and the cost is radiated out toward ordinary people and the middle classes—and even worse, the overall economy has shrunk in order to make a few people more.”

Thought-provoking and I look forward to reading the book. To the extent that both the mortgage bubble and file-sharing concern information and value, he is undoubtedly correct. I also think that Lanier’s statements provide further illustrations of the need to rethink our ways of analyzing cyberspace and cyberlaw. Indeed, I’m no fan of the exceptionalist / unexceptionalist debate (and even then, tilt more towards the unexceptionalists). Pursuant to several articles I’m working on now, I think we need different ways of approaching the topic, perhaps such as those made by Jacqueline Lipton.

HT @FrankPasquale for the article in Smithsonian Mag. Cross-posted to Infoglut Tumblr.

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