Ian Brown & Christopher T. Marsden: Regulating Code: Good governance and better regulation in the information Age.
Good governance and better regulation in the information Age
MIT Press, 2013, 288 p.
This hard cover book is the most recent publication in the eminent internet MIT Press series which features some of the best known names in the internet communications and regulation field such as Manuel Castells, Jonathan Zittrain, Peter Cowhey, Jonathan Aronson, Milton Mueller and others. The series is called information revolution and global politics. Regulating code is a solid and well researched textbook that will appeal to experts and practitioners, who will enjoy the authors' incisive and thorough coverage of the field. It is well written and gives an honest and impartial (one could call it a politically correct) coverage of the current internet debate. It is highly interdisciplinary and well written in its analysis of the different legal, technical and economic arguments. It's a must read for educated professionals from diverse disciplines who seek to master the information sciences domain, since the book offers a one-stop background and accurate context covering practically all the hot regulatory topics, from privacy & data protection, to copyright, social media censorship to net neutrality, stretching to cybersecurity and broadband innovation. The historical references and current bibliography are truly impressive. In fact the lengthy bibliography is so complete that the expert reader will not be disappointed unless their own magnum opus were accidentally not to have been listed there.
What is new is the interdisciplinary approach to multi-stakeholder governance, with a focus on 'code'. If the title suggests that the book is about the history of software licensing, patenting and technical intricacies thereof, the reader will mostly find good ideas about the possibility for harmonious orchestration of governance in the internet arena. Code is what takes internet governance from the international relation sphere of politics and global markets down to a realistic level of the here and now. Independent of the geographical region we live in we've all experienced the IP protocol stack and its processing speed in our everyday life, and we all care deeply about access to 'good' internet code. The authors make their case for a smarter 'prosumer law' approach to internet regulation that protects on-line innovation, public choice, safety, and fundamental human rights in the information society.
The reader will enjoy good quotes such as the ones below:
"For over a decade governments have been able to require crude filtering of content to users based on geography. (p. 5) Code has continued to morph rapidly even as legislation has tried to adapt. Investor certainty and democratic participation in legislative processes are arguably enhanced by the leisurely speed of legislation, contrasted with the rapid--but slowing--progress of internet standards in which only technical experts can realistically participate." (p. 30).
Multi-stakeholder governance and code-based internet design are the regulatory pegs on which Ian Brown and Christopher Marsden hang their five detailed case studies: privacy (encryption), copyrights, censors (free speech), social networking, and smart pipes. The first three are case studies in fundamental rights with economic implications. The last two are case studies of the current most innovative platforms to develop new markets.
Multi-stakeholder analysis is clearly very much the fashion, largely because it helps to simplify the market dynamics picture and provides a strategy to move forward on thorny regulatory bottlenecks (neutrality) and divisive policy issues (who pays for sunk costs). The approach rests on a pluralist conviction or happy view, as in the best tradition of Robert Dahl's theory of democracy, where power is contestable, neither good nor evil wins too much nor for too long, since everyone can potentially be engaged and have their collective voices heard. Good policy decisions need experts and lawmakers to work hard to identify potential new participants, as the authors conclude:
"The stakeholders who are influenced by standards setting go beyond those who necessarily actively participate in formal standards-setting activities. Who are the unrepresented stakeholders, such as the army of prosumers, in governance processes, and how can their interests be better represented?" (p. 202).
Strangely, 'search' is deliberately omitted; 'we deliberately omitted search, whose development was critically dependent on further antitrust activity in Brussels and Washington'. Sounds somewhat cryptic, shall we hang on for the authors' forthcoming book topic on sovereign code & the politics of big data search?