I just finished reading The Future Of Ideas and Free Culture. I read both books avidly and I would recommend them to pretty much anyone -- programmer or not. What's more, they are both available for free online, under a creative commons license.
In both books, Lessig dissects the state and the fate of the commons in american society. The commons are to be cherished and cared for as they lead to innovation, creativity, and a free culture.
The Future Of Ideas is mostly concerned about explaining the concept of commons and the one of layers. The idea of layers is taken from Yochai Benkler and divides the network in three parts: the physical layer, the code, and the content. Lessig then explains how the balance of control at each layer affects innovation and creativity. The example stories include Napster, MP3.com, UNIX, and deCSS.
Free Culture is mostly concerned about the effects of excessive control on culture. Lessig discusses copyright law, intellectual property, and the concentration of the media. The example stories include the infamous RIAA lawsuits and the Eldred v. Ashcroft case.
A few things strike me about this free culture debate:
- There is no clear stakeholder in the 'new'. The new innovators and creators that free culture helps aren't yet established. This makes the fight incredibly hard to win. It's another case of special interests violating the people.
- There is no obvious way to disagree with Lessig unless you have a stake in the 'old'. Lessig explains his case rationally and is smart enough to include the whole political spectrum with his arguments.
- Prolonging the term of existing copyrights is absurd. The objective of copyrights is to give an incentive to innovators. Once the innovation has seen the light of day, prolonging the term of copyrights delays their introduction in the public domain where they could give rise to even more innovation. Thus, prolonging the term of copyrights goes against their prime objective.
As a side note, another book from Lessig just came out: Remix.