Lessig: Open Source Packs More Financial Potential Than Proprietary Culture

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In an opening keynote speech at the event, Lessig a Stanford law professor and founder of Creative Commons said Linux and open-source software are critical to the formation of a "read-write" Internet that's free of the control of proprietary application, content and network infrastructure vendors, embodied by Microsoft, Sony and Disney, and AT&T and Comcast.

"The read-write Internet will be massively more valuable to economic growth around the world," Lessig said. "There's huge potential for economic growth."

Free software, a free Internet and a free environment -- that is, devoid of stringent copyright restrictions -- will prevent domination by a few vendors that prefer to write the rules and assign consumers "read-only" access rights, according to Lessig.

"Companies are increasing their capacities to control how people consume culture. That's the read-only [group]," he said. "At the same time, there's a different Internet being built: the read-write Internet."

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Lessig, who received a standing ovation after his keynote, said the rise of Linux and open-source software and licenses have slowed Microsoft's ownership of the application layer. Yet the movement to prevent content providers and network providers from controlling how users digest digital content and access the Internet remains stalled because of archaic copyright laws, powerful lobbyists and the government's ignorance about "network neutrality," he said.

Lobbyists have unfairly painted opponents of digital rights legislation as "pirates" who want to co-opt the intellectual property of the vendors they represent, Lessig said. Those who back a read-write culture want to level the digital playing field for all content producers and prevent a few powerful companies from controlling the airwaves, he noted.

"When this layer is controlled by a handful of companies, they will exercise their power to make their revenue while corrupting the end-to-end architecture that the original Internet embraced," Lessig said. "If you do that, you chill innovation."

Still, it will be a great struggle to foster a free environment since few politicians are championing the cause, Lessig said. "Free software is necessary to support this culture. I do believe in the moral imperative to build free software so a free culture can grow on top of it. But the government simply doesn't get it.

The emergence of wireless mesh networks is quietly challenging the control of network owners, he added.

"The wired world has no clue about the potential for free wireless networks. There's a mini cloud exploding above the cities, and ... there's no incentive to control how people use the networks," Lessig said. "It's the last mile, provided freely and free of proprietary control."