Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Lessig's "Code 2.0" seems to support simplified but mandatory content labeling


Recently I purchased the 2006 version of Lawrence Lessig’s revised book “Code”: that is, “Code 2.0”, from Basic Books and Perseus Publishing.

I plan a complete review soon in my books blog, but I notice that he has quite a bit to say about COPA (and the earlier CDA) and is optimistic that a relatively simple content labeling system would effectively protect minors.

Early in the book, he notes that commercial interest, through cookies and behavioral tracking, have developed the potential capability for webmasters to determine much more about visitors than plaintiffs against COPA-like laws admit. Later (around p 252) he talks about the real world examples of what is expected of vendors not to sell certain things to minors, and indicates that there is a burden in cyberspace that is much harder than in physical space. He suggests that the "Identity Layer" related to TCP/IP could be engineered to identify whether a user is a legal adult, with little cost to speakers.

Access can be blocked, he says, when speech is “regulable” and the listener is a “minor”, but the burden on regulability is on the speaker, but on identifying the listener is on the visitor (that is, the parents or teachers, usually).

He suggests that self-publishers or speakers on the Web be required to place metatags like “” on their published objects, that browser vendors and various vendor applications be expected to recognize them (as a kind of software “V-chip”), which he says can be done for negligible cost in an open source environment (like the way he says Mozilla was developed).

On the other hand, he thinks that the “Platform for Internet Content Selection” or PICS standard of W2C, as essentially a protocol for rating and filtering web content, is overkill: it envisions a variety of communities setting separate but “peacefully coexisting” standard sets (that is, the religious right and New Age parenting communities can have separate standards for rating). He describes PICS as both “horizontally” and “vertically” neutral.

Lessig also equates pornography (legal for adults, meaning not "child porn" and not obscenity) to "harmful to minors". However, many of the plaintiffs at the COPA trial (myself included) had expressed concerns in briefs that the HTM definition could ensnare material not generally viewed as porn. "You know it when you see it."

Lessig's book and this analysis appear to have been written before the October 2006 COPA trial in Philadelphia (I attended one day of it). So they would have been written before Judge Lowell Reed's opinion was rendered in March 2007.

The W3C site for PICS is here.

ICRA (FOSI) says that it "has also provided a simplified PICS interpretation of the current vocabulary alongside the RDF labels" on its main page here.

It looks like this material is going to start developing again.

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