"A magnificent achievement. Yochai Benkler shows us how the Internet enables new commons-based methods for producing goods, remaking culture, and participating in public life. The Wealth of Networks is an indispensable guide to the political economy of our digitally networked world."
Jack M. Balkin, Professor of Law and Director of the Information Society Project, Yale University
Information, knowledge, and culture are central to human freedom and human development. How they are produced and exchanged in our society critically affects the way we see the state of the world as it is and might be; who decides these questions; and how we, as societies and polities, come to understand what can and ought to be done. For more than 150 years, modern complex democracies have depended in large measure on an industrial information economy for these basic functions. In the past decade and a half, we have begun to see a radical change in the organization of information production. Enabled by technological change, we are beginning to see a series of economic, social, and cultural adaptations that make possible a radical transformation of how we make the information environment we occupy as autonomous individuals, citizens, and members of cultural and social groups. It seems passe´ today to speak of “the Internet revolution.” In some academic circles, it is positively naı¨ve. But it should not be. The change brought about by the networked information environment is deep. It is structural. It goes to the very foundations of how liberal markets and liberal democracies have coevolved for almost two centuries.
A series of changes in the technologies, economic organization, and social practices of production in this environment has created new opportunities for how we make and exchange information, knowledge, and culture. These changes have increased the role of nonmarket and nonproprietary production, both by individuals alone and by cooperative efforts in a wide range of loosely or tightly woven collaborations. These newly emerging practices have seen remarkable success in areas as diverse as software development and investigative reporting, avant-garde video and multiplayer online games. Together, they hint at the emergence of a new information environment, one in which individuals are free to take a more active role than was possible in the industrial information economy of the twentieth century. This new freedom holds great practical promise: as a dimension of individual freedom; as a platform for better democratic participation; as a medium to foster a more critical and self-reﬂective culture; and, in an increasingly information-dependent global economy, as a mechanism to achieve improvements in human development everywhere.
The rise of greater scope for individual and cooperative nonmarket production of information and culture, however, threatens the incumbents of the industrial information economy. At the beginning of the twenty-ﬁrst century, we ﬁnd ourselves in the midst of a battle over the institutional ecology of the digital environment. A wide range of laws and institutions—from broad areas like telecommunications, copyright, or international trade regulation, to minutiae like the rules for registering domain names or whether digital television receivers will be required by law to recognize a particular code—are being tugged and warped in efforts to tilt the playing ﬁeld toward one way of doing things or the other. How these battles turn out over the next decade or so will likely have a signiﬁcant effect on how we come to know what is going on in the world we occupy, and to what extent and in what forms we will be able—as autonomous individuals, as citizens, and as participants in cultures and communities—to affect how we and others see the world as it is and as it might be.