[iDC] Is it a luxury to be able to demand one's DotRights? (and other reflections on the conference)

Frank Pasquale frank.pasquale at gmail.com
Thu Nov 19 06:22:57 UTC 2009

Hi All,

Here are a few reflections on the conference:

1) As a legal academic writing about the internet, my main points of
reference have been liberals and libertarians.  I've tried to justify
minimalist reforms proposed by the former against the "markets *uber alles*"
rhetoric of the latter.  This conference convinced me that engagement with
libertarianism is stale.  There is a vibrant intellectual community among
economic sociologists and researchers in the critical internet studies
field.  Neither of these groups gets much attention in law reviews now; I
hope to remedy that deficiency.

2) As you might expect from a lawyer, I've had a bit of trouble digesting
the "play" side of the conference. At first some of the interventions
reminded me of the bizarre juxtaposition of activism, appropriationism, and
absurdity in this Seether video:


But on the other hand, the same style works to brilliant effect on this ACLU
"Demand Your Dot Rights" campaign:


And I imagine it's about the only way to get people to think about topics
like the ones Sheldon Wolin discusses in *Democracy Incorporated: Managed
Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism* (at
http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8606.html).  Both Laura Denardis and
Jonathan Zittrain also showed how small, pragmatic steps can advance freedom
and equality online.

3) The best part of the conference for me was the constant reference to two
great scandals of our time: a) 2.7 billion or so people live on less than $2
per day and together consume less than 2% of global product, and b) crony
capitalism shifts ever more power and resources to finance capital.
Whatever we think about the future of the internet, this inequality should
be in the foreground.  Exploitation we usually associate with LDCs is
creeping into the "overdeveloped" world via the internet.  As *Sleep
Dealer*showed, connectivity can just as easily be turned to
dehumanizing ends as it
is to emancipatory ones.

I loved Brian Holmes's mention of Veblen and James K. Galbraith (elaborated
on here
I've been grappling with *The Predator State* for some time.  I also thought
that Jonathan Beller's screening of part of Khavn de la Cruz's Squatterpunk
was an impressive linkage of theory and practice.  After viewing that clip,
I'll always associate "playbor" with some forms of child labor.

4) As for future directions: My presentation led me to think about a pretty
simple dichotomy: the extent to which online companies' profits derive from
their productivity, or their power.   (My slides are here:
I think that basic distinction should play a larger role in an ethical
evaluation of internet platforms.   I look forward to sharing with the list
exemplary instances of real value-creation--and parasitic
exploitation--online.  (For one intriguing example, see this post on

I'll also be reading David Stark's new book, which compares "a machine-tool
company in late and postcommunist Hungary, a new-media startup in New York
during and after the collapse of the Internet bubble, and a Wall Street
investment bank"--all of which experience the "friction of competing
criteria of worth" (see http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9070.html).


Frank A. Pasquale
Professor of Law, Seton Hall Law School
One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102
(973)-642-8485 (w)
(201)-988-5774 (c)
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