The Past and Future of The Internet: A Symposium for John Perry Barlow

The Duke Law and Technology Review has released a special edition dedicated to examining the legal and philosophical legacy of John Perry Barlow: co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; junior lyricist for the Grateful Dead; biofuel entrepreneur; philosopher; poet; hacker Zelig; and driven, delightful weirdo.

Barlow died an untimely death in early 2018 after a lingering illness (septicemia from an infected toenail cuticle, seriously), and the breadth of the scholars in this journal are a testament to his wide reach.

I was privileged to contribute an essay myself. Other contributors include the copyright scholar James Boyle (previously), who also edited this edition; EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn (previously); Yochai "Wealth of Networks" Benkler (previously); Julie Cohen (previously); Jonathan Zittrain (previously); Peter Jaszi (previously); Pam Samuelson (previously); Charlie Nesson (previously); Jessica Litman (previously) and other smart and insightful writers and scholars.

The issue also includes some of Barlow's most influential essays like the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace (previously) and "Selling Wine Without Bottles."

I can't wait to dig into this! Here's some of Cindy Cohn's essay, "Inventing The Future: Barlow and Beyond":

Barlow was trying to use the force of his will and mighty pen to bring a good future to pass in a world where it was far from certain. He was trying to get out ahead of what he knew would be the powerful forces against freedom online.

To be truthful, I didn't really understand that at first either. I used to start my early Internet law presentations with a quote from Ecclesiastes: "there is nothing new under the sun."5I would then proceed, like a good American litigator, to tie the liberties of the future Internet to the precedents in the founding of the country. I would tie anonymous online speakers to Publius of the Federalist Papers. I would tie the need for digital encryption to the physical encryption systems used by Madison and Jefferson. Later I would tie the fight against mass surveillance to James Otis' fight against general warrants. Since Barlow's assertions were factually wrong—of course people could be held accountable for what they did online as long as their feet touched down in the jurisdiction of some government somewhere—I worried that he risked us losing the civil liberties and human rights online that so many had worked so hard to win offline.

In retrospect, we both had useful strategies for convincing different audiences to protect freedom online. It's just that I aimed for the Supreme Court while Barlow aimed for the sky. Unlike me, he gave a big voice to the dream that the digital world could be a chance for a fresh start against the incumbents—governments, telecommunications companies, movie and record cartels and more. His vision drew strongly on that powerful American idea that one could, like Huck Finn," light out for the territory" to start anew.

The Past and Future of The Internet: A Symposium for John Perry Barlow [James Boyle/Duke Law and Technology Review]

(Image: Hugh D'Andrade, EFF, CC BY, modified)