Reflections, 20 years Later, on A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

[Read the post]


I felt a need to make clear that the whole notion one could own free speech was going to be very hard to perpetuate in any environment where anybody could perfectly reproduce anything humans make with their minds and distribute it infinitely at zero cost.

True and yet why so hard? I’d say from reading @doctorow and lessig and others that the notion assumes general computers and code owned by the free speakers rather than third parties.

My reaction when I see the word “cyberspace”:


Twenty years ago I’d spent a few years building some chunks of the NYC internet having been around earlier incarnations and predecessors for years before that. I can’t really recall when or where I first read this Declaration in early 96 but I do remember some of my reactions. In no particular order and paraphrased due to the passage of time:

  • Well thats nice but this person sounds like they are high as a kite
  • Nope, Barlow hasn’t run any of the servers or networks, doesn’t seem to have any idea of the cost or effort it takes to keep the thing running.
  • Does he have any idea that other countries have their own ways of looking at things?

So twenty years later have my views changed? How do I see this Declaration now? I’m kind of pleased by the quaint hippie idealism but if anything the snotty “I know better than you” bits and the “you can’t own property” bits grate on me more than ever.

But even so, I’m glad this was written and published, I know first hand it inspired some people to get out and make stuff.

@hello_friends that assumption is full of lots of problems as is. Like the above it contains assumptions of knowing better than everyone else.


I remember this; liked it then, like it now.
What I like mainly about it in retrospect is how it articulates how mature the WWW had already become. By late 1996 we had fledgling eBay and Amazon for online purchases, Geocities/Lycos or your ISP’s free hosting space for personal websites (not yet called blogging of course), Hotmail for the revolution that was webmail… there were already tons of review, news and opinion sites, image hosts, social portals, and you could even book (some) holidays and flights online. Sure, we didn’t have Google and its host of fancy services, but Webcrawler and AltaVista and the old human-curated Yahoo were fit enough for purpose, it seemed.
This isn’t a “get off my yard” btw - things are better now in many many ways - just a plea not to dismiss the internet of 20 years ago as all textfiles and gifs of Teri Hatcher that took ten minutes to load.

1 Like

Heck, we had a pretty mature Internet (with graphical multiplayer games even) in academia before the Web existed.


The great thing about those networks was the bandwidth and hardware was all from a kind of Mommy’s Magic Purse. Never any worries about running out of disk space on USENET servers or new switches to expand the LAN.

The portion quoted matches a set of legal and policy issues that @doctorow and Lawrence Lessig and others have researched:


Very true . . .

(Over ten years ago . . . )

Lessig brings a keen focus to some of the thorniest issues posed by today’s Internet: free speech, pornography, intellectual property, encryption, law beyond our borders and the courts’ inability to stretch the Constitution’s intentions to cover the new electronic world. When analyzing these individual trouble spots, the author reveals himself to be a deep, lucid and well-read thinker.

For example, if you’re concerned that the Internet makes it too easy to steal intellectual property, he says, you’re worrying up the wrong tree – in fact, ‘‘the lesson in the future will be that copyright is protected far too well.’’

(In 2005 . . . )

Authors Guild sued Google for digitizing books as part of the Google Book Search program called “Google Print” at the time. . . . The Authors Guild complained that Google was “engaging in massive copyright infringement” by scanning books and that also that Google would be guilty of copyright infringement by displaying the search results to book-seeking users.

(In 2014 . . . )

A bipartisan group of 17 senators, headed by Mark Udall and Rob Portman, submitted a letter . . . to Senate leadership urging them to pass patent reform along the lines of the House’s Innovation Act. This followed a letter from 42 state attorneys general urging reform along the same lines. . . .

(Last year . . . )

The Obama administration on Friday directed Volkswagen to recall nearly a half-million cars, saying the automaker illegally installed software in its diesel-power cars to evade standards for reducing smog.


U.S. automakers argued for DMCA rules to restrict owners freedom to inspect and repair their own vehicles. “They say you shouldn’t be allowed to repair your own car because you might not do it right. . . .They say no one should be allowed to even look at the code without the manufacturer’s permission . . . .”

(Today …)

[The world could be free to sing Happy Birthday without being sued by as early as next month] (

In a settlement filed with courts on Monday, music publisher Warner/Chappell agreed to pay $14m to end the lawsuit challenging its right to Happy Birthday To You – possibly the world’s most famous song.


James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, . . . submitted [testimony] to the Senate on Tuesday as part of an assessment of threats facing the United States.

“In the future, intelligence services might use the [boop boop] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” Clapper said.


Because out in the real world, technology isn’t the be all and end all, it doesn’t exist for its own sake.

Fun to read those names and . . . remember Netscape? And Microsoft defending antitrust allegations concerning its browser?

1 Like

I never had more fun on the internet than being 9yo and playing old school Unix Star Trek on a Stanford machine over a modem.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.