Affordances of Freedom: Theorizing the Rights of Users in the Digital Era
Jerusalem Review of Legal Studies, Forthcoming
18 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2013
Date Written: October 1, 2012
What does it take to be a free person in the information age? Securing freedom is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges we are facing nowadays as we delve into the second decade of the twenty first century. In Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code, and the Play of Everyday Practice Julie Cohen offers a profound exploration of the human condition in the information age and skillfully articulates the complex dialectic between access and control of information. Her analysis lays the ground for understanding freedom in our times.
Cohen's focus on the situated self offers a unified theoretical framework for conceptualizing the ramifications of access and use of information. The analytic framework she offers enables us to look beyond the constraining boundaries of legal doctrines, and understand the social and cultural consequences of laws and architecture. It helps bridging the current disconnect between control of cultural information (governed by copyright) and control of personal information (governed by privacy). Her integrative perspective provides some deep insights on the complex dialectics between access and control of information, and how it affects the human condition in our times. It also provides a great point of entry into the central debates in current information policy, and copyright law in particular.
Cohen maintains that legal policy in the networked information society should secure freedom by semantic discontinuity, namely, by keeping logical gaps and formal incompleteness in legal and technological infrastructures. This paper challenges Cohen's prescription of freedom, arguing that gaps and incompleteness in law create uncertainty, unpredictability and risk, and are therefore susceptible to power, abuse, arbitrariness and injustice. Users' rights, and limitations on remedies, might be more useful in securing fundamental liberties.
Keywords: users' rights, freedom, play, fair use, uncertainty, power, copyright, access, control, information
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