The Generative Internet

63 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2005

See all articles by Jonathan L. Zittrain

Jonathan L. Zittrain

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Berkman Center for Internet & Society; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)


The generative capacity for unrelated and unaccredited audiences to build and distribute code and content through the Internet to its tens of millions of attached personal computers has ignited growth and innovation in information technology and has facilitated new creative endeavors. It has also given rise to regulatory and entrepreneurial backlashes. A further backlash among consumers is developing in response to security threats that exploit the openness of the Internet and of PCs to third-party contribution. A shift in consumer priorities from generativity to stability will compel a response from regulators and markets and, if unaddressed, could prove decisive in closing today's open computing environments. This Article explains why PC openness is as important as network openness, as well as why today's open network might give rise to unduly closed endpoints. It argues that the Internet is better conceptualized as a generative grid that includes both PCs and networks rather than as an open network indifferent to the configuration of its endpoints. Applying this framework, the Article explores ways - some of them bound to be unpopular among advocates of an open Internet represented by uncompromising end-to-end neutrality - in which the Internet can be made to satisfy genuine and pressing security concerns while retaining the most important generative aspects of today's networked technology.

This is a working paper. The final version of the paper may be found online without registration or charge at

Keywords: cyberlaw, internet, generativity, drm, digital rights management, security, intellectual property

JEL Classification: D18, K1, K10, K2, K20, K42, O3, O31, O32, O33, O34

Suggested Citation

Zittrain, Jonathan, The Generative Internet. Harvard Law Review, Vol. 119, p. 1974, May 2006, Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 28/2006, Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2006/1, Available at SSRN:

Jonathan Zittrain (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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