Cloud Wars Baffle Simmering Cyber Lawyers

My latest column in Forbes – “Cloud Wars Baffle Simmering Cyber Lawyers”:

Like their celestial counterparts, cyber clouds are unpredictable and ever-changing. The Motorola Xoom tablet arrived on Tuesday. The Apple iPad II arrives next week. Just as Verizon finally boasts its own iPhone, AT&T turns the tables with the Motorola Atrix running on the even faster growing Google Android platform. Meanwhile, Nokia declares its once-mighty Symbian platform ablaze and abandons ship for a new mobile partnership with Microsoft.

In the media world, Apple pushes the envelope with publishers who use iPhone and iPad apps to deliver content. Its new subscription service seeks 30% of the price of magazines, newspapers, and, it hopes, games and videos delivered through its App Store and iTunes.

Google quickly counters with OnePass, a program that charges content providers 10% for access to its Android mobile platform. But unlike Apple, said Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “We don’t prevent you from knowing, if you’re a publisher, who your customers are.” Game on.

Netflix, by the way, saw its Web traffic spike 38% in just one month between December 2010 and January 2011 and is, ho hum, upending movies, cable, and TV.

As the cloud wars roar, the cyber lawyers simmer. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. The technology law triad of Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig and Jonathan Zittrain and Columbia’s Tim Wu had a vision. They saw an arts and crafts commune of cyber-togetherness. Homemade Web pages with flashing sirens and tacky text were more authentic. “Generativity” was Zittrain’s watchword, a vague aesthetic whose only definition came from its opposition to the ominous “perfect control” imposed by corporations dictating “code” and throwing the “master switch.”

In their straw world of “open” heros and “closed” monsters, AOL’s “walled garden” of the 1990s was the first sign of trouble. Microsoft was an obvious villain. The broadband service providers were of coursedangerous gatekeepers, the iPhone was too sleek and integrated, and now even Facebook threatens their ideal of uncurated chaos. These were just a few of the many companies that were supposed to kill the Internet. The triad’s perfect world would be mostly broke organic farmers and struggling artists. Instead, we got Apple’s beautifully beveled apps and Google’s intergalactic ubiquity. Worst of all, the Web started making money.

Read the full column here . . . .

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