In light of the great, informal conversation in Randy’s office today about using films in our credit courses, I thought I’d make a pitch for screening The Social Network and for a few interesting angles to employ when discussing the film in class. First, there is an interesting debate about intellectual property that can come out of the movie. Did Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg actually “steal” anything from his colleagues at Harvard that he worked with early on? Were the lawsuits that embroiled Zuckerberg based on valid complaints? In a really interesting review of the movie, legal scholar Lawrence Lessig condemns the lawsuits between Zuckerberg and his Harvard colleagues who accused him of stealing their ideas:
Did he steal a trade secret? Absolutely not. Did he steal any other “property”? Absolutely not—the code for Facebook was his, and the “idea” of a social network is not a patent. It wasn’t justice that gave the twins $65 million; it was the fear of a random and inefficient system of law. That system is a tax on innovation and creativity. That tax is the real villain here, not the innovator it burdened.
In his review, Lessig then goes on to critique the movie for missing what he sees as the most important aspect of the story of Facebook’s phenomenal growth: Zuckerberg didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to create this site on the web, which in less than 6 years has grown to have nearly half a billion users. Lessig argues that the creators of “The Social Network” seemed oblivious to the way that Facebook magnificently embodies the idea that the web has democratized innovation:
Because the platform of the Internet is open and free, or in the language of the day, because it is a “neutral network,” a billion Mark Zuckerbergs have the opportunity to invent for the platform. And though there are crucial partners who are essential to bring the product to market, the cost of proving viability on this platform has dropped dramatically.
As Lessig points out, those watching this movie should wonder how the network neutrality debates playing out right now might lead to changes on the internet that would make it much more difficult for a future Mark Zuckerberg to innovate on the web.
Lessig, Lawrence. “Sorkin vs. Zuckerberg.” The New Republic, 1 Oct. 2010. Web. 3 Dec. 2010. [link]
The Social Network – Official Site. 2010. Web. 3 Dec. 2010. [link]
Wu, Tim. “Network Neutrality FAQ.” Tim Wu. N.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2010. [link]