Lawrence Lessig/Harmful to minors recommendations

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On February 1, 2006, Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School and founder of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, published six Internet policy proposals under the title Internet Policy: What Congress Should Do. This page focuses on his proposal regarding "harmful to minors" material on the internet.

Main article: Lawrence Lessig/Internet policy proposals (2007)



In order to address the regulation or censorship of “harmful to minors” material on the internet for children, Lessing proposed a law that would establish a mandatory html tag for all content considered “harmful to minors” on the Internet. [1] Lessig addressed several problems and criticisms he foresaw regarding his proposal:

  • Such tags have been considered in the past, but critics argued that a visible tag would create an unfair bias or stigma against all “harmful to minors” content, when not all such materials are explicit to the same degree. However, Lessig’s proposal differs in that his tags would be hidden, only visible to the computer or in a given webpage’s source code.[2]
  • Some critics also believe that the government has no place in censoring material on the internet. However, Lessig responds that such a law would not be outright censorship as it does not require censoring, but only provides a framework for optional censorship of “harmful to minors” material. He also argues that government inaction has resulted in ineffective market-originated censorship in the form of software designed to censor “harmful to minors” content. The problem with these market solutions, according to Lessig, is that they end up filtering too much material, much of which is not “harmful to minors,” and there is no way to challenge claims that given content is harmful. Under a public law, however, any such claims can be challenged in court. [3]
  • Another criticism of Lessig’s proposal is that it would be too difficult to determine what constitutes “harmful to minors” content on the Internet and warrants a corresponding html tag. Lessig admits that it would in fact be very difficult; however, he believes that such difficulty is inevitable. He points out that such difficulty exists and is dealt with in the “real world” when it comes to “harmful to minors” material. At least under the legislation as he proposes, as opposed to the current market-based form of censorship, any content’s supposed “harm” can be challenged. [4]
  • Another possible problem with Lessig’s proposal is that it does not address Internet content based in foreign countries, where the would-be law would have no jurisdiction. Lessig suggests that, using current technologies, filtering programs and web browsers could block any foreign-based materials that were not certified as compliant under the legislation. [5]

In general, Lessig sees a broader principle of Internet regulation in this proposal; the problem of government inaction. While some argue that the government should do nothing in regards to regulation or censorship of content on the Internet, Lessig feels that such inaction can result in greater and ineffective censorship of online content. When the market responds to the demand from parents for ways to filter “harmful to minors” material, the result is ineffective technology, and content is censored too much, with “non-harmful to minors” material being blocked as well. If the government establishes effective regulation, such as “harmful to minors” tags, then the market can respond effectively with good technology and code.[6]

Articles and resources

See also


  1. Lawrence Lessig, “COPA is struck down,” Lessing Blog, March 22, 2007.
  2. Lawrence Lessig, “COPA is struck down,” Lessing Blog, March 22, 2007.
  3. Lawrence Lessig, “COPA is struck down,” Lessig Blog, March 22, 2007.
  4. Lawrence Lessig, “COPA is struck down,” Lessing Blog, March 22, 2007.
  5. Lawrence Lessig, “COPA is struck down,” Lessig Blog, March 22, 2007.
  6. Lawrence Lessig, “COPA is struck down,” Lessig Blog, March 22, 2007.

External resources

External articles