Digital Feudalism. Enclosures and Erasures from Digital Rights Management to the Digital Divide

Sascha D. Meinrath, James W. Losey, Victor W. Pickard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The Internet is argued to be the most participatory telecommunications medium ever developed-it is, in essence, a vast commons-originally developed with taxpayer funding and built to ensure that no one entity owned (or could control) the entire network. Developed using an end-to-end architecture, the Internet places the intelligence at the network's edges, allowing users to define what applications and services to run and which hardware and devices to use. However, the democratic potential of the Internet is being threatened by structural changes that, if left unchecked, will limit future innovation and participation. If these trends continue, the Internet will devolve into a feudalized space-one that limits democratic freedoms while enriching an oligopoly of powerful gatekeepers. While incumbent phone, cable, and software companies stand to gain financially from these enclosures, as this chapter documents, the negative outcomes stemming from this digital feudalization will have profound detrimental impacts on democratic and affordable communications. This chapter highlights specific policy debates, both within United States and internationally, that undergird these vulnerabilities, and illuminates normative understandings about the role of the Internet in supporting a democratic, civil society. Using the seven-layer OSI model as a framework, our analysis catalogs current threats to this telecommunications commons and examines the policy provisions that should be implemented to prevent the feudalization of the Internet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-287
Number of pages51
JournalAdvances in Computers
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Computer Science


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