Post Books

Innovation Policy in a World With Less Scarcity

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Mark Lemley’s new paper IP in a World Without Scarcity provides good overviews of the case “that on the Internet, we increasingly get creativity in spite of, rather than because of, IP law” — the exclusivity incentive for creation story, if it were ever true, is drowning in non-exclusive creativity, and theories that distribution and revelation also require an exclusivity incentive also seem quaint given the Internet — and of 3D printing, general purpose robotics, and synthetic biology, which “share two essential characteristics with the Internet: they radically reduce the cost of production and distribution of things, and they separate the informational content of those things (the design) from their manufacture.” Thus, Lemley argues, economics and policy need increasingly to grapple with an end to scarcity, IP will be increasingly important, and we can draw lessons from the Internet about how this all will and should play out.

The paper is a quick read at 55 double-spaced pages. I recommend it to anyone interested in near future technology and policy. The paper’s final sentence:

Thinking about such questions has been the province of science fiction authors, but understanding what a post-scarcity economy will look like is the great task of economics for the next century.

Lemley cites two SF books very familiar to many readers: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow (my positive review) and The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson, which just a few days ago I exploited in a private communication: “…the primer is an interactive learning notebook which adapts as the owner learns, informing a generation of geeks’ vision of education and development. Such tools are increasingly feasible. Will all humans have full access to, and ability to participate in the development of such tools? Only if they are developed in the commons, which will only happen with intentional action.” That’s probably a good segue into my disagreements with and additional idiosyncratic observations about IP in a World Without Scarcity.

By IP, Lemley means intellectual property: mostly copyright, patent, trademark. That has been and will be increasingly a terrible frame for thinking about policy. It gives away the farmfuture to owners of the past, who, as Lemley notes “will fight the death of scarcity” as they have fought the Internet — with more criminalization, more lawsuits, more attempts to fundamentally alter technologies in order to protect their rents. This seems rather suboptimal given that we know the theory upon which IP rests is largely bunk. The alternative, assuming we still only wish to maximize innovation, is to make innovation policy the frame. This makes turning the enclosure dial up or down a sideshow, and pulls in non-enclosure incentives and a host of more indirect and probably much more important determinants of innovation, e.g., education and governance.

The paper provides a couple reasons for focusing on the enclosure version of IP (Lemley doesn’t need any reason; he’s an IP scholar, and though I wish such people would reconceptualize themselves as commons scholars, I have no expectation; in any case the “reasons” are my reading). First, the framing isn’t as harmful as I made it out to be, because IP owners’ fight against the Internet “didn’t work. Copyright infringement remains rampant” and against other democratizing technologies, “IP owners will (probably) lose that fight.” But winning isn’t binary, nor is the continued existence of rampant copyright infringement a good indicator.

Given that network effects are highly relevant for many kinds of knowledge products — a tool or experience is much more valuable if other people can be expected to know it — a significant level of piracy can be profit-maximizing for an IP rent collector. Better indicators might be the collapse of profits from IP rents (the movie industry continues to grow, and while the recorded music industry has declined from its peak, this is nothing like an icehouse collapse, and many other IP rent sectors continue to grow) and the displacement of IP rent collectors as the marketers the dominant knowledge products of the age by other entities better adapted to a world in which fighting against the Internet doesn’t work (the mass and high-status markets are dominated by IP rent collectors in nearly all fields, exceptions being encyclopedias and certain kinds of infrastructure software). These might be minor, highly debatable (maybe the music industry will soon recommence a full collapse, be joined by movies, both displaced by crowdfunding and crowdmarketing; I doubt it given the properties controlled by IP rent collectors and other entities’ unchanged desperation to cut unfavorable deals with them) quibbles, if the IP owners’ “losing” fight against the Internet hadn’t significantly damaged the Internet.

But the Internet has been damaged by the IP owners’ fight. Absent an academic characterization of how significant that damage is (which I would love to read), here are some of the ways:

  • Chilling effect on P2P research, result: more centralization;
  • Services police user content; expensive, barrier to entry, result: more centralization, near monopoly platforms;
  • Services cut rare and unfavorable deals with IP owners, result: same;
  • Innovative services fail to cut deals, or sustainable deals, with IP owners, result: less innovation, more Internet as TV;
  • Monopoly abets monopoly; creates opportunities for bundling monopolies, result: threat to net neutrality;
  • Copyright-based censorship provides cover for all kinds of political censorship, result: political censors have additional justification, doing what Hollywood does;
  • All of above centralization and monopoly makes dominant entities a target for compromise, result: mass surveillance and non-state cybercrime abetted;
  • Our imagination and expectation of what the Internet makes possible is diminished, result: DRM TV and radio and silos organized for spying are seen as the norm, information organized for public benefit such as Wikipedia, unusual; this flipping of democratic hopes for the Internet, a partial AOL scenario, is collateral damage from the IP owners’ war on the Internet.

Similar damage will be done to the potential of new technologies with Internet-like characteristics (in addition to those discussed in the paper, others add the Internet of Things, distributed energy generation, and educational technologies, e.g., Jeremy Rifkin in his new book The Zero Marginal Cost Society, which I plan to review soon) by incumbents. This makes Lemley’s policy recommendations seem overly tentative and timid:

[It] is hard to translate this skepticism into immediate policy prescriptions, both because the whole point is that the need for IP will be sensitive to individual industry characteristics and because the technologies I am discussing are still in their infancy […] “we should resist the tendency to expand IP reflexively to meet every new technological challenge” […] “IP owners should not be allowed to reach beyond suing infringers and seek to shut down or modify the technology itself” […] “IP law needs to make it easier for creators to opt out of the IP regime.”

IP rent collectors will not hold off protecting their interests pending idealized analysis of more fully developed technologies. The damage they do will be built into another generation of technology and society, with IP scholars and activists left to worry that policy is contrary to evidence and to take rearguard actions to protect the level of openness they’ve become accustomed to, but fail to imagine what would have been possible had the stranglehold of IP rent collectors been broken. Just like the Internet today. I’ll come back to less timid and more proactive policy response in a bit.

Second reason for focus on the enclosure version of IP, the usual — big budget movies (and regulated pharma, mentioned earlier in the paper):

There is still a role for IP on the Internet. There are some works that are so costly to create even in the digital world that they are unlikely to be made without effective IP protection. Big-budget movies and video games cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make. No amount of creative fire will drive someone who doesn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars to make Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. They need corporate backing, and the corporate backers need a revenue stream. But in the Internet era those works are increasingly the the exception, not the rule.

My usual response — we should allow enclosure of our freedom, equality, and the democratic potential of the Internet in order to ensure an ongoing supply of spectacle provided in the same way it has for decades? Spectacle over freedom, really? Of course the “reason” is far more pessimal than that, as the cost of producing and distributing spectacle is going down fast, as is the cost of coordinating distributed patrons who want product, not rent collection. Further, because culture is also so dominated by network effects, we’ll all love whatever spectacle is produced, whether it took 15 or 500 months of work per minute of spectacle. It’s not as insane to contemplate threatening liberal values in order to get new drugs as it is to get new movies — but then considering non-enclosure mechanisms for developing and evaluating new drugs, and the issues of access and equality are more pressing…

More Lemley:

IP is essentially a form of government regulation. The government restricts entry into the market, or alternatively controls the price at which that entry can occur, in order to serve valuable social ends. But regulation is not a moral entitlement or something that we must take for granted. In the past, government regulated all sorts of industries – railroads, trucking, electric power, gas, telephones – because it could not see given the economics of those industries how a free market could produce socially optimal results. But in a surprising number of cases, when we deregulated those industries we found that the market could indeed find a way to supply goods we thought would be provided only with government rule-making. IP is no different in this respect than any other form of regulation. Regulation as a whole shouldn’t disappear, but regulation of particular industries often turns out to be a reflexive response to a failure of imagination, something we do because we have done it for so long that we cannot imagine how a market in that industry could function without it.

This is certainly superior to the rights/owner/property characterization inherent in IP — it recasts “owners” as beneficiaries of regulation — and I think implicitly makes the case for switching one’s frame from intellectual property to innovation policy. That leads us to what the goal of “innovation policy” regulation ought be, and sufficiently proactive policies to achieve that. Should the goal be to maximize “innovation”, “creativity”, the “progress of science and useful arts”, or the like? It would be a huge improvement to sideline enclosure as the primary mechanism and retain the same top objective. But even that improvement would be short sighted, given how systematically innovation policy regulation has and will increasingly shape society. A success of imagination would be to make freedom and equality the top objectives of and constraints on innovation policy, and only then maximize innovation. The innovations generated by a free and equal society are the ones I want. Others are to be gawked at with dismay and guilt.

On proactive policies required, in brief they are pro-commons policies, and I return to Benkler:

Regulators concerned with fostering innovation may better direct their efforts toward providing the institutional tools that would help thousands of people to collaborate without appropriating their joint product, making the information they produce freely available rather than spending their efforts to increase the scope and sophistication of the mechanisms for private appropriation of this public good as they now do.

That we cannot fully understand a phenomenon does not mean that it does not exist. That a seemingly growing phenomenon refuses to fit our longstanding perceptions of how people behave and how economic growth occurs counsels closer attention, not studied indifference and ignorance. Commons-based peer production presents a fascinating phenomenon that could allow us to tap substantially underutilized reserves of human creative effort. It is of central importance that we not squelch peer production, but that we create the institutional conditions needed for it to flourish.

Which implies that commons scholarship ought displace intellectual property scholarship (except as a historical investigation of commons malgovernance).

I realize that I haven’t provided any specific pro-commons policy recommendations in this post, nevermind any that are especially pertinent in a world with less scarcity. I’m deeply skeptical that lower, different costs substantially change innovation policy or knowledge commons arguments — the same ones have recurred since at least the 1800s — and am extremely doubtful that the usual assumption that digital networks fundamentally change desirable policy (or here, that further technologies with digital network like characterizations further change desirable policy) is true or non-harmful — these assumptions give away (legitimize) the past to those who now use it to control the future. Some short term and narrow but valuable pro-commons policy suggestions arising from the Wikimedia movement; the free software movement offers other suggestions, if we take some of its practices as prototypes for regulation enforced by mechanisms other than copyright holder whim, more powerful and better aligned with its claims of software freedom as a human right.

A few final quotes from Lemley’s IP in a World Without Scarcity, first two from footnotes:

The challenge posed to copyright by collective production sites like Wikipedia is not just one of the need for incentives. Collective production challenges the whole concept of authorship.

Indeed, and as I keep repeating effective product competition from the commons (such as Wikipedia) re-imagines the range of desirable policy and reduces the resources available to enclosure industries to lobby for protectionism — in sum shifting what is politically possible.

It is possible that creators create in hopes of being one of the few superstars whose work is actually rewarded by copyright law. It is well known that people systematically overvalue the prospect of a large but unlikely reward; that’s why they buy lottery tickets. Some scholars have suggested that the same effect may be at work in IP. But if so, the incentive on which we rely is, as Kretschmer puts it, “based on a systematic cognitive mistake.” In effect, we are coaxing works out of these creators by lying to them about their chances of getting paid.

This has long struck me as being the case. The question is then (in addition to considerations above), do we really want a culture dominated by fools and sell-outs?

A world without scarcity requires a major rethinking of economics, much as the decline of the agrarian economy did in the 19th century. How will our economy function in a world in which most of the things we produce are cheap or free? We have lived with scarcity for so long that it is hard even to begin to think about the transition to a post-scarcity economy. IP has allowed us to cling to scarcity as an organizing principle in a world that no longer demands it. But it will no more prevent the transition than agricultural price supports kept us all farmers. We need a post-scarcity economics, one that accepts rather than resists the new opportunities technology will offer us. Developing that economics is the great task of the 21st century.

But we should aim for much better than the travesty of developed country agricultural policy (even before considering its baneful intersection with IP) as the legacy of this transition! But the consequences of continued capture of innovation policy have the potential to be far worse. Even if few are employed in information industries, there is no transition on the way to displace arranging information as the dominant mode of the economy (however measured; previous modes being hunting/gathering, agriculture, and industry); if the mode is largely controlled by rent collectors, the result could be a very unfree and unequal society — perhaps on the order of pre-industrial agricultural societies.

Document marketing freedom 0.1

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Yesterday (emphasis added):

Microsoft’s DOS-based version of Word, first released in 1983, was not a success against the dominant word processor of that era, WordPerfect. The 1989 release of Word for Windows changed all that: within four years it was generating over half the worldwide word processing market revenue. It was a remarkable marketing and engineering achievement. We are today revealing the technical magic by releasing the source code to version 1.1a of Word for Windows.

Today (March 26) is Document Freedom Day, promoting open standards. I’m all for open standards, particularly as a matter of policy at all levels, and hats off to DFD for any increased awareness of the rationale for open standards and demand for open standards that result from DFD activities. But non-open formats’ domination of word processing and many other fields is not due to advocacy of closed standards, and I doubt generic advocacy of open formats will lead to the liberation of word processing or any other field.

Individuals and organizations adopt specific software. There’s lots of remarkable engineering behind specific programs which implement open standards. Remarkable marketing (broadly construed — any sales or adoption effort) of such programs? It should be no surprise that free/open products (this applies to much more than software) in almost all mass markets remain marginal — the result of failure to compete with proprietary/closed vendors on marketing (previously stated).

In my DFD post last year I called out LibreOffice and Jitsi as open standard implementing programs needing promotion. Each has made lots of engineering progress in the past year. Please let me know if I’ve missed corresponding marketing progress. (This is not a criticism of either project. I’m sure they’d each love marketing help. LibreOffice does have some community marketing efforts.)

Granted, remarkable marketing of free/open products might be as different from marketing of proprietary/closed products as engineering/provisioning of same can be different, and public policy advocacy might be a disproportionate part of remarkable free/open marketing. But lack of direct competition in the non-policy market seems to make free/open policy advocacy much harder — anyone can see when an abstract policy mandating some form of open concretely means adopting software or some other product that few people are already using (consider how much value of software and other knowledge products is driven by network effects) — a tough sell.

Producing Open Source Software (2005) gathers lots of wisdom and a 2nd edition is due this year. I suspect we’re at about 1995 for a hypothetical Marketing Open Source Software (and other open stuff) — not much wisdom to gather, and lots of doubt about whether out-marketing proprietary/closed vendors is even feasible.

Free Bassel & Open Borders Days

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

March 15, another year of Bassel Khartibil‘s life as a political prisoner in Syria. Some friends put together a cookbook (pdf) with meals they’d like to share with him when he is free.


Macabre image for a macabre situation.

March 16 is Open Borders Day. Bassel apparently returned to Syria voluntarily. There are millions who have little chance of leaving dictatorships, war zones, and grinding poverty — not because they are imprisoned by the local regime, but because we allow the international apartheid system to stand.

Shaver: Copyright and Inequality

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

copyright inequality iconI really enjoyed Copyright and Inequality, a new paper by Lea Shaver forthcoming in the Washington University Law Review — enough to attempt a summary on first read, and to read a second time, aloud, in hope that some people who would never read a 52 page paper might still hear its message.

The paper is highly readable, a large part of it (“A Case Study in Book Hunger”, numbered pages 9-22, about books, languages, and the socio-economics of South Africa) of general interest, barely mentioning copyright at all — though if you start by reading that section, hopefully you’ll then read the rest of the paper to find out how copyright is implicated. May the remainder of this post be a complement.

Inequality Promotion

To put it crudely, Copyright and Inequality mostly concerns copyright’s role in keeping the poor poor, rather than its role in concentrating wealth. The latter seems even less studied than the former, but the former seems more important, unless you consider rule by plutocracy the most urgent issue in the world.

In the category of keeping the poor poor, the magnitude of copyright’s negative impact on neglected language (cf. neglected disease) populations was new to me — the requirement of permission to translate contributes to almost no books being available in these languages, for pleasure, or for education, the latter creating a bottleneck for further life opportunities (n.b. “everyone should learn English” is a multi-generation strategy only successfully carried out by wealthy countries so far).

The cost issue is obvious, but can hardly be repeated enough. Shaver provides the example of books (when available at all, almost always in English) costing 2x as much in South Africa as in the US or UK, while income is far lower, especially for the poor (about half of the population lives on less than US$50 a month).

Many countries are far poorer than South Africa, and large populations dependent on neglected languages are common. Many wealthy countries, the U.S. in particular, have large populations of poor and neglected language speakers. Copyright is helping keep the poor poor everywhere. (Expensive textbooks are appropriately a priority target in the U.S., but every good that carries a copyright monopoly tax contributes in some combination to material poverty and cultural exclusion.)

Shaver makes a very strong case for including distributive justice in copyright discourse, along the way summarizing well known problems with the dominant romantic authorship + incentive narrative which has sidelined equality. She doesn’t push for any single solution, but the most interesting discussion is of the possibility of a carve out for translation to neglected languages, along the lines of such for braille and audio versions for use by blind users. Shaver says that copyright term extension should be opposed (additionally) for distributive justice concerns, but term reduction is “politically impossible” due to treaty obligation. (In what other fields is scholarly discourse on substantially alternative and obviously superior arrangements — the current regime based on “more fallacy than fact” — so readily discarded?)

Commons

Copyright and Inequality mentions free/open/commons production or distribution briefly in a few places:

  • Another scholar mentioned commons-based peer production in the context of patents.
  • The “more radical” (than providing access at public libraries) solution of “allocating public textbook funds to the production of Open Educational Resources.” (Actually a rapidly growing practice.)
  • “Open business models” meaning very broadly cultural production not dependent on restricting copying.
  • “Limited commons”, e.g., copyright might be relaxed for a neglected language, but translations of new works in that language to non-neglected languages would be fully restricted.

I’m happy that these are included at all, but commons advocates need to make full versions central. A carve out for translation to neglected languages would be better than none, but if it is achieved, will take many years of negotiation, and be riddled with requirements that will limit effectiveness (as Shaver notes is the case with carve outs for disability), and obviously would leave all non-linguistic copyright inequality mechanisms, and the resources of interest groups that support enclosure, fully intact. Commons-based funding mandates and peer production can happen much faster, and are anything but politically impossible, and can make a huge impact, far beyond a “patch”.

This potential huge impact might hold especially for neglected languages, which essentially are not being served at all by proprietary production. For everyone, as I’ve said many times, product competition from the commons both reduces the resources available to enclosure industries to lobby for protectionism and re-imagines the range of desirable policy, in sum shifting what is politically possible.

Buttressed with recognition of copyright inequality, in particular its negative impact on neglected language populations, what might various commons advocates, projects, and movements do? Some off-the-cuff notes:

  • I’ve long admired Wikimedia’s commitment to host its projects (Wikipedia and friends) for any language community capable of maintaining a project, even a very small one, and its enunciation of the importance of this commitment and of Wikimedia’s freedom (as a non-profit) to pursue such a commitment. The result so far includes Wikipedia in 287 languages and much more, with even more in incubation, formal and informal movement communities around the world, a program to make Wikipedia access free of mobile data charges in the developing world, and probably much more I’m not aware of. Should the findings of Copyright and Inequality lead the various parts of the Wikimedia movement to multiply their efforts to support the growth of and access to free knowledge in neglected languages and increase estimates of the Wikimedia movement’s economic values accordingly? The paper’s findings are probably already well known by the staunchest language advocates around Wikimedia, but perhaps they should be taken even more seriously than they already are. I am ignorant of the human side of Wikimedia outreach to neglected language communities, but surely there is now a substantial body of experience which could be leveraged in making further investments and partnerships. On the technical side, perhaps the migration of lots of knowledge into the truly multilingual Wikidata project could enable more projects in more languages to be truly useful, even for very small language communities?
  • The importance of first language availability of texts, especially educational materials, implies that software user interface availability in the user’s first language is probably pretty important too. What would it take to increase popular free/open source software application language support from dozens (Firefox claims over 80, LibreOffice over 30) to hundreds, even thousands of languages, thereby including most neglected languages? More collaboration across program translation efforts? More centralization? Collaboration with governments, educational systems, funders? A higher bar for user interface changes requiring translation updates? Fewer programs?
  • Fund the creation new free knowledge (inclusive of entertainment!) works in neglected languages, e.g., with small grants and prizes, and introduction of collaborative production, e.g., book sprints?
  • Market, sell, distribute, push for adoption of free knowledge works among neglected language populations — this is what publishers do (given a wealthy enough population anyway), and what must be done for the commons. Making works available online, with no promotion, only solves problems for an elite, and doesn’t offer proprietary publishers any competition, where they choose to compete.
  • Could recognition of the value of neglected languages provide an impetus for a new and large effort toward free software machine translation? Little progress has been made thus far, perhaps in part because some proprietary services such as Google Translate are gratis, and work for most non-neglected languages. Could redoubled effort to support neglected languages in Wikimedia projects (Wikisource translations might be especially relevant) and free/open source software projects help provide needed parallel corpora?
  • Awareness of the plight of neglected language populations could buttress arguments for open funding mandates, particularly if it could be demonstrated that some resulting materials were actually translated and used by said populations — neglected language translation and marketing might even be included in some such mandates, or funders and projects working with neglected language populations could specifically target translation and distribution of the “best” of the output of open funding mandates.
  • Awareness of neglected languages could buttress arguments for voluntary release of works under free/open licenses or into the public domain. (A handful of readers might note that translation-only licenses have been proposed, and a “Developing Nations” license briefly offered. The latter got almost no use before it was retired, perhaps in part because it seemed both confusing and paternalistic — and I doubt these very limited commons offer much, including in public license form. I can’t stress enough that sales/marketing/distribution/adoption are very tough and very necessary, and commons projects have largely failed at them to date. Given this, it is insane to cut off entire segments of potential collaborators, e.g., free knowledge projects and diaspora communities.)
  • Increasing commons movements’ self-awareness of their ability to help neglected language populations could buttress these movements’ self-awareness of their own political potency, leading them to act unashamedly as an interest group and to boldly stake a claim for the commons as the central paradigm for information/innovation policy, thereby further increasing their political potency, and ability to help neglected language populations. (Recursion intentional!)

Spectacle

Further excerpts from Copyright and Inequality:

Overall, copyright law works quite well for copyright scholars at leading universities.

Funniest sentence in the paper, presumably unintentional. (One small bit of progress would be for “copyright scholars” to re-imagine themselves as “commons scholars”; cf. copyright experts→commons experts.)

Its protections give us control over our own writings, which we can choose to invoke or to waive, as we believe best suits our own interests. Its incentives help to stimulate the production of an ever-greater variety of informative and entertaining works for our professional and personal development. Its limitations on access and use of copyrighted works only rarely pose significant problems for us. From this perspective, it is easy to miss the more profound problems posed for the 99% of the world that does not enjoy the same privileged position of access.

From this privileged perspective, creative production resembles a constantly expanding buffet of choice laid before us, among which we may select the most appealing options until we are full. Perhaps some of these offerings are being produced in languages we do not speak. No matter, more than enough choices remain. In our affluence of resources and opportunities, we might even choose to acquire fluency in a second language to further expand our choices. Copyright protection promises to raise the quality, the diversity, at the very least the sheer number of offerings placed upon the table. How could this be a bad thing? But can your peripheral vision stretch farther still? If so, you might see, standing back behind you, a hungry crowd. They are the poor. They are a majority of the world. They too admire the buffet. But they realize it is not laid for them. For some of us, the proliferation of new works is a bounty, opening up new worlds of consumer choice, new horizons of creativity to explore. For most of the world’s population, however, the expanding universe of new cultural works is yet another site of social privilege from which they are effectively excluded.

Well and powerfully said regarding the unseen and neglected, but I submit further that our forward vision is profoundly myopic. Relative to the (perhaps two billion?) people who are both poor and only read a neglected language, wealthy people with English fluency are incredibly privileged, and have ready access to an astounding and ever-growing surfeit of culturally relevant educational and entertainment materials. Those employed by wealthy universities have yet more ready access. Just before the humorous sentence:

Located in major research universities, we also enjoy supremely convenient access to the best-funded libraries in the world. As a group, we do not fail to complain when we notice that copyright law impedes our own ability to access, create, and distribute cultural works. Fortunately, our legal expertise and professional experience positions us well to both recognize the legal roots of our problems, and to suggest solutions to our legislatures and courts.

But however well positioned relative to neglected language populations or the general public of wealthy countries, these complaints and suggestions always face a tremendous uphill battle, at best. The enclosure industries are much better positioned than their scholars.

We love whatever culture we grow up in, but I doubt the one driven by the maximization of rents available from cultural products (cf.), at the expense of freedom and equality, is anywhere near the best of possible worlds, even for those with access to those products. I think an analogy to the internet is appropriate: had a small number of closed electronic services continued to dominate, and a decentralized network never developed, we would now think of the AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy of 2014 as amazing — and they would be! The much better world of the internet would be beyond the imagination of most. Culturally, that AOLternative universe is the one we live in. But we can catch some glimpses of the internet universe, e.g., in Wikipedia, in PLOS, in memories of Napster.

Perhaps appropriately, only acting in the interests of poor and neglected language populations, against copyright inequality, will we be able to leave the AOL culture scenario and into the internet culture universe.

Closing quote from Copyright and Inequality:

An often-quoted statement by John Maynard Keynes posits that “The political problem of mankind is to combine three things: economic efficiency, social justice, and individual liberty.” The perspectives of economic efficiency and individual liberty have profoundly informed our discussion of copyright law. Yet the perspective of social justice has been comparatively absent. Reckoning with the ways in which social inequality impacts the market for copyrighted work begins to supply this missing perspective. In the end, the inequality insight also leads us back to economic efficiency and individual liberty. For a system of creative production and exchange that excludes most of the world from participation is also not economically efficient. Nor does it effectively promote individual liberty for all. To promote all three of these values, copyright policy and scholarship must account for the realities of social inequality.

Read the entire paper, and share!

Art of cc-community

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

The reading group (curated by Nate Aune) I mentioned as having started with Coase’s Penguin is on to its first book: The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation, 2nd Edition (2012) by Jono Bacon. It happens this corresponds with another delayed book review, though only by 18 months in this case, and largely motivated by the book including an interview with me (reproduced below).

This is a large tome. You can download it as a 20 megabyte PDF with 574 pages (linked from the book website along with usual purchase locations). I see substantial portions of about 5 books therein:

  • Autobiography of Jono Bacon. Less of this book is latent in the tome than those below, but tales of Bacon’s life are interspersed, and his personality comes through strong (n.b. Bacon uses “tales” to denote stories told within a community, not “tall tales”; similarly “fables” to denote stories that explain a community, not myths).
  • Inside the Ubuntu/Canonical Ltd. community: how it works, its tales and fables.
  • Tools and practices for managing an open source software community, especially one led by a for-profit company (corresponding to Ubuntu/Canonical Ltd. above).
  • Reference/workbook for community managers and their managers. Also interspersed throughout, but especially the chapter on hiring a community manager.
  • Community management casebook, heavily leaning on interviews with open source software project managers, but also many other types of community leaders and managers.

If any one of these piques your interest, it’s worth downloading the PDF and clicking in the ToC or word-searching, as is your style. If multiple seem compelling (say your company wants to hire a community manager, or you want to be hired as a community manager by a company), then reading the whole thing carefully would be a good use of your time.

(Of course it shouldn’t be your only reading, not least because “community management” is fraught, maybe especially in service of a for profit, and there exist plenty of criticisms of the Ubuntu/Canonical Ltd. community. I even agree with some of those criticisms, but my top level “complaint” about Ubuntu/Canonical Ltd. is that they haven’t been as successful in the marketplace as I’d like, i.e., they haven’t supplanted Microsoft! ☻ Bacon and company continue to work on that from a community angle.)

Interview

The interview with me in the book (numbered pages 492-495), conducted late 2011. The “cc-community” in the title of this post refers to a mailing list not mentioned in the interview.

You have been at the CC for a long time now. How did the organization look when you joined?

I joined CC in April, 2003, a few months after the first CC licenses were released. We were in the basement of the Stanford Law School, as that’s where Lawrence Lessig was. Various people had been involved over the preceding year, but essentially there were three staff just before I joined. There was a very loose community initially, based on the notoriety of Lessig and other founders and some friendly coverage in the usual (for the time) geek outlets such as Slashdot — more a variety of well-wishers than a community.

What kind of community did you set out to grow?

The other person CC hired in April, 2003 was our first international coordinator, based in Berlin. One community that we set out to grow, initially via this position, was a network of legal scholars around the world, who could collectively figure out how CC licenses work with copyright law in various jurisdictions around the world. This is the main community that CC was and is intentional about growing. We also set out to grow connections with related communities, eg open access, open education, open source, and mostly deliberately stayed away from trying to create “CC” subcommunities within these movements, and instead play a supporting role.

There always has been a mostly latent “CC community” of people who aren’t tied to a CC affiliate institution, and may or may not be involved with other nearby movements, but for whatever reason see CC as one of their primary passions — which is fantastic of course. CC the organization hasn’t ever really set out to “organize” this largely latent community, mostly due to lack of bandwidth (admittedly this could seem short sighted) and it isn’t clear how this community ought be cultivated — it is a very diverse set of people. I and some others see mobilizing this community (I’m actually more comfortable thinking about it as a movement) in some form as one of the biggest opportunities CC has in its next decade.

What approaches did you use to grow your community?

Regarding the international community of legal scholars we intentionally created, we gave them interesting, challenging, but highly delimited work — “porting” the CC license suite to their respective jurisdictions. (A “port” is usually both a linguistic translation and legal “translation” to reference local laws, drafting style, etc, where appropriate to hopefully make the ported licenses more understandable to the legal community in a given jurisdiction, but achieve the same affects to the extent possible.) This element of work made it relatively easy to determine what kind of team (usually composed of people from one or more local institutions) could be part of the formal community — they had to bring certain legal expertise, interest, and capacity — and gave community members a strong sense of ownership and contribution.

In the past 8 years CC licenses have been ported to over 50 jurisdictions via this process and community. In a sense this is just another instance of work occurring in chunks amenable to work being done by lots of different people, but I think the subject matter and large size and duration of the chunks makes it fairly interesting. Although many of the affiliate projects have formed their own local communities that have given feedback on license drafts, the overall process is highly controlled by experts, and openness to attracting and up-leveling drive-by contributors not much of a factor. This arrangement has been shown to not be competitive for building an encyclopedia, nor for most software and cultural projects, but perhaps should be evaluated if one thinks their project requires long-term commitment from a community with narrow and rare expertise.

Among the community involved in license porting, there has always been desire to also do advocacy and outreach, and sometimes art projects and software development. This has occurred organically, but over the last year or so we’ve also formally recognized those activities as potential responsibilities of a CC affiliate. While producing interesting work, a community that only really needs a few lawyers in each country is self-limiting. The aforementioned activities need unlimited resources, including the involvement of many more lawyers, who are crucial in persuading institutions and governments to adopt CC tools as policy, for example. Probably over the next few years there will be many more institutions and people officially involved in the CC community, with impressive outreach and projects around the world as a result.

The CC philosophy, particularly a few years ago, was fairly alien to the normal culture of content licensing and distribution practised by large record labels and studios. How did you communicate this message to your community?

Building a commons is still completely alien to “big content”; not even relevant really. Giving up the ability to legally persecute fans and users is a bridge too far for those whose dominant interest is protecting and milking existing revenue streams for however many quarters their horizon is. If it takes destroying the Internet to do that, so be it. This has to change, but the change won’t come from big content adopting CC licenses wholesale (though of course we appreciate when a progressive element does so for a project, and I’d be happy to be wrong), but through policy change that removes their ability to persecute fans. Have we reached “peak copyright” yet?

Communicating this to the CC community is not a challenge — they already knew how poorly aligned the interest and practice of big content and society are, and for many people this was a motivating factor for getting involved in CC.

The challenge has been figuring out where the commons can make a big difference, given the indifference-to-hostility of big content. The answer has arrived at fairly organically, learning both from the broader community (e.g., FLOSS, Wikipedians, the Open Access movement) and from the CC affiliate community’s work on institutional and government policy. The summary is that CC’s sweet spots are community and mass collaboration projects, where legal freedoms are necessary for a project to scale, just like in FLOSS, and in publicly interested policy, where the policymaker might be a funder, and institution, or a government. In both of these cases, the appropriate CC license or public domain tool is a standard, well understood and recognized instrument that can be made the legal basis of a project, or slotted into a broader policy intended to benefit the public, instead of engaging in expensive debate and reinvention — and there’s a big community of experts eager to help, wherever one is in the world.

There is a passionate CC community out there. How did you build a community that takes the CC ethos and spreads it further and advocating it to others?

Sharing, giving credit where due, valuing the common good, using technology to encourage such, not persecuting people who do those very natural things — things that one might recognized as “the CC ethos” — all precede CC. They’re essentially human. CC created some practical tools that one can use to further those ends and a brand that denotes such an ethos at our particular juncture in history. People would’ve been spreading that ethos in the same contexts CC is now — one can see an explosion of experiments in open content licensing in the years just before CC launched. Hopefully overall CC has made those people more effective than they would’ve been without a fairly high profile and well resourced (but tiny in the scheme of things) license steward, i.e., CC.

We did make an attempt approximately 2005-2008 to provide a nexus for open movements to meet and collaborate, a subsidiary called iCommons (now a small independent charity) that ran a series of “iSummits”. These turned out to be mostly useful for bringing the CC community together, so our next global gathering, which did not occur until September, 2011, made no pretense of being anything other than a CC summit. There remains huge opportunity to at appropriate times work together with other communities and movements with an overlapping ethos — more of that is happening, but slowly, and not under an umbrella brand.

CC is a now well established organization and community. How do you keep your community passionate about the CC and Free Culture?

Regarding the CC affiliate community (copyright and other experts mentioned above), carefully and collaboratively. Some of the core work by that community is changing — we’re working on version 4.0 of the CC license suite now, which has the aim of being unambiguously global — porting as it has been done so far may end, or at least will be a special case. We have to move and diversity the work of this community, and it has to be even more vital and challenging work, e.g. CC adoption as policy, leveraging CC’s reputation in nearby policy debates impactful to the commons, CC as a subject of legal, economic, and other research, and interfacing with WIPO and other international institutions. We have to strive to make CC a truly international organization itself. What this means for governance, staffing, fundraising, the structure of relationships with affiliates and other organizations — we don’t know yet, and will probably always be evolving.

Regarding the broader community and potential movement, the flip answer is that we don’t have to do anything. The passion is there, and free culture, open access, open education, etc, provide endless good news and opportunity for all interested — and occasionally we get a gift in the form of a ridiculously incorrect attack on CC from a big content executive — that fires everyone up. However, there’s a lot that we do, the single most important one being serving as a great license steward, which includes everything from explaining and answering questions to advocacy to actually getting the licenses “right” so that they’re the best tools for growing the commons. If our explanations of the licenses are confusing, or we have licenses that don’t serve to build the commons, it puts a real damper on the ability of the community to advocate and spread CC, and their passion for doing so.

The 4.0 process is also going to be crucial for engaging the broader community, and be a determinant of how much passion and energy we see from them over the next decade. My highest aspiration would be for the 4.0 licenses to have received overwhelming input and buy-in from both the broadest set of “netizens” (if I may use a 1990s term) interested in the common good and policymakers, forming a standard for info- and innovation-policy and norms for a generation. Coming anywhere near that goal will require lots of community organizing!

CC is a funded by donations. What approaches have you used to gather these donations?

So far the vast majority of our funding has come from U.S.-based private foundations. Our main effort for community support (which I consider the most healthy form of funding, and should over time become the most important pillar) has consisted of an annual fall campaign, mostly conducted online — think a micro version of the Wikimedia fundraising campaigns that most readers should have seen. CC has a lot of learning and growth to do here. The main reason to cultivate the CC community is that doing will be instrumental for accomplishing our mission — but it is true that we hope that a portion of the community has the means and feels our work is important enough to donate each year.

If you enjoyed that, check out the other community case book interviews: Linus Torvalds, Linux; Mike Shinoda, Linkin Park; Mårten Mickos, MySQL and Eucalyptus; Tim O’Reilly, O’Reilly Media; Carolyn Mellor, X.commerce, PayPal, and eBay; Ilan Rabinovitch, Southern California Linux Expo; Richard Esguerra, Humble Indie Bundle; Mark Bussler, Classic Game Room; Mary Colvig, Mozilla; Dries Buytaert, Drupal and Acquia; and James Spafford, Media Molecule.

If you enjoyed the book, Bacon also runs community leadership conferences.

Sleepwalking past Freedom’s Commons, or how peer production could increase democracy, equality, freedom, and innovation, all of them!

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

2007:

The most interesting parts of ‘s The Wealth of Networks concern how peer production facilitates liberal values. I’ll blog a review in the fullness of time.

In lieu of that which may never come, some motivated notes on Coase’s Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm (2002, 78 pages) and Freedom in the Commons: Towards a Political Economy of Information (2003, 32 pages; based on a 2002 lecture). A friend wanted to trial a book group with the former. Re-reading that led me to the latter, which I hadn’t read before. Reading them together, or even just the latter, might be a good alternative to reading The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006, 473 pages).

As might be expected from decade plus old internet research, some of the examples in the papers and book are a bit stale, but sadly their fundamental challenge remains largely unacknowledged, and only taken as a byproduct. I would love to be convinced otherwise. Is the challenge (or my extrapolation) wrong, unimportant, or being met satisfactorily?

Excerpts from Freedom in the Commons (emphasis added by me in all quotes that follow):

[Commons-based peer production] opens a range of new opportunities for pursuing core political values of liberal societies—democracy, individual freedom, and social justice. These values provide three vectors of political morality along which the shape and dimensions of any liberal society can be plotted. Because, however, they are often contradictory rather than complementary, the pursuit of each of these values places certain limits on how we conceive of and pursue the others, leading different liberal societies to respect them in different patterns.

An underlying efficient limit on how we can pursue any mix of arrangements to implement our commitments to democracy, autonomy, and equality, however, has been the pursuit of productivity and growth.

[Commons-based peer production] can move the boundaries of liberty along all three vectors of liberal political morality.

There is no benevolent historical force, however, that will inexorably lead the technological-economic moment to develop towards an open, diverse, liberal equilibrium. If the transformation occurs, it will lead to substantial redistribution of power and money from the twentieth-century, industrial producers of information, culture, and communications—like Hollywood, the recording industry, and the telecommunications giants—to a widely diffuse population around the globe. None of the industrial giants of yore are going to take this redistribution lying down. Technology will not overcome their resistance through some insurmountable progressive impulse. The reorganization of production, and the advances it can bring in democracy, autonomy, and social justice will emerge, if it emerges, only as a result of social and political action. To make it possible, it is crucial that we develop an understanding of what is at stake and what are the possible avenues for social and political action. But I have no illusions, and offer no reassurances, that any of this will in fact come to pass. I can only say that without an effort to focus our attention on what matters, the smoke and mirrors of flashy toys and more convenient shopping will be as enlightening as Aldous Huxley’s soma and feelies, and as socially constructive as his orgy porgy.

Let us think, then, of our being thrust into this moment as a challenge. We are in the midst of a technological, economic, and organizational transformation that allows us to renegotiate the terms of freedom, justice, and productivity in the information society. How we shall live in this new environment will largely depend on policy choices that we will make over the next decade or two. To be able to understand these choices, to be able to make them well, we must understand that they are part of a social and political choice—a choice about how to be free, equal, and productive human beings under anew set of technological and economic conditions. As economic policy, letting yesterday’s winners dictate the terms of economic competition tomorrow is disastrous. As social policy, missing an opportunity to enrich democracy, freedom, and equality in our society, while maintaining or even enhancing our productivity, is unforgivable.

Although the claim that the Internet leads to some form or another of “decentralization” is not new, the fundamental role played in this transformation by the emergence of non-market, nonproprietary production and distribution is often over-looked, if not willfully ignored.

First, if the networked information economy is permitted to emerge from the institutional battle, it will enable an outward shift of the limits that productivity places on the political imagination. Second, a society committed to any positive combination of the three values needs to adopt robust policies to facilitate these modes of production,because facilitating these modes of production does not represent a choice between productivity and liberal values, but rather an opportunity actually to relax the efficient limit on the plausible set of political arrangements available given the constraints of productivity.

We are at a moment in our history at which the terms of freedom and justice are up for grabs. We have an opportunity to improve the way we govern ourselves—both as members of communities and as autonomous individuals. We have an opportunity to be more just at the very core of our economic system. The practical steps we must take to reshape the boundaries of the possible in political morality and to improve the pattern of liberal society will likely improve productivity and growth through greater innovation and creativity. Instead of seizing these opportunities, however, we are sleepwalking.

What arrangements favor reorganization towards commons-based peer production? From Coase’s Penguin:

This suggests that peer production will thrive where projects have three characteristics. First, they must be modular. That is, they must be divisible into components, or modules, each of which can be produced of the production of the others. This enables production to be incremental and asynchronous, pooling the efforts of different people, with different capabilities, who are available at different times. Second, the granularity of the modules is important and refers to the sizes of the project’s modules. For a peer production process to pool successfully a relatively large number of contributors, the modules should be predominately fine-grained, or small in size. This allows the project to capture contributions from large numbers of contributors whose motivation levels will not sustain anything more than small efforts toward the project. Novels, for example, at least those that look like our current conception of a novel, are likely to prove resistant to peer production. In addition, a project will likely be more efficient if it can accommodate variously sized contributions. Heterogeneous granularity will allow people with different levels of motivation to collaborate by making smaller- or larger-grained contributions, consistent with their levels of motivation. Third, and finally, a successful peer production enterprise must have low-cost integration, which includes both quality control over the modules and a mechanism for integrating the contributions into the finished product.

Regulators concerned with fostering innovation may better direct their efforts toward providing the institutional tools that would help thousands of people to collaborate without appropriating their joint product, making the information they produce freely available rather than spending their efforts to increase the scope and sophistication of the mechanisms for private appropriation of this public good as they now do.

That we cannot fully understand a phenomenon does not mean that it does not exist. That a seemingly growing phenomenon refuses to fit our longstanding perceptions of how people behave and how economic growth occurs counsels closer attention, not studied indifference and ignorance.  Commons-based peer production presents a fascinating phenomenon that could allow us to tap substantially underutilized reserves of human creative effort. It is of central importance that we not squelch peer production, but that we create the institutional conditions needed for it to flourish.

There’s been some progress on institutional tools (i.e., policy arrangements writ large, the result of “political action” above) in the 11 or so years since (e.g., Open Access mandates), but not nearly enough to outweigh global ratcheting of intellectual freedom infringing regimes, despite the occasional success of rearguard actions against such ratcheting. Neither these rearguard actions, nor mainstream (nor reformist) discussion of “reform” put commons at the center of their concerns. The best we can expect from this sleepwalking is to muddle through, with policy protecting and promoting commons where such is coincidentally aligned with some industrial interest (often simplified to “Google” in the past several years, but that won’t last forever).

My extrapolation (again, tell me if facile or wrong): shifting production arrangements so as to favor commons-based peer production is as important as, complementary to, and almost necessary for positive policy change. Commons-based product competition simultaneously changes the facts on the ground, the range of policies imaginable, and potentially create a commons “industrial” interest group which is recognizably important to regulators and makes commons-based peer production favoring policy central to its demands — the likely Wikimedia response to the European Commission copyright consultation is a hopeful example.

There has been lots of progress on improving commons-based peer production (e.g., some trends), but also not nearly enough to keep up with proprietary innovation, particularly lacking and missing huge opportunities where proprietary incumbents real advantages sit — not production per se, but funding and distribution/marketing/cultural relevance making. Improving commons-based peer production, shifting the commanding heights (i.e., Hollywood premium video and massively expensive and captured pharma regulatory apparatus) to forms more amenable to commons-based peer production, and expanding the scope of commons-based peer production to include funding and relevance making are among the most potent political projects of our time.

Wake up. ^_^

CC11x11, before, 0, &freebassel

Monday, December 16th, 2013
Gimped CC cake 10 / BY / Kristina Alexanderson
(I wrote 90% of this post a year ago; currently unaware of any actual CC 11 cakes or celebrations.)

Today is the 11th anniversary of the launch of the first version of the first 11 Creative Commons licenses. Depending how one counts, there are now as few as 0, though 6 is probably the conventional answer (only current international versions of ones that were among the original 11), or as many as 608 (all versions, jurisdiction ports, retired licenses, and public domain instruments).

If 2002-12-16 is a significant marker, I’d like to take a look at what preceded it, very nearby — other public copyright licenses, public domain dedications, and ad hoc sharing statements. Eventually I hope to take a more in-depth look at all of these, and moreso I hope others do research around them.

Prior to the 1980s, such statements are very scattered. Has anyone pieced together commonalities and differences of pro-info-sharing statements through history? Examples…

In 868 the Diamond Sutra included:

Reverently [caused to be] made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong.

1869 Recent Discussions on the Abolition of Patents for Inventions, setting a standard that modern books on advocating reform (inclusive of abolition) fail to meet:

No rights are reserved

1910 the English translation of Gandhi’s Indian Home Rule was printed with the words No Rights Reserved on the title page.

1967 the copyright notice of All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace included:

Permission is granted to reprint any of these poems in magazines, books and newspapers if they are given away free.

1976 Tiny BASIC for Intel 8080 included:

@COPYLEFT; ALL WRONGS RESERVED

1978 In the Making included:

“Alternative publications may reproduce freely provided acknowledgement is made.”

I believe many statements along such lines were published, especially in the last century, but again, as far as I know, nobody has ever thoroughly investigated. I’m very interested, in part because I have a hunch what might be characterized as “information commons” have been malgoverned for the entirety of human history. Why did pro-sharing statements, in the form of public copyright licenses, only become regularized, widespread, and thought by some as creating and protecting commons, in the 1980s, starting with software?

The easy answer is that software had just become clearly restricted by copyright, and programmers have a more immediately compelling need to collaborate across organizational boundaries in a way that implicates copyright restrictions than do others. Still, one may question just how different paths would need to have been for explicit pro-sharing practices to have developed in other domains first, even pre-computer, and how the norms of such practices might have differed. I’ve speculated, very briefly that it’s plausible order could’ve been different, and essentially software freedom norms are a “sweet spot” that would’ve been arrived at anyway. Much more could be said about that, and also about whether and how the explicit pro-sharing practices I’ve recognized as such in this post have crowded out or complemented other pro-sharing practices.

In any case, in the 5 years prior to the launch of the first 11 Creative Commons licenses, there was a proliferation of interest in public copyright licenses for various forms of non-software works (including hardware designs, which took longer to capture much interest, and I won’t cover here). An incomplete list of such licenses released 1998-2002:

Anti-Copyright License, Comic Book Public License, Design Science License, Distributed Encyclopedia General Public License, EFF Open Audio License, Electrohippie Collective’s Ethical Open Documentation License, Ethymonics Free Music License, Free Art License, Free Media License, Free Music Public License, GNU Free Documentation License, No Type License, OpenBits License, Open Content License, Open Directory License, the Open Music licenses, Open Publication License, Open Source Music License, Public Library of Science Open Access License, QING Public Licnese, and Phy-d’eau — License of Intention for Liberty in Expression and Creativity.

Many of these licenses are non-free/open, and nearly all are incompatible with all the rest. These problems preceded Creative Commons. Whether in the past 10 years Creative Commons has on net made these problems better or worse (or merely not better fast enough) is hard to say. One curiosity about these pre-CC licenses is that the only ones remaining in any kind of significant use (Free Art License and Free Documentation License) are free/open, copyleft licenses.

Near certainty of large adoption of public licenses and public domain dedications outside software also preceded CC. The effect one can be most certain of attributing to CC is of killing adoption of the few of these licenses that had any plausibility, and of the development of further non-CC licenses, for awhile. Whether a dominant central license steward was net positive, is hard to say. It’s easy to see some marketing benefits, and some innovation costs, and vice versa.

Some public licenses created for software, mostly the GNU GPL, and BSD licenses, were used for some non-software works before the explosion of non-software public licenses (of which CC was part). An open question is whether this explosion was a good thing at all, or rather a failure on the part of free software license pioneers to occupy a broader space, and create a broader-based, less fragmented movement for intellectual freedom…the part facilitated by public licenses that is.

It’s also possible that free software started with the wrong arrangement in the form of public licenses, and others, including what became CC, ought have tried something different, for example clubs/pools, or skipping voluntary methods altogether. (Many people have focused on one or more of direct action, litigation, and public policy. I tend to think there’s far too little appreciation and collaboration across these methods and voluntary construction, resulting in a further fragmented, scared, and weak movement.)

I didn’t publish a year ago because I’d intended to add sections on the “CC era” of the past 10, now 11 years, and the future. My recent extended quasi-review of CC 4.0 licenses will have to suffice. Now…

Celebrate CC’s 11th birthday:

Upgrade to CC0

Free Bassel

Social mobilization for the Internet post-epochals grew up with

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Puneet Kishor has organized a book talk tomorrow (2013-11-15) evening in San Francisco by Edward Lee, author of The Fight for the Future: How People Defeated Hollywood and Saved the Internet–For Now (pdf).

I can’t attend, so I watched a recording of a recent talk by Lee and skimmed the book.

The book gives a narrative of the SOPA/PIPA and ACTA protests, nicely complementing Social Mobilization and the Networked Public Sphere: Mapping the SOPA-PIPA Debate, which does what the title says by analyzing relevant posts and links among them.

Lee in the talk and book, and the authors of the mapping report, paint a picture of a networked, distributed, and dynamic set of activists and organizations, culminating in a day of website blackouts and millions of people contacting legislators, and street protests in the case of ACTA.

The mapping report puts the protests and online activity leading up to them in the context of debate over whether the net breeds conversations that are inane and silo’d, or substantive and boundary-crossing: data point for the latter. What does this portend for social mobilization and politics in the future? Unknown: (1) state or corporate interests could figure out how to leverage social mobilization as or more effectively than public interest actors (vague categories yes), (2) the medium itself (which now, a few generations have grown up with, if we allow for “growing up” to extend beyond high school) being perceived at risk may have made these protests uniquely well positioned to mobilize via the medium, or (3) this kind of social mobilization could tilt power in a significant and long-term way.

Lots of people seem to be invested in a version of (3). They may be right, but the immediate outcome makes me sad: the perceived cutting edge of activism amounts to repeated communications optimization, i.e., spam science. Must be the civil society version of “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.” This seems eminently gameable toward (1), in addition to being ugly. We may be lucky if (2) is most true.

On the future of “internet freedoms” and social mobilization, Lee doesn’t really speculate. In the talk Q&A, lack of mass protest concerning mass surveillance is noted. The book’s closing words:

“We tried not to celebrate too much because it was just a battle. We won a battle, not the war. We’re still fighting other free trade agreements and intellectual property enforcement that affect individual rights.”

In a way, the fight for digital rights had only just begun.

Of course my standard complaint about this fight, which is decades old at least, is that it does not consist merely of a series of rearguard battles, but also altering the ecosystem.

5 fantasy Internet Archive announcements

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Speaking of public benefit spaces on the internet, tonight the Internet Archive is having its annual celebration and announcements event. It’s a top contender for the long-term most important site on the internet. The argument for it might begin with it having many copies at many points in time of many sites, mostly accessible to the public (Google, the NSA and others must have vast dark archives), but would not end there.

I think the Internet Archive is awesome. Brewster Kahle, its founder, is too. It is clear to me that he’s the most daring and innovative founder or leader in the bay area/non-profit/open/internet field and adjacencies. And he calls himself Digital Librarian. Hear, hear!

But, the Internet Archive could be even more awesome. Here’s what I humbly wish they would announce tonight:

  • A project to release all of the code that runs their websites and all other processes, under free/open source software licenses, and do their work in public repositories, issue trackers, etc. Such crucial infrastructure ought be open to public audit, and welcoming to public contribution. Obviously much of the code is ancient, crufty, and likely has security issues. No reason for embarrassment or obscurity. The code supporting the recording of this era of human communication is itself a dark archive. Danger! Fix it.
  • WikiNurture media collections. I believe media item metadata is now unversioned. It should be versioned. And the public should be able to enhance and correct metadata. Currently media in the Internet Archive is much less useful than it could be due to poor metadata (eg I expect music I download from the archive to not have good artist/album/title tags, making it a huge pain to integrate into my listenng habits, including to tell the world and make popular) and very limited relations among media items.
  • Aggressively support new free media formats, specifically Opus and WebM right now. This is an important issue for the free and open issue, and requires collective action. Internet Archive is in a key position, and should be exploit is strong position.
  • On top of existing infrastructure and much richer data, above, build Netflix-level experiences around the highest quality media in the archive, and perhaps all media with high quality metadata. This could be left to third parties, but centralization is powerful.
  • Finally, and perhaps the deadly combination of most contentious and least exciting: stop paying DRM vendors and publishers. Old posts on this: 1, 2, 3. Internet Archive is not in the position Mozilla apparently think they are, of tolerating DRM out of fear of losing relevance. Physical libraries may think they are in such a position, but only to the extent they think of themselves as book vendors, and lack vision. Please, show leadership to the digital libraries we want in the future, not grotesque compromises, Digital Librarian!

These enhancements would elevate Internet Archive to is proper status, and mean nobody could ever again justifiably say that ‘Aside from Wikipedia, there is no large, popular space being carved out for the public good.’

Addendum: The actual announcements were great, and mostly hinted at on the event announcement post. The Wayback Machine now can instantly archive any URL (“Save Page Now”). I expect to use that all the time, replacing webcitation.org. This post pre-addendum, including many spelling errors (written on the 38 Geary…). Javascript MESS and the software archive are tons of fun: “Imagine every computer that ever existed, in your browser.” No talk of DRM, but also no talk of books, unless I missed something.

Addendum 20131110: “What happened to the Library of Alexandria?” as a lead in to explaining why the Internet Archive has multiple data centers will take on new meaning from a few days ago, when there was a fire at its scanning center (no digital records were lost). Donate.

z3R01P

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Video from my conversation with Stephanie Syjuco on “intellectual property & the future of culture” at ZERO1 Garage 11 months ago is available at YouTube and archive.org (direct link to theora encoding).

As expected (see my pre-event post) the setting was great: nice space, thoughtful, well-executed and highly appropriate installation. I enjoyed the conversation; perhaps you will too.

With more time it would’ve been great to talk about some of Syjuco’s other works, many of which deal more or less directly with copying (see also interviews with Syjuco). I don’t think either of us even used the word appropriation. Nor the term “open source”, despite being in the installation title — for example, why is intersection of formal Open Source (and similar legally/voluntarily constructed commons) and art, appropriation or otherwise, vanishingly small?

ZERO1 Garage presently holds another “IP” related exhibition, Patent Pending, featuring “artworks by contemporary artists that have either resulted from, or led to, a patent that the artist has either received a patent for or is patent pending.” Sounds problematic! If you’re anywhere near San Jose, I recommend checking out the exhibition and one of its upcoming events — October 17 Post-Natural Properties: The Art of Patented Life Forms and November 1 Does the U.S. Patent System stifle innovation? As I say in the video above, and elsewhere, I hope they also consider equality and freedom.