Post Free Speech

Keep Fighting Forward

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Today is the day to mass call for regulation of mass surveillance. I did, please do it too.

I’m still underwhelmed by the rearguard nature of such actions, wonder how long they continue to be effective (e.g., when co-opted, or when policymakers realize mass calls don’t translate into votes, or forever…since at least 1996), and am even enraged by their focus on symptoms. But my feelings are probably wrong. Part of me applauds those who enjoy fighting the shortest term and broadest appeal possible battles. Such probably helps prevent things from getting worse, at least for a time, and that’s really valuable. Anyone who believes things must get worse before they get better is dangerous, because that’s when real trolls take over, damn your revolution.

I enjoyed Don Marti’s imperfect but perfectly provocative analogy, which I guess implies (he doesn’t say) the correct response to mass surveillance is to spend on end-to-end crypto, rejection of private tracking, decentralization, and other countermeasures, sealing net communications from security state poison. I’m all for that, and wish advocacy for same were a big part of mass calls to action like today’s. But I see the two as mostly complementary, as much as I’d like to scream “you’re doing it entirely wrong!”

Also QuestionCopyright’s assertion that Copyright + Internet = Surveillance. Or another version: Internet, Privacy, Copyright; Choose Two. I could quibble that these are too weak (freedom was infringed by copyright before the net) and too strong (not binary), but helpfully provocative.

Addendum: Also, Renata Avila:

For me is . Otherwise, we will be in serious trouble. Donate to resistance tools like or

Annual thematic doubt

Friday, January 10th, 2014

As promised, my first annual thematic doubt post, expressing doubts I have about themes I blogged about during 2013.

Intellectual Freedom

If this blog were to have a main purpose other than serving as a despository for my tangents, it’d be protecting and promoting intellectual freedom, in particular through the mechanisms of free/open/knowledge commons movements, and in reframing information and innovation policy with freedom and equality outcomes as top. Some representative posts: Economics and the Commons Conference [knowledge stream] report, Flow ∨ incentive 2013 anthology winner, z3R01P. I’m also fond of pointing out where these issues surface in unusual places and surfacing them where they are latent.

I’m fairly convinced on this theme: regimes infringing on intellectual freedom are individual and collective mind-rot, and “merely” accentuate the tendencies toward inequality and control of whatever systems they are embedded in. Mitigating, militating against, outcompeting, and abolishing such regimes are trivially for the good, low risk, and non-revolutionary. But sure, I have doubts:

  • Though I see their accentuation of inequality and control as increasingly important, and high leverage for determining future outcomes, copyright and patent could instead be froth. The cause of intellectual freedom might be better helped by fighting for traditional free speech issues, for tolerance, against mass incarceration, against the drug war, against war, against corruption, for whatever one’s favored economic system is…
  • The voluntarily constructed commons that I emphasize (e.g., free software, open access) could be a trap: everything seems to grow fast as population (and faster, internet population) grows, but this could cloud these commons being systematically outcompeted. Rather than being undersold, product competition from the commons will never outgrow their dwarfish forms, will never shift nor take the commanding heights (e.g., premium video, pharma) and hence are a burden to both policy and beating-of-the-bounds competition. Plus, copyright and the like are mind-rot: generations of commons activists minds have been rotted and co-opted by learning to work within protectionist regimes rather than fighting and ignoring them.
  • An intellectual freedom infringing regime which produced faster technical innovation than an intellectual freedom respecting regime could render the latter irrelevant, like industrial societies rendered agricultural societies irrelevant, and agricultural societies rendered hunter-gatherer societies irrelevant, whatever the effects of those transitions on freedom and other values were. I don’t believe the current regime is anywhere close to being such a thing, nor are the usual “IP maximalism” reforms taking it in that direction. But it is possible that innovation policy is all that matters. Neither freedom and equality nor the rents of incumbents matter, except as obstacles and diversions from discovering and implementing innovation policy optimized to produce the most technical innovation.

I’m not, but can easily imagine being won over by these doubts. Each merits engagement, which could result in much stronger arguments for intellectual freedom, especially knowledge commons.

Critical Cheering

Unplanned, unnoticed by me until late in the year, my most pervasive subtheme was criticism-embedded-in-praise of free/open/commons entities and actions. Representative posts, title replaced with main target: Creative Commons, crowdfunding, Defensive Patent License, Document Freedom Day, DRM-in-HTML5 outrage, EFF, federated social web, Internet Archive, Open Knowledge Foundation, SOPA/ACTA online protests, surveillance outrage, and the Wikimedia movement.

This is an old theme: examples from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012. 2009 and 2010 are absent, but the reason for my light blogging here bears some relation to the theme: those are the years I was, in theory, most intensely trying to “walk my talk” at Creative Commons (and mostly failed, side-tracked by trying to get the organization to follow much more basic best practices, and by vast amounts of silliness).

Doubts about the cheering part are implied in the previous section. I’ll focus on the criticism here, but cheering is the larger component, and real: of entities criticized in the above links, in 2013 I donated money to at least EFF, FSF, and Internet Archive, and uncritically promoted all of them at various points. The criticism part amounts to:

  • Gains could be had from better coordination among entities and across domains, ranging from collaboration toward a short term goal (e.g., free format adoption) to diffuse mutual reinforcement that comes from shared knowledge, appreciation, and adoption of free/open/commons tools and materials across domains (e.g., open education people use open source software as inherent part of their practice of openness, and vice versa).
  • The commons are politically potent, in at least two ways: minimally, as existence proof for creativity and innovation in an intellectual freedom respecting regime (carved out); and vastly underappreciated, as destroyer of rents dependent on the intellectual freedom infringing regime, and of resources available for defending those rents and the regime. Commons are not merely to be protected from further bad policy, but are actors in creating a good policy environment, and should be promoted at every turn.

To be clear, my criticism is not usually a call for more “radical” or “extreme” steps or messages, rather more fulsome and coordinated ones. Admittedly, sometimes it may be hard to tell the difference — and this leads to my doubts:

  • Given that coordination is hard, gaining knowledge is expensive, and optimization path dependent, the entities and movements I criticize may not have room to improve, at least not in the direction I want them to improve in. The cost of making “more fulsome and coordinated” true might be greater than mutual reinforcement and other gains.
  • See the second doubt in the previous section — competition from the commons might be futile. Rather than promoting them at every turn, they should sometimes be held up as victims of bad policy, to be protected, and sometimes hidden from policy discourse.

The first doubt is surely merited, at least for many entities on many issues. For any criticism I have in this space, it makes sense to give the criticized the benefit of the doubt; they know their constraints pretty well, while I’m just making abstract speculations. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to call for more fulsome and coordinated strategy in the interstices of these movements, e.g., conversation and even this blog, in the hope of long-term learning, played out over years in existing entities and movements, and new ones. I will try henceforth to do so more often in a “big picture” way, or through example, and less often through criticism of specific choices made by specific entities — in retrospect the stream of the latter on this blog over the last year has been tedious.

International Apartheid

For example: Abolish Foreignness, Do we have any scrap of evidence that [the Chinese Exclusion Act] made us better off?, and Opposing “illegal” immigration is xenophobic, or more bluntly, advocating for apartheid “because it’s the law”. I hinted at a subtheme about the role of cities, to be filled out later.

The system is grossly unjust and ought be abolished, about that I have no doubt. Existing institutions and arrangements must adapt. But, two doubts about my approach:

  • Too little expression of empathy with those who assume the goodness of current policy. Fear of change, competition, “other” are all deep. Too little about how current unjust system can be unwound in a way the mitigates any reality behind these fears. Too little about how benefits attributed to current unjust system can be maintained under a freedom respecting regime. (This doubt also applies to the intellectual freedom theme.)
  • Figuring out development might be more feasible, and certainly would have more impact on human welfare, individual autonomy, than smashing the international apartheid system. Local improvements to education, business, governance, are what all ought focus on — though development economics has a dismal record, it at least has the right target. Migration is a sideshow.

As with the intellectual freedom theme, these doubts merit engagement, and such will strengthen the case for freedom. But even moreso than in the case of intellectual freedom infringing regimes, the unconscionable and murderous injustice of the international apartheid regime must be condemned from the rooftops. It is sickening and unproductive to allow discourse on this topic to proceed as if the regime is anything but an abomination, however unfeasible its destruction may seem in the short term.


Although much of what I write here can be deemed political, one political theme not subsumed by others is inadequate self-regulation of the government “market”, e.g., What to do about democratically elected terrorist regimes, Suppose they gave a war on terror and a few exposed it as terror, and Why does the U.S. federal government permit negative sum competition among U.S. states and localities?

The main problem with this theme is omission rather than doubt — no solutions proposed. Had I done so, I’d have plenty to doubt.


I fell behind, doing refuting only posts from first and second quarters of 2005. My doubt about this enjoyable exercise is that it is too contrived. Many of the refutations are flippant and don’t reflect any real doubts or knowledge gained in the last 8 years. That doubt is what led me to the exercise of this post. How did I do?

Upgrade to CC-BY(-(NC(-(ND|SA))?|ND|SA))?-4\.0

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Today Creative Commons released version 4.0 of six* of its licenses, with many improvements over version 3.0, after more than two years of work. I’ll write more about those details later. But you should skip right past 4.0 and upgrade to CC’s premier legal product, CC0. This is the case whether you’re looking to adopt a CC license for the first time, or to upgrade from version 1.0, 2.0, 2.1, 2.5, or 3.0.

Let’s review the named conditions present in some or all of the CC 4.0 licenses, and why unconditional CC0 is better.

Don’t forget unmitigated © in the basement.

Attribution (BY). Do not take part in the debasement of attribution, and more broadly, provenance, already useful to readers, communities of practice, and publishers, by making them seem mere objects of copyright license compliance. If attribution is useful, it will be provided. If not, robots will find out. Rarely does anyone comply with the exact legal requirements of the attribution term anyway, and as a licensor, you probably won’t provide the information needed by licensees to easily comply. Plus, the corresponding icon looks like a men’s bathroom sign.

NonCommercial (NC). Sounds nice, but nobody knows what it means. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why NC licensed works are often used by for-profit entities, including with advertising, while NC licensed works are verboten for many community and non-profit projects, most prominently Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. (Because commercial entities know there is very low risk of being sued for non-compliance, and can manage risk, while community projects tend to draw and follow bright lines. Perhaps community projects ought to be able to manage risk, and that they can’t is a demonstration of their relative lack of institutional sophistication…but that’s another topic!)

NoDerivatives (ND). This term has no business being in the “Creative Commons” license suite, but sadly still is. If you don’t want to contribute to a creative commons, don’t. If you’d like to, but think copyright (through withholding permission to share adaptations, i.e., the ND term) will prevent people from misrepresenting you, you’re wrong, committing an act of hate toward free speech, and undermining the potential of voluntary license practice to align with and support an obvious baseline objective for copyright reform: noncommercial sharing and remix should always be legal.

ShareAlike (SA). Also sounds nice, and I am a frequent apologist and sometime advocate for the underlying idea, copyleft. But SA is a weak implementation of copyleft. It isn’t “triggered” by the most common use of CC-licensed material (contextual illustration, not full remix), and it has no regulatory condition not present in non-SA CC licenses (cf GPL, which requires sharing source for a work, and is usable for any work; if you care about copyleft, tell CC to finish making CC-BY-SA one-way compatible with GPL). And the SA implementation retains the costs of copyleft: blank stares of incomprehension, even from people who have worked in the “open” world for over a decade, and occasionally intense fear and dislike (the balance is a bit different in the software world, but this is my direct experience among non-software putatively open organizations and people); also, compatibility problems. It’s time to take the unsolicited advice often given to incumbents and others fearful of the internet: ‘obscurity is a greater threat than piracy’ — and apply it: ‘obscurity is a greater threat than proprietarization.’

Upgrade to CC0!

CC0 isn’t perfect, but it is by far the best tool provided by CC. I have zero insight into the future of the CC organization, but I hope it gives ample priority to the public domain, post-4.0 launch.

*CC-BY(-(NC(-(ND|SA))?|ND|SA))?-4\.0 is a regular expression matching all six licenses released today.

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.

What’s *really* wrong with the free and open internet — and how we could win it

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

A few days ago Sue Gardner, ED of the Wikimedia Foundation, posted What’s *really* wrong with nonprofits — and how we can fix it. Judging by seeing the the link sent around, it has been read to confirm various conflicting biases different people in the SF bay area/internet/nonprofit space and adjacent already had. May I? Excerpt-based-summary:

A major structural flaw of many nonprofits is that their revenue is decoupled from mission work, which pushes them to focus on providing a positive donor experience often at the expense of doing their core work.

WMF makes about 95% of its money from the many-small-donors model

I spend practically zero time fundraising. We at the WMF get to focus on our core work of supporting and developing Wikipedia, and when donors talk with us we want to hear what they say, because they are Wikipedia readers

I think the usefulness of the many-small-donors model, ultimately, will extend far beyond the small number of nonprofits currently funded by it.

[Because Internet.]

For organizations that can cover their costs with the many-small-donors model I believe there’s the potential to heal the disconnect between fundraising and core mission work, in a way that supports nonprofits being, overall, much more effective.

I agree concerning extended potential. I thought (here comes confirmation of biases) that Creative Commons should make growing its small donor base its number one fundraising effort, with the goal of having small donors provide the majority of funding as soon as possible — realistically, after several years of hard work on that model. While nowhere close to that goal, I recall that about 2006-2009 individual giving grew rapidly, in numbers and diversity (started out almost exclusively US-based), even though it was never the number one fundraising priority. I don’t think many, perhaps zero, people other than me believed individual giving could become CC’s main source of support. Wikimedia’s success in that, already very evident, and its unique circumstance, was almost taken as proof that CC couldn’t. I thought instead Wikimedia’s methods should be taken as inspiration. The “model” had already been proven by nearby organizations without Wikimedia’s eyeballs; e.g., the Free Software Foundation.

An organization that wants to rely on small donors will have to work insanely hard at it. And, if it had been lucky enough to be in a network affording it access to large foundation grants, it needs to be prepared to shrink if the foundations tire of the organization before individual giving supplants them, and it may never fully do so. (But foundations might tire of the organization anyway, resulting in collapse without individual donors.) This should not be feared. If an organization has a clear vision and operating mission, increased focus on core work by a leaner team, less distracted by fundraising, ought be more effective than a larger, distracted team.

But most organizations don’t have a clear vision and operating mission (I don’t mean words found in vision and mission statements; rather the shared and deep knowing-what-we’re-trying-to-do-and-how that allows all to work effectively, from governance to program delivery). This makes any coherent strategic change more difficult, including transitioning to small donor support. It also gives me pause concerning some of the bits of Gardner’s post that I didn’t excerpt above. For most organizations I’d bet that real implementation of nonprofit “best practices” regarding compliance, governance, management, reporting, etc, though boring and conservative, would be a big step up. Even trying to increase the much-maligned program/(admin+fundraising) ratio is probably still a good general rule. I’d like to hear better ones. Perhaps near realtime reporting of much more data than can be gleaned from the likes of a Form 990 will help “big data scientists” find better rules.

It also has to be said that online small donor fundraising can be just as distracting and warping (causing organization to focus on appearing appealing to donors) as other models. We (collectively) have a lot of work to do on practices, institutions, and intermediaries that will make the extended potential of small donor support possible (read Gardner’s post for the part I lazily summarized as [Because Internet.]) in order for the outcome to be good. What passes as savvy advice on such fundraising (usually centered around “social media”) has for years been appalling and unrealistic. And crowdfunding has thus far been disappointing in some ways as an method of coordinating public benefit.

About 7 months ago Gardner announced she would be stepping down as ED after finding a replacement (still in progress), because:

I’ve always aimed to make the biggest contribution I can to the general public good. Today, this is pulling me towards a new and different role, one very much aligned with Wikimedia values and informed by my experiences here, and with the purpose of amplifying the voices of people advocating for the free and open internet. I don’t know exactly what this will look like — I might write a book, or start a non-profit, or work in partnership with something that already exists.

My immediate reaction to this was exactly what Виктория wrote in reply to the announcement:

I cannot help but wonder what other position can be better for fighting consumerisation, walling-in and freedom curtailment of the Internet than the position of executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation.

I could take this as confirming another of my beliefs: that the Wikimedia movement (and other constructive free/open movements and organizations) do not realize their potential political potency — for changing the policy narrative and environment, not only taking rear guard actions against the likes of SOPA. Of course then, the Wikimedia ED wouldn’t think Wikimedia the most effective place from which to work for a free and open internet. But, my beliefs are not widely held, and likely incorrect. So I was and am mostly intrigued, and eager to see what Gardner does next.

After reading the What’s *really* wrong with nonprofits post above, I noticed that 4 months ago Gardner had posted The war for the free and open internet — and how we are losing it, which I eagerly read:

[non-profit] Wikipedia is pretty much alone. It’s NOT the general rule: it’s the exception that proves the rule.

The internet is evolving into a private-sector space that is primarily accountable to corporate shareholders rather than citizens. It’s constantly trying to sell you stuff. It does whatever it wants with your personal information. And as it begins to be regulated or to regulate itself, it often happens in a clumsy and harmful way, hurting the internet’s ability to function for the benefit of the public. That for example was the story of SOPA.

[Stories of how Wikipedia can fight censorship because it is both non-profit and very popular]

Aside from Wikipedia, there is no large, popular space being carved out for the public good. There are a billion tiny experiments, some of them great. But we should be honest: we are not gaining ground.

The internet needs serious help if it is to remain free and open, a powerful contributor to the public good.

Final exercise in confirming my biases (this post): yes, what the internet needs is more spaces carved our for the public good — more Wikipedias — categories other than encyclopedia in which a commons-based product out-competes proprietary incumbents, increasing equality and freedom powerfully in both the short and long (capitalization aligned with rent seeking demolished) term. Wikipedia is unique in being wildly successful and first and foremost a website, but not alone (free software collectively must many times more liberating by any metric, some of it very high profile, eg Firefox; Open Access is making tremendous progress, and I believe PLOS may have one of the strongest claims to operating not just to make something free, but to compete directly with and eventually displace incumbents).

A free and open internet, and society, needs intense competition from commons-based initiatives in many more categories, including those considered the commanding heights of culture and commerce, eg premium video, advertising, social networking, and many others. Competition does not mean just building stuff, but making it culturally relevant, meaning making it massively popular (which Wikipedia lucked into, being the world’s greatest keyword search goldmine). Nor does it necessarily mean recapitulating proprietary products exactly, eg some product expectations might moved to ones more favorable to mass collaboration.

Perhaps Gardner’s next venture will aim to carve out a new, popular space for the public good on the internet. Perhaps it will be to incubate other projects with exactly that aim (there are many experiments, as her post notes, but not many with “take overliberate the world” vision or resources; meanwhile there is a massive ecosystem churning out and funding attempts to take over the world new proprietary products). Perhaps it will be to build something which helps non-profits leverage the extended potential of the small donor model, in a way that maximizes public good. Most likely, something not designed to confirm my biases. ☺ But, many others should do just that!

Flow ∨ incentive 2013 anthology winner

Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Anthology Future of Copyright 2.0 cover

The Futureof Copyright 2.0 contest has a winner, published with 8 other top entries. Read the anthology PDF/EPUB/MOBI ebook, listen to an audiobook version created by me reading each entry (for the purposes of judging) on sight aloud, or individual entries linked below in my review.

A Penny for Your Thoughts by Talllama is the winner, unanimously selected by the jury. It’s a fun transposition of exactly today’s copyright and debates (including wild mischaracterization) into a future with mind uploading. Quotes:

“My mom and dad would get upset at me.” He sent her a copy of his anxiety.
“Well my dad says copyright is stupid,” Helen said, sending back an emotion that was pitying yet vaguely contemptuous. “He says anyone who won’t pirate is a dummy.”
Timothy scowled at her. “My dad says that piracy is stealing.”
“My dad and I have trillions of books and thoughts, so we know better than you,” Helen said.

“You see, Timothy,” his father continued, “If people didn’t have an incentive to think or dream, they wouldn’t. And then no one would have any new thoughts. Everyone would stop thinking because there wouldn’t be any money in it.”
“But you said people had thoughts in 1920 even though there was no copyright.”
“Yes, you’re right. What I mean is that there were no professional thinkers in those days.”
“It would be bad if people stopped thinking,” Timothy said.

Lucy’s Irrevocable, Colossal, Terrible Mistake by Chris Sakkas tells a story in which releasing stuff under a free license has amazing results. Unfortunately free licenses aren’t magic, and it isn’t clear to me what the story says about the future of copyright. Quote:

An alternative bookshop in Sussex, on the other side of the world to Lucy, created a video ad with her favourite song as its backing track. The ad ended with a thanks to Lucy for releasing her music under a free, libre and open licence and a hyperlink. Hundreds more people visited her site, the passive consumers of big business! They used the donate button on her site to spray her with filthy lucre.

Perfect Memory by Jacinto Dávila describes a world of 2089 mediated by perfect memory of all non-intimate events and voting for assignment of credit; copyright plays what role in such future? Quote:

[Socio-mathematics] was also the source of an unprecedented and fundamental agreement. All the stakeholders of the world came, after many unfortunate and even bloody events, to negotiate a new framework for producing and sharing common knowledge. And the basis they found was that to preserve freedom, but also the health of the whole planet and its species, that knowledge had to be shared, easily and readily, among all the stakeholders.

That led to a rebuttal of so-called intellectual property and copyright laws and their replacement with a body of global law acknowledging our common heritage, codependent future and the fundamental right of knowledge everyone has.

Copyrights in Chopin’s future by Krzysztof Blachnicki (English translation by Wojciech Pędzich) has Chopin resurrected in 2015 through unspecified but expensive means, then exploited by and escaping from the current recording industry. A fun idea, but ultimately a stereotypical anti-recording-industry rant. Quote:

I hope that more people will have their own opinions instead of listening to the hissing of those snakes, sucking money out of artists to pay off their new automobiles. Wake up, folks, a good musician will earn his daily bread even if he decides to let his music go for free, for all to share. A poor man will be able to listen to real music, while a wealthy man will make the artist’s effort worthwhile. Isn’t it all about just that? Each may benefit, except the music companies which become redundant, so they turn to lies in order to keep themselves afloat.

What is an author? by refined quotes is a story in which all legal ideas are closely regulated and bland, “old art” outlawed so people consume new, legal stuff, the good stuff and real artists are underground, and with an additional twist that ideas take animal form. Quote:

You see? An artist is a little like an art producer. But he deals with the genuine ideas, as you see. He doesn’t buy them, like the law says he should. He just comes to places like this and spends his time with them. It’s a slow process. No one knows why precisely, but this crazy little ideas are in love with him, well, with all the artists.

The Ambiguous Future of Copyright by HOT TOCO is a snarky take on where copyright and computing are headed, presumably meaning to project ambiguous reception of Ubuntu/Canonical ten years into the future. Quote:

Friend2: “If I can extract info from this rant, I think Commonible, Ltd, is saying they’ve perfected trusted computing, fully protecting you from hacking and making ALL media available, fully compensating all value chains.”

Friend3 (quiet one): “I read about sth like this, Project Xanaxu. Real old stuff. The inventor thought the Web failed to transclude micropayments.”

500 Years of Copyright Law by Holovision embeds current copyright factoids in description of future eras. I can’t tell what its “Copynorm Exchange Decentralization Entente (CEDE)” regime consists of, but maybe that is also a current copyright factoid: someone reading a pamphlet describing copyright and mentioning a few acronyms (eg TRIPs) would not have much sense of the regime. Quote:

Attempts to put digital rights management into 3D printers were sooner or later unsuccessful against hardware hackers. There were open sourced 3D printers but many perceived them to be inferior to the commercially patented ones. When the commercial 3D printers were used to make other printers most companies left the marketplace. This left many still infringing the 3D printers with the excuse that the printers became “abandonware”.

Copyright Protest Song by Tom Konecki doesn’t seem to say anything about the future, but does capture various bits of complaint about the current regime. Quote:

Everybody wants only money and success
And none remembers the idea of open-access
To acquire knowledge and gather information
That is now the object of companies’ manipulation.

Copyright – Real Vision or fantastic vision? by Arkadiusz Janusz (English translation by Kuba Kwiatkowski) contains a proposal of the type “metadata and tracking will get everyone paid” explained in a parent-child lecture. Quote:

The file doesn’t contain a price, only points. In other words, the price is quoted in points. A point has a different monetary value for every country. Here, the minimum wage is about 1000 dollars. We divide the minimum wage by one thousand and receive the amount value of 1 point. If you download a movie, the server checks in which country you are, and converts the points into the appropriate price.

That’s why in our times, pirates are at on the verge of extinction. Most frequently, they’re maniacs or followers of some strange ideologies.

You can also read my review of last year’s future of copyright contest anthology, which links to each selection. This year’s selections are notably less dystopian and take less of a position on what the future of copyright ought be.

I enjoyed judging this year’s contest, and hope it and any future iterations achieve much greater visibility. Current copyright debates seem to me to have an incredibly short-term focus, which can’t be for the good when changes which have supposedly produced the current debate are only speeding up. Additionally, and my one complaint about the contest other than lack of fame, is that “copyright” is a deeply suboptimal frame for thinking about its, and our, future. I will try to address this point directly soon, but some of it can be read from my contest entry of last year (other forms of info regulation with different policy goals being much more pertinent than quibbling over the appropriateness of the word “copyright”).

You may see an embedded player for the audiobook version read by me below. Some of the durations shown may be incorrect; the winner, A Penny for Your Thoughts, is actually slightly less than 15 minutes long. Sadly the player obscures the browser context menu and doesn’t provide a way to increase playback rate, so first, a default HTML5 player loaded with only the winner:

Exit skype loyalty

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Why Doesn’t Skype Include Stronger Protections Against Eavesdropping?

At the EFF blog Seth Schoen speculates that Microsoft could be under continuous secret court orders which could possibly be interpreted to not allow it to add privacy protecting features to Skype. Maybe, but this can’t explain why Skype did not protect users prior to acquisition by Microsoft.

Schoen’s post closes with (emphasis in original):

That’s certainly not the case today, legally or technically—today, different kinds of calls offer drastically different levels of privacy and security. On some mobile networks, calls aren’t encrypted at all and hence are even broadcast over the air. Some Internet calls are encrypted in a way that protects users against some kinds of interception and not others. Some calls are encrypted with tools that include privacy and security features that Skype is lacking. Users deserve to understand exactly how the communications technologies they use do or don’t protect them. If Microsoft has reasons to think this situation is going to change, we need to know what those reasons are.

I’ll throw out some definite reasons users aren’t getting the protection and information deserved (secret court orders may be additional reasons):

  • Features have costs (engineering, UX, support); why should a developer bother with any feature when:
  • Few users have expressed demand for such features through either exit or voice;
  • Advocates who believe users deserve protection and information have failed to adequately increase actual user and policy demand for such;
  • Advocates and would-be providers of tools giving users what they deserve have failed to adequately deliver (especially to market! few users know about these tools) such.

In short Skype has not protected users or informed them about lack of protection because they face near zero threat (regulatory or competitive product) which would interest them in doing so.

EFF is doing as well and as much as any entity at generally informing users who probably already care a little bit (they’re reached by the EFF’s messages) and a whole lot more deserving of support. Keep that voice up but please always include exit instructions. Name “tools that include privacy and security features”; I see a screenshot of Pidgin in the EFF post, give them some love! Or better, Jitsi, the most feasible complete Skype replacement for all platforms. Otherwise your good efforts will be swamped by Skype user loyaltynetwork effect lockin.

Related argument: Realize Document Freedom Day; on topic: Free, open, secure and convenient communications: Can we finally replace Skype, Viber, Twitter and Facebook?

Suppose they gave a war on terror and a few exposed it as terror

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

I do not recommend anyone join the murderous institutions of the U.S. security state (and the minimum age for making such a grave error needs to be raised, worldwide). Those who do not are everyday heroes. Those who make the mistake of joining a criminal network and, realizing at least in part what they have done, seek to expose its systematic criminality, are extraordinary heroes, e.g., Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.

Obviously Manning should be freed and granted something with more meaning than the so-called Nobel Peace Prize, and Snowden should remain free. Both tremendous uphill battles that I fully support.

But punishment of murderers is also necessary. I look forward to the U.S. submitting to the International Criminal Court, and many officials and contractors of the Bush-Obama regime being tried.

An unlikely dream, yes. But unlike the saying this post plays on, leaking does not require unanimity. Unfortunately the nature of the terror war has been in full view for a long time and I don’t expect new revelations to change anything.

Speaking of dreaming, I hold some hope that those who see a little into the future (i.e., the dominance of computation) might have an outsized impact on increasing the probability of a slightly better future. Unfortunately the security state is making us look like clowns, even while we laugh at their awful slide designs.

Diocese of Springfield, Illinois ©ensors criticism of its Bishop Paprocki

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

I recognize the rhetorical value of pointing out that copyright can be used for unambiguous censorship but I try to avoid doing so myself: “can be used for” downplays “is”. But the following is too good to let pass.

Bishop Paprocki: Voting Dem...This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

Paprocki made a video sermon in which he says that voting Democrat puts one’s soul at risk, while disclaiming telling anyone how to vote.

Brian Tashman posted a criticism of Paprocki’s video, including (I surmise [Update: I was probably wrong; looking at the post again, I’m changing my guess to verbatim excerpt]) a video of himself on video criticizing Paprocki’s statements, including relevant excerpts of Paprocki’s video. I found Tashman’s post and video via a post titled This Week in God, where I noticed the embedded YouTube video frame said:

Bishop Paprocki: Voting Dem…This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

I’m going to guess that Tashman’s use of the Paprocki video sermon was very clearly fair use. But even if the entire video was included verbatim, it’d be a zero diff parody. If you want to watch that, the original is linked above, and excerpted and uncut-with-but-grainy-with-additional-watermark versions posted by Paprocki fans remain on YouTube.

I don’t see how Paprocki’s statements could be electioneering, as nobody believes in eternal salvation or damnation, right? In case I’m wrong, some are using the opportunity to call for revoking the Diocese of Springfield’s tax extempt status.

(I grew up in Springfield, Illinois and heard they were getting a curious Catholic bishop last year, one who promotes exorcisms and says that sex abuse lawsuits are the work of the devil — not sex abuse, but lawsuits intended to redress the abuse. That’s Paprocki. But I’m not poking fun of Springfield. Salvatore Cordileone was recently promoted from Oakland bishop to San Francisco archbishop, shortly after demonstrating that the blood of Christ does intoxicate and can result in a DUI. Furthermore, I empathize with Paprocki. If I believed abortion were mass murder and homosexuality an abomination, I would feel compelled to risk mere tax benefits in order to tell people to vote against candidates who I perceived as being for murder and abomination. Indeed, I must tell you to not vote for Romney or Obama, as they both favor mass murder and abomination performed by the U.S. security state: murder, murder, murder, torture, and mass incarceration. But I’m rooting for Obama, as I suspect he favors a little less torture.)

Sizing Pentagon propaganda: $4.7b, 27k people

Monday, September 24th, 2012

The Return of ‘The Runaway General’ (full article subscriber-only; read at library):

Hastings gives a telling account of the Pentagon’s media operation, which tried to “make over” McChrystal. The Pentagon spends $4.7 billion a year on public relations and has 27,000 people working on them. Every general has his own team of media handlers–all too evident to any journalist who has interviewed senior US brass in Iraq or Afghanistan. On a regular trip General Petraeus would have a staff of fifty walking before and after him. In contrast, a senior State Department official would have less than five staff members, including his security detail.

Apparently this is old (2009) news, though I missed it. Spinning Us to Death (2011):

While American soldiers and Afghan civilians continue to kill and be killed in Afghanistan, the Pentagon seeks to provide the illusion of progress, systematically misrepresenting realities on the ground to bide more time, gain more troops, and acquire more funding. It’s bad enough that the American media uncritically relays statements from U.S. officials portraying “success” on the ground. Now the Pentagon is using its massive propaganda budget to blur the line between informing the public and spinning it to death. In fact, several years ago the Associated Press found that the Pentagon had spent $4.7 billion on public relations in 2009 alone, and employs 27,000 people for recruitment, advertising and public relations, nearly as many as the 30,000-person State Department. Essentially the Pentagon is trying to influence public policy and lobby civilian officials to shift policies toward their own ends while dispersing the costs onto the American taxpayer.

Military propaganda is nothing new, in the U.S. or elsewhere. Many people have written about how thoroughly militaries and militarists have subverted journalism, and civic discourse in general. Still, $4.7 billion and 27,000 people (and presumably more in other departments) paid to do this, while tiny portions of federal expenditure and staffing, disgusts anew — the object of disgust being the USian people for being willing fools.

Too many times I’ve heard in conversation people talk about 280,000 astroturfers employed by the Chinese government (and doubtless a similarly huge number of more traditional propagandists and censors) accompanied by adjectives like “craaazy”. “Our” militaries are running crazy amok (and are or will be happy to astroturf), and we’re to blame. Fix that, then gasp at the greater-by-degree insanities of more authoritarian regimes.

The Return linked above draws on a number of Afghanistan books, and begins more or less predicting a similar US occupation aftermath to the USSR occupation aftermath; wouldn’t surprise me, at the least there’s a grave risk of ongoing war and/or an even more extremely brutal regime over the next few years, meaning that many thousands, maybe millions of innocent Afghans will be “displaced”, tortured, slaughtered, etc. The U.S. owes every Afghan who wants it immediate U.S. citizenship. Anything less, it bears, I mean we bear, even more responsibility for future mass murder than we already do.