Post Free Speech

Innocence of _ sharing, remix, and annotation contest

Friday, September 21st, 2012

The term Streisand effect to denote “an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely” rubs me the wrong way (perhaps because I sense homage in critique, in this case perhaps to pop culture fame) but it seems an apt description of reactions to Innocence of Muslims.

I watched (see above) the trailer. If I didn’t know that lots of people were upset about it, I’d class it as camp. I have a hard time not viewing it as such. People claiming it is disgusting and with no artistic merit are expressing some kind of tiresome responsibility and solidarity. Artistically, the trailer seems so comically bad that’s it’s good.

Because it is so bad/good, and now famous, I’m guessing that Innocence will spark lots of “remix culture” (another dreadful term, oh well). Some obvious things to watch for:

  1. Sharing the trailer many places besides YouTube, the centrality of which warps discussions of free speech.
  2. Leaking of the whole (apparently 74 minute) film.
  3. The 74 minute film may not exist, but this doesn’t mean a 74 minute Innocence can’t be created. An early attempt to do so seems to simply loop the trailer and perhaps add in some news footage.
  4. It seems that the trailer is constantly making reference to historic events or religious text passages, but lacking detailed knowledge of the relevant history and books, they all go over my head. Annotations indicating the events and passages referred to, and further material supporting or refuting their interpretations in the film, would be very helpful.
  5. Given the generic campy-actors-hanging-out-in-a-desert scenes that dominate the trailer, and suggested by the use of overdubbing in the original, it shouldn’t be too hard to repurpose the material for films supporting (or opposing) every desert-origin religion (there are many; bonus for any of the vast majority without current adherents) or merely for depicting family feuds and other soap operatic themes set in a desert.
  6. The most currently valuable and pertinent remix would be a historical allegory, in which the marauder/murderer/rapist/torturer figures represent the current U.S.-led terror war.
  7. There are many bad, bad/good, and perhaps some good, desert-religion films which could be used to supplement material from Innocence for any of the above. The ethnicity of the actors is aligned with lots of USian portrayals, especially older ones.
  8. There’s once scene of a man bound to a pole that could be plausibly reinterpreted as the Christ (ignoring that implausibility) and added to The Mashin’ of.

Contest? Winners, should any appear, may receive a gratis link from this post.

Copyright mitigation, not balance

Monday, September 10th, 2012

EU Commission VP Neelie Kroes gave a speech on copyright reform that while surely among the best on the subject from a high level politician (Techdirt coverage) is fundamentally broken.

Kroes argues that a lot has changed in the last 14 years about how information is consumed, distributed, produced, and used in research and that copyright needs to adapt to these changes. If that argument eventually obtains significant mitigation of copyright, great, but it’s mostly wrong, and I suspect questions far too little and gives away way too much to all invested in the current regime. For example:

And now let’s remind ourselves what our objectives as policymakers should be for the creative sector.

We should help artists live from their art. Stimulate creativity and innovation. Improve consumer choice. Promote our cultural heritage. And help the sector drive economic growth.

We can’t look at copyright in isolation: you have to look at how it fits into the real world. So let’s ask ourselves: how well is the current system achieving those objectives, in the world we live in today?

What about freedom? Equality?

Regarding new technologies in the last 14 years, there have been some (and Kroes was not so bold as to even hint at Napster and successors, nor broad offenses against these and the web), but those are not at all what makes copyright mitigation interesting, except down in the weeds of how specific regulations interact with specific technologies and practices — the view of the universe from the vantage of administrators and agitators of the current regime — understandably, as this is where most day to day battles are fought.

Instead, mitigation of anti-commons information policy is interesting and desirable, and has been especially pertinent at various times (eg 1800s) throughout human history, because free speech is always desirable and under threat by the embarrassments of control, corruption, and rent seeking. These are not qualities to be “balanced”, but diseases to be mitigated as much and for as long as possible.

The objectives Kroes says policymakers should have are fine, if secondary. Copyright (and patents, and sadly more) simply should not be seen as relevant to any of them, except as a barrier to be mitigated, not balanced nor adapted.

Future of Copyright

Monday, April 30th, 2012

“Copyright” (henceforth, copyrestriction) is merely a current manifestation of humanity’s malgovernance of information, of commons, of information commons (the combination being the most pertinent here). Copyrestriction was born of royal censorship and monopoly grants. It has acquired an immense retinue of administrators, advocates, bureaucrats, goons, publicists, scholars, and more. Its details have changed and especially proliferated. But its concept and impact are intact: grab whatever revenue and control you can, given your power, and call your grabbing a “right” and necessary for progress. As a policy, copyrestriction is far from unique in exhibiting these qualities. It is only particularly interesting because it, or more broadly, information governance, is getting more important as everything becomes information intensive, increasingly via computation suffusing everything. Before returning to the present and future, note that copyrestriction is also not temporally unique among information policies. Restriction of information for the purposes of control and revenue has probably existed since the dawn of agriculture, if not longer, e.g., cults and guilds.

Copyrestriciton is not at all a right to copy a work, but a right to persecute others who distribute, perform, etc, a work. Although it is often said that a work is protected by copyrestriction, this is strictly not true. A work is protected through the existence of lots of copies and lots of curators. The same is true for information about a work, i.e., metadata, e.g., provenance. Copyrestriction is an attack on the safety of a work. Instead, copyrestriction protects the revenue and control of whoever holds copyrestriction on a work. In some cases, some elements of control remain with a work’s immediate author, even if they no longer hold copyrestriction: so-called moral rights.

Copyrestriction has become inexorably more restrictive. Technology has made it increasingly difficult for copyrestriction holders and their agents to actually restrict others’ copying and related activity. Neither trend has to give. Neither abolition nor police state in service of copyrestriction scenarios are likely in the near future. Nor is the strength of copyrestricition the only dimension to consider.

Free and open source software has demonstrated the ethical and practical value of the opposite of copyrestriction, which is not its absence, but regulation mandating the sharing of copies, specifically in forms suitable for inspection and improvement. This regulation most famously occurs in the form of source-requiring copyleft, e.g., the GNU General Public License (GPL), which allows copyrestriction holders to use copyrestriction to force others to share works based on GPL’d works in their preferred form for modification, e.g., source code for software. However, this regulation occurs through other means as well, e.g., communities and projects refusing to curate and distribute works not available in source form, funders mandating source release, and consumers refusing to buy works not available in source form. Pro-sharing regulation (using the term “regulation” maximally broadly to include government, market, and others; some will disbelieve in the efficacy or ethics of one or more, but realistically a mix will occur) could become part of many policies. If it does not, society will be put at great risk by relying in security through obscurity, and lose many opportunities to scrutinize, learn about, and improve society’s digital infrastructure and the computing devices individuals rely on to live their lives, and to live, period.

Information sharing, and regulation promoting and protecting the same, also ought play a large role in the future of science. Science, as well as required information disclosure in many contexts, long precedes free and open source software. The last has only put a finer point on pro-sharing regulation in relation to copyrestriction, since the most relevant works (mainly software) are directly subject to both. But the extent to which pro-sharing regulation becomes a prominent feature of information governance, and more narrowly, the extent to which people have software freedom, will depend mostly on the competitive success of projects that reveal or mandate revelation of source, the success of pro-sharing advocates in making the case that pro-sharing regulation is socially desirable, and their success in getting pro-sharing regulation enacted and enforced (again, whether in customer and funding agreements, government regulation, community constitutions, or other) much more so than copyrestriction-based enforcement of the GPL and similar. But it is possible that the GPL is setting an important precedent for pro-sharing regulation, even though the pro-sharing outcome is conceptually orthogonal to copyrestriction.

Returning to copyrestriction itself, if neither abolition nor totalism are imminent, will humanity muddle through? How? What might be done to reduce the harm of copyrestriction? This requires a brief review of the forces that have resulted in the current muddle, and whether we should expect any to change significantly, or foresee any new forces that will significantly impact copyrestriction.

Technology (itself, not the industry as an interest group) is often assumed to be making copyrestriction enforcement harder and driving demands for for harsher restrictions. In detail, that’s certainly true, but for centuries copyrestriciton has been resilient to technical changes that make copying ever easier. Copying will continue to get easier. In particular the “all culture on a thumb drive” (for some very limited definition of “all”) approaches, or is here if you only care about a few hundred feature length films, or are willing to use portable hard drive and only care about a few thousand films (or much larger numbers of books and songs). But steadily more efficient copying isn’t going to destroy copyrestriction sector revenue. More efficient copying may be necessary to maintain current levels of unauthorized sharing, given steady improvement in authorized availability of content industry controlled works, and little effort to make unauthorized sharing easy and worthwhile for most people (thanks largely to suppression of anyone who tries, and media management not being an easy problem). Also, most collection from businesses and other organizations has not and will probably not become much more difficult due to easier copying.

National governments are the most powerful entities in this list, and the biggest wildcards. Although most of the time they act roughly as administrators or follow the cue of more powerful national governments, copyrestriction laws and enforcement are ultimately in their courts. As industries that could gain from copyrestriction grow in developing nations, those national governments could take on leadership of increasing restriction and enforcement, and with less concern for civil liberties, could have few barriers. At the same time, some developing nations could decide they’ve had enough of copyrestriction’s inequality promotion. Wealthy national governments could react to these developments in any number of ways. Trade wars seem very plausible, actual war prompted by a copyrestriction or related dispute not unimaginable. Nations have fought stupid wars over many perceived economic threats.

The traditional copyrestriction industry is tiny relative to the global economy, and even the U.S. economy, but its concentration and cachet make it a very powerful lobbyist. It will grab all of the revenue and control it possibly can, and it isn’t fading away. As alluded to above, it could become much more powerful in currently developing nations. Generational change within the content industry should lead to companies in that industry better serving customers in a digital environment, including conceivably attenuating persecution of fans. But it is hard to see any internal change resulting in support for positive legal changes.

Artists have always served as exhibit one for the content industry, and have mostly served as willing exhibitions. This has been highly effective, and every category genuflects to the need for artists to be paid, and generally assumes that copyrestriction is mandatory to achieve this. Artists could cause problems for copyrestriction-based businesses and other organizations by demanding better treatment under the current system, but that would only effect the details of copyrestriction. Artists could significantly help reform if more were convinced of the goodness of reform and usefulness of speaking up. Neither seems very likely.

Other businesses, web companies most recently, oppose copyrestriction directions that would negatively impact their businesses in the short term. Their goal is not fundamental reform, but continuing whatever their current business is, preferably with increasing profits. Just the same as content industries. A fundamental feature of muddling through will be tests of various industries and companies to carve out and protect exceptions. And exploit copyrestriction whenever it suits them.

Administrators, ranging from lawyers to WIPO, though they work constantly to improve or exploit copyrestriciton, will not be the source of significant change.

Free and open source software and other constructed commons have already disrupted a number of categories, including server software and encyclopedias. This is highly significant for the future of copyrestriction, and more broadly, information governance, and a wildcard. Successful commons demonstrate feasibility and desirability of policy other than copyrestriction, help create a constituency for reducing copyrestriction and increasing pro-sharing policies, and diminish the constituency for copyrestriction by reducing the revenues and cultural centrality of restricted works and their controlling entities. How many additional sectors will opt-in freedom disrupt? How much and for how long will the cultural centrality of existing restricted works retard policy changes flowing from such disruptions?

Cultural change will affect the future of copyrestriction, but probably in detail only. As with technology change, copyrestriction has been incredibly resilient to tremendous cultural change over the last centuries.

Copyrestriction reformers (which includes people who would merely prevent additional restrictions, abolitionists, and those between and beyond, with a huge range of motivations and strategies among them) will certainly affect the future of copyrestriction. Will they only mitigate dystopian scenarios, or cause positive change? So far they have mostly failed, as the political economy of diffuse versus concentrated interests would predict. Whether reformers succeed going forward will depend on how central and compelling they can make their socio-political cause, and thus swell their numbers and change society’s narrative around information governance — a wildcard.

Scholars contribute powerfully to society’s narrative over the long term, and constitute a separate wildcard. Much scholarship has moved from a property- and rights-based frame to a public policy frame, but this shift as yet is very shallow, and will remain so until a property- and rights-basis assumption is cut out from under today’s public policy veneer, and social scientists rather than lawyers dominate the conversation. This has occurred before. Over a century ago economists were deeply engaged in similar policy debates (mostly regarding patents, mostly contra). Battles were lost, and tragically economists lost interest, leaving the last century’s policy to be dominated by grabbers exploiting a narrative of rights, property, and intuitive theory about incentives as cover, with little exploration and explanation of public welfare to pierce that cover.

Each of the above determinants of the future of copyrestriction largely hinge on changing (beginning with engaging, in many cases) people’s minds, with partial exceptions for disruptive constructed commons and largely exogenous technology and culture change (partial as how these develop will be affected by copyrestriction policy and debate to some extent). Even those who cannot be expected to effect more than details as a class are worth engaging — much social welfare will be determined by details, under the safe assumption that society will muddle through rather than make fundamental changes.

I don’t know how to change or engage anyone’s mind, but close with considerations for those who might want to try:

  • Make copyrestriction’s effect on wealth, income, and power inequality, across and within geographies, a central part of the debate.
  • Investigate assumptions of beneficent origins of copyrestriction.
  • Tolerate no infringement of intellectual freedom, nor that of any civil liberty, for the sake of copyrestriction.
  • Do not assume optimality means “balance” nor that copyrestriction maximalism and public domain maximalism are the poles.
  • Make pro-sharing, pro-transparency, pro-competition and anti-monopoly policies orthogonal to above dimension part of the debate.
  • Investigate and celebrate the long-term policy impact of constructed commons such as free and open source software.
  • Take into account market size, oversupply, network effects, non-pecuniary motivations, and the harmful effects of pecuniary motivations on creative work, when considering supply and quality of works.
  • Do not grant that copyrestriction-based revenues are or have ever been the primary means of supporting creative work.
  • Do not grant big budget movies as failsafe argument for copyrestriction; wonderful films will be produced without, and even if not, we will love whatever cultural forms exist and should be ashamed to accept any reduction of freedom for want of spectacle.
  • Words are interesting and important but trivial next to substance. Replace all occurrences of “copyrestriction” with “copyright” as you see fit. There is no illusion concerning our referent.

This work takes part in the and is published under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


no copyright law in the universe is going to stop me [from demanding compliance with various UN human rights and cultural diversity declarations]

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Currently the first autocompletion result upon typing “no copyright” into YouTube’s search is “no copyright law in the universe is going to stop me”, which is apparently a string used in the description of 108 videos on YouTube, and the title of at least one. It seems this phrase is primarily an anti-SOPA expression rather than an admonition to not take down whatever video is described.

Andy Baio pointed out late last year that disclaimers of intent to infringe others’ copyrights and claims of fair use frequently appear in the descriptions of videos on YouTube. He noted 489,000 and 664,000 results for the queries "no copyright" and "copyright" "section 107". Those numbers may have grown significantly in the last nearly 3 months, but should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Yesterday for me, “no copyright” obtained 906,000, while today YouTube has said both 972,000 and 3,850,000 to the same query. For “copyright” “section 107”, yesterday 771,000, today 418,000. I don’t know how many videos were on YouTube 3 months ago, but yesterday an empty query claimed 567,000,000; today I’ve seen 537,000,000 and 550,000,000 — maybe on the order of 1% of videos have some sort of copyright disclaimer. But there are variations that might not be picked up by the queries Baio used, including for example two of the descriptions I posted a few days ago.

Although they’re probably completely useless in preventing automated takedowns and in court (though it’s not entirely clear they ought be useless in either case), as expression they’re at the very least interesting, and perhaps more. Though they can be seen as “voodoo charms”, so can the ubiquitous “all rights reserved”, and even meaningful public copyright licenses can be seen as such to the extent they are misunderstood or totemic. My main objection to the disclaimers Baio brought attention to is that they’re clutter to the extent they crowd out writing or reading other information about works; and just about anything else is more useful, from provenance to expressions of appreciation, eg “In my opinion, one of the greatest songs of the ’80s.”

But my first reaction to such disclaimers is the wish that they would be more expressive, even substantial. Regarding the latter, in many cases the uploader has added something to or rearranged the work in question — e.g., where the work is a song, the addition of images, or the performance of a cover. How often does the uploader grant permissions to use whatever expression they’ve added? (I don’t know; one aggregate tool for exploring such might be the addition of &creativecommons=1 to the aforementioned queries, which will limit results to those marked as CC-BY.) One fairly well known case of something like this is Girl Talk’s All Day:

All Day by Girl Talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license. The CC license does not interfere with the rights you have under the fair use doctrine, which gives you permission to make certain uses of the work even for commercial purposes. Also, the CC license does not grant rights to non-transformative use of the source material Girl Talk used to make the album.

Too bad with the NonCommercial condition, and I really don’t like Girl Talk’s music (for something kind of similar that I prefer aesthetically and in terms of permissions granted, check out xmarx), but otherwise that’s a great statement.

Over the past few months someone or some people have made me aware of another example, one that replaces disclaimers with demands. You can see some of this on my English Wikipedia user talk page (start at “Common IP” — unfortunately doesn’t pass through internal links, so you’ll have to scroll down). It may appear that my correspondent is religious and communicating poorly through automated translation between Russian and English, but there’s a kernel of something interesting there. If I understand correctly, they think that without listening to the Beatles, one cannot develop morally (that comes from elsewhere, not on my talk page) and that per a variety of United Nations declarations concerning human rights and especially cultural diversity, anyone has the legal right and moral duty to share Beatles material. As far as I know they started this campaign at and moved on to other sites, including Wikipedia. It is pretty clear that they’re not looking for links to or some other site they control — I think they’re sincerely promoting something they believe in, not a money-making scam.

The flaws in their campaign are legion, not least of which is that there could hardly be a worse body of work than that of the Beatles around which to plead for rights to share in the name of cultural diversity. As the Beatles are one of if not the most popular acts ever, the most obvious conclusion is that more Beatles exposure must lower global cultural diversity. On the related issue of cultural preservation, super-famous material like that of the Beatles is going to survive for a long time in spite of copyright restrictions, even vigorously enforced (see James Joyce).

As to their persistent requests for some kind of permission from me to proceed with their campaign, I say two things:

  1. As far as the copyright regime is concerned, the permissions I have to grant to you are nil.
  2. As far as demands made in the name of human rights, no human requires permission from any other to pursue those. Godspeed to you, or perhaps I should say, Beatlespeed!

I want to thank my correspondent for causing me to look at the and subsequent documents. The way they address “intellectual property”, to the extent that they do, is more curious than I would’ve thought. I leave that to a future post.

p.s. My favorite Beatles.

Black March→Freedom March

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012


In 1939 and 1940, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) greatly increased its licensing fees. Broadcasters for a time played only music in the public domain and that licensed from Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), a competitor to ASCAP they set up. ASCAP’s monopoly was broken, some genres that had been ignored obtained airplay. I’ve also seen this described as a failed ASCAP boycott of the broadcasters. I have not read beyond sketches to know the best characterization, but there were a small enough number of entities on both sides that either or both could hold out, and effectively “boycott” for a higher or lower price.

Open Access

A new pledge to not do one or more of publishing in, reviewing for, or doing editorial work for journals published by Elsevier has gotten a fair amount of notice. 7,671 researchers have signed, which has probably already led to some Elsevier concessions and a drop in their share price.

Academics are not nearly as concentrated as U.S. radio broadcasting in 1940, but hopefully, and just possibly this boycott will lead to lasting change (the share analyst quoted in link above does not think so). But pledges to not contribute to non-Open Access journals are nothing new — 34,000 scientists (pdf; has anyone counted how many have stuck with the publication part of the pledge?) signed one in 2001

but the publishing landscape remained largely unchanged until PLoS became a publisher itself to affect change. PLoS therefore reinvented itself as a publisher in 2003 to show how open access publishing could work.

Black March

Copied from, but of unknown provenance/Anonymous:

With the continuing campaigns for Internet-censoring litigation such as SOPA and PIPA, and the closure of sites such as Megaupload under allegations of ‘piracy’ and ‘conspiracy’, the time has come to take a stand against music, film and media companies’ lobbyists.

The only way to hit them where it truly hurts… Their profit margins.

Do not buy a single record. Do not download a single song, legally or illegally. Do not go to see a single film in cinemas, or download a copy. Do not buy a DVD in the stores. Do not buy a videogame. Do not buy a single book or magazine.

Wait the 4 weeks to buy them in April, see the film later, etc. Holding out for just 4 weeks will lave a gaping hole in the media and entertainment companies’ profits for the 1st quarter. An economic hit which will in turn be observed by governments worldwide as stocks and shares will blip from a large enough loss of incomes.

This action can give a statement of intent:
“We will not tolerate the Media Industries’ lobbying for legislation which will censor the internet.”

Nice sentiment. Not purely a tiresome rearguard action. But I don’t see how it can conceivably make a noticeable impact on copyright industry profit margins. Getting a fair number of people to contact their elected representative is noticeable, as usually few do it. A significant proportion of the world’s population pays something to the copyright industries. To make the stated difference, a much larger number of people would have to participate than have in SOPA and ACTA protests, and the participation would require a relatively sustained behavior change, not a few clicks.

Still, perhaps “Black March” will be useful as a consciousness-raising exercise; but of what?

Freedom March

I’ve seen some suggest (especially in Spanish, as the linked post is [Update 20120304: English translation]) that the “what” needs to include making, using, and sharing free works. I agree.

Wincing at surveillance, the security state, medical devices, and free software

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Last week I saw a play version of . I winced throughout, perhaps due to over-familiarity with the topics and locale, and there are just so many ways a story with its characteristics (heavy handed politics that I agree with, written for adolescents, set in near future) can embarrass me. Had there been any room for the nuance of apathy, a few bars of Saturday Night Holocaust would’ve been great to work into the play. But the acting and other stuff making up the play seemed well done, I’m glad that people are trying to make art about issues that I care about, and I’d recommend seeing the play (extended to Feb 25 in San Francisco) for anyone less sensitive.

I also just watched Karen Sandler’s LCA talk, which I can’t recommend highly enough. It is more expansive than a short talk she gave last year at OSCON based on her paper Killed by Code: Software Transparency in Implantable Medical Devices.

I frequently complain that free/libre/open software and nearby aren’t taken seriously as being important to a free and otherwise good society and that advocates have completely failed to demonstrate this importance. Well, much more is needed, but the above talks give me hope, and Sandler in front of as many people as possible would be great progress.

Counterfeiting against inequality and addiction

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

When I read articles blaming advertisers for the bad behavior of (especially relatively poor) people who want advertised products (quoted material below mostly from linked story) I tend to think:

  1. To the extent “corporate pushers have made us addicts”:
    1. As a letter-to-the-editor from Michael Slembrouck says “You can ask your dealer to stop selling you dope because you have a problem, but if you keep giving him money he’s going to keep giving you the same dope.”
    2. It seems to me that being able to ignore/forgo potentially addictive messages/products is an important survival skill.
  2. More [free] speech (broadly speaking) is the answer:
    1. What is the hidden role of patent and trademark? In other words, what is the role of lack of cheap copies? Cheap copies would reduce incentive to advertise in the first place, and also reduce “the dreary feeling many get from walking by store windows knowing society offers no legal path for them to ever possess what is inside.” Is bad behavior supposedly related to lack of access to fashionable items reduced where counterfeit goods are plentiful? That’s a serious question, though of course answers will largely be swamped by cross cultural confounders.
    2. Regarding addiction and other adverse things characterized as such, I still think one of the best messages trusted figures (friends, ministers, the famous, etc) can convey is how totally unacceptable it is to follow spam — and I consider advertising to include a continuum from spam to useful information, with that critiqued as solely “manufacturing desire” tending toward the spam end.
    3. If advertising is so powerful, why not use it more for counter-addiction-and-other-adverse-messages? In the link above, I wished for the Ad Council to run a don’t-click-on-spam campaign. Maybe too close to its membership for comfort. Fortunately, access to media has improved greatly, including access to organizing for access to media. Hopefully things like LoudSauce (crowdfunded advertising) will help make that happen.

As indicated by the title, I mostly blogged this for 2(a). I think the contribution of intellectual protectionism to inequality is woefully underexplored and underexploited. I made a new category on this blog, Inequality Promotion, to remind me to attempt further exploration and exploitation.

SOPA/PIPA protests on-message or artless?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Go Internet! Instantly message the U.S. Congress! (Tell them to kill the so-called Research Works Act too!)

Another, much bigger, tiresome rearguard action. I’m impressed by protesters’ nearly universal and exclusive focus on encouraging readers to contact U.S. Congresspeople. I hope it works. SOPA and PIPA really, really deserve to die.

But the protest also bums me out.

1) Self-censorship (in the case of sites completely blacked out, as opposed to those prominently displaying anti-SOPA messages) is not the Internet at its best. If that claim weren’t totally ridiculous, the net wouldn’t be worth defending. It isn’t even the net at its political best — that would be creating systems which disrupt and obviate power — long term offensives, not short-term defenses.

2) Near exclusive focus on supplication before 535 [Update: 536] ultra-powerful individuals is kinda disgusting. But it needs to be done, as effectively as possible.

3) I haven’t looked at a huge number of sites, but I haven’t seen much creativity in the protest. Next time it would be fun to see an appropriate site (Wikipedia? Internet Archive?) take what Flickr has done and add bidding for the “right” to darken particular articles or media as a fundraiser. Art would be nice too — I’d love to hear about anything really great (and preferably libre) from this round.

4) While some prominent bloggers have made the point that “piracy” is not a legitimate problem, overwhelmingly the protest has stuck to defense — SOPA and PIPA would do bad things to the net, and wouldn’t “work” anyway. Google goes much further, saying “End Piracy, Not Liberty” and “Fighting online piracy is important.” Not possible, wrong, and gives away the farm.

5) Nobody making the point that everyone can help with long-term offensives which will ultimately stop ratcheting protectionism, if it is to be stopped. Well, this nobody has attempted:

[I]magine a world in which most software and culture are free as in freedom. Software, culture, and innovation would be abundant, there would be plenty of money in it (just not based on threat of censorship), and there would be no constituency for attacking the Internet. (Well, apart from dictatorships and militarized law enforcement of supposed democracies; that’s a fight intertwined with SOPA, but those aren’t the primary constituencies for the bill.) Now, world dominationliberation by free software and culture isn’t feasible now. But every little bit helps reduce the constituency that wishes to attack the Internet to possibly protect their censorship-based revenue streams, and to increase the constituency whose desire to protect the Internet is perfectly aligned with their business interests and personal expression.

I’d hope that at least some messages tested convey not only the threat SOPA poses to Wikimedia, but the long-term threat the Wikimedia movement poses to censorship.


Bad legislation needs to be stopped now, but over the long term, we won’t stop getting new bad legislation until policymakers see broad support and amazing results from culture and other forms of knowledge that work with the Internet, rather than against it. Each work or project released under a CC license signals such support, and is an input for such results.


Finally, remember that CC is crucial to keeping the Internet non-broken in the long term. The more free culture is, the less culture has an allergy to and deathwish for the Internet.

Of the five items I list above, the first three are admittedly peevish. Four and five represent not so much problems with the current protest as they do severe deficiencies in movements for intellectual freedom. Actually they are flipsides of the same deficiency: lack of compelling explanation that intellectual freedom, however constructed and protected, really matters, really works, and is really for the good. If such were well enough researched and explained so as to become conventional wisdom, rather than contentious and seemingly radical, net freedom activists could act much more proactively, provocatively, and powerfully, rather than as they do today: with supplication and genuflection.

I am not at all well read, but my weak understanding is that the withdrawal of economists from studying intellectual protectionism in the late 1800s was a great tragedy. To begin the encourage rectification of that century plus of relative neglect, today is a good day to start reading Against Intellectual Monopoly.

In the meantime, the actual and optimal counterfactual drift further apart, without any help from SOPA and PIPA.

MLK’s reliance on “remix” is well-documented; without a strong public domain, where will that leave the next MLK?

Monday, January 16th, 2012

I copied and slightly reworded the title of this post from Joshua Judson Rosen; the body draws heavily from a conversation started by Rosen. Today is .

People have noted for years that the King estate does their best to lock up and profit from his works. I even had a post that touched on this indirectly in 2004 (it appears that since then Eyes on the Prize has been re-aired and DVDs sold, result of an $850,000 grant to acquire the necessary licenses). But the King estate is simply doing what most heirs would do with an uninsured creative legacy. If societal governance of the knowledge commons were anything close to reasonable, all King’s works would now be in the public domain.

Perhaps ironically (but only if one cannot distinguish between King and his estate, and between citation and copyright restrictions), in his academic writing King was a very poor provider of intellectual provenance — in that context, he plagiarized:

I might conclude that none of this was fatal for King’s career as a preacher and powerful public speaker. Had he pursued an academic career, his heavy reliance on the authorities, often without citing them, could have been fatal. But in preaching, perhaps even in most public speech, genuine originality is more often fatal. A congregation, even a public audience, expects to hear and responds to the word once delivered to the fathers [and mothers]. It is the familiar that resonates with us. The original sounds alien and tends to alienate. The familiar, especially the familiar that appeals to the best in us, is what we long to hear. So,”I Have A Dream” was no new vision; it was a recension, quite literally, of his own “An American Dream.” And that dream, as we know, already had a long history. King’s vision was, perhaps, more inclusive than earlier dreams, but it appealed to us because we already believed it.

Indeed, far more interesting is the ubiquity of borrowing in King’s profession. On preachers borrowing liberally from each other and any other available source, listen to this week’s installment of WYNC On the Media, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Public Imagination (about 15 minutes).

I did not know this about sermons, but upon hearing, it is completely unsurprising. But now I have questions:

  • Do preachers now continue to borrow as heavily and as liberally as they did in King’s day and before? What about public speakers generally?
  • Should preaching be added to magic, fashion, food, and comedy as examples of professions relying heavily on borrowing, and not so much on censorship?
  • The development of King’s speeches, and of preacher’s sermons* generally, highlight that in some contexts borrowing without citation is valuable, nevermind that it would be called plagiarism in other contexts. Should schools teach how to be a great artist in some classes? Doing so might help their anti-plagiarism rhetoric sink in better, as it would then appear contextually appropriate, rather than fanatic.

* Daniel Dennet approvingly says that TED talks are secular sermons, pinpointing another reason I find them annoying (for being sermons, not for being secular). But I don’t want to censor any sermons.

Which counterfactual public domain day?

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

1. Each January 1, many people note a number of interesting works that become free of copyright restrictions in many jurisdictions, but a 1998 act means none will in the U.S. until at least 2019.

2. The Center for the Study of the Public Domain provides another counterfactual, imagining policy not pre-1998, but pre-1976 (act; effective 1978), which at the top states (repeated at Boing Boing, which inspired this post’s title) works from 1955 or before would be free of copyright restrictions.

3. But as the CSPD page points out further down (see “the public domain snatchers”), the pre-1976 policy also would’ve meant many works from 1983 or before would now be free of copyright restrictions, as the policy allowed for 28 years of restriction, with an optional renewal of 28 years. Historically copyright holders did not bother renewing 85% of works.

4. The aforementioned CSPD page doesn’t note, but their FAQ does, that prior to 1989 a copyright notice was required in order for a work to be restricted. The FAQ says “By some estimates, 90% of works did not include this copyright notice and immediately entered the public domain.” A counterfactual taking this into account would have not only a robust January 1, but every day would be public domain day.

(Of course as I noted last year, every day is public domain day to the extent you make it so, no counterfactual required. But defaults really matter.)

5. Any of the above counterfactuals would be tremendous improvements over society’s current malgovernance of the intellectual commons. But they’re all boring. They are much more difficult to conceive, but the counterfactuals I’d prefer to look are not ones with recent rent seeking undone, but ones attempting to characterize worlds with optimal copyright restriction, which is itself under-explored: no extensions? 15 years? 1 year? Maybe 0? The thing about this sort of counterfactual is not the precise duration, nature, or existence of restriction, but in changing how we think about the public domain — not some old works that it is cool that we can now cooperate around to preserve and breathe new life into without legal threat (or uncool if we can’t) — but about how the world would be changed in a dynamic way with much better policy. I bet we wouldn’t even miss that 9-figure Hollywood dreck if such disappeared (I really doubt it would, but here’s to hoping) that most writers in this field must genuflect to and that are used as the excuse to destroy, because whatever would exist would be our culture, and everyone loves their culture (which of course may be subculture built on superficial or even real rejection of such, etc). It would just also be our culture in another way as well, one compatible with free speech and more equal distribution of wealth, in addition to practical things like a non-broken Internet.