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I think I’m turning into an activist and a copyfighter

Why, you ask? Because I’ve been doing a lot of reading and a lot of thinking on my sabbatical (though I read voraciously always). What have I been reading? “Free Culture” and “Code v2.0” by Lawrence Lessig. “Small Pieces Loosely Joined” by David Weinberger. “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” by Eric S. Raymond. “Open Sources 2.0”, a collection of essays on open source. “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman. Not to mention classics like The Cluetrain. And watching Frontline on PBS.

I’ve been doing lots of thinking, too, on my sabbatical. I have lots of time on my hands now that we’re home from our trip. Too much, usually, and I find myself getting sucked into being lazy way too often. Too easy to sit on the couch and veg or play video games (though I consider time spent playing Super Mario Galaxy, which I finished last week, to be worthwhile). I’ve always read these kinds of books and thought these kinds of thoughts. Just had more time to do it while I’ve been on sabbatical. So this is nothing new for me. No big transformation.

The book I’m currently deepest into is “Free Culture”, about how screwed up copyright law in the U.S. is, and the sickening level of power that large lobbies like the RIAA and MPAA claim for themselves. Mafia thugs, the lot of them. And so I spend time thinking about what we, collectively, and we, myself and my friends, can do to change things. To counteract the extreme and unjust behavior of the lobbies. I don’t know the answer. But that’s what’s on my mind.

I hate politics. But I love the Internet, and the culture that it has fostered. I identify with that culture. It’s a very large part of who I am (and probably part of who you are, too, to some degree, if you’re reading this). I’m genuinely afraid of what these deep pocketed media lobbies are doing to us. I want to stop it. I want to reverse it. I want to fight for the “good guys”. I put out all of my media and creative stuff under Creative Commons, I support the EFF, and I talk to people to spread awareness of the issues, but I don’t feel like it’s enough.

I wish I was smart enough to come up with something that would really, materially contribute to protecting creativity and restoring a free culture. But I don’t have it yet. So I’ll be over here, nose in a book, thinking furiously until I come up with something.

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11 thoughts on “I think I’m turning into an activist and a copyfighter

  1. @Alex – thanks for that link – I’ll check it out. And I look forward to the interview!

    @JD – Darknet is on my reading list, I just haven’t gotten to it yet! But I still remember your presentation at Gnomedex 2005. It’s stuck with me.

  2. Thanks to the Internet, the things you hate have gotten better.

    Look how much citizen participation there is in politics now. No longer do we see just the pre-packaged candidates. No longer do just the “big boys” have the ability to communicate and advocate for their candidates and causes. The Internet has changed the face of politics into a much more interactive process.

    Look at how much is available under Creative Commons. Look at the major changes in the music industry. We have artists going direct to the market and making more per sale in the process. We have DRM-free downloads. We have music costs going down instead of up with the artists getting more.

    Not all is rosy. There’s still a lot of work to do. But look — we have people like you thinking about the right things and willing to write about them on the Internet, changing opinions one reader at a time.

  3. You’re right, Brent. There’s immeasurable good that’s been done because of the Internet. But I can’t help but get furious when I read stories about the RIAA suing college students for writing search engines, then “agreeing” to “settle” for the kid’s life savings. Not to mention all the little girls and grandma’s that they sue.

    Piracy is wrong. Downloading a song instead of buying is wrong. But every creative generation in this country has built upon the works of the ones that have gone before, because copyright was always limited. Until now.

    See, there I go again! 😉

  4. Funny… I just made a list of books I want to read. I’m 1/2way through Wikinomics now (finally!). Lessig made the list. As did the following:

    – Last Word on Power by Tracy Goss
    – Leadership, Thinking, Being, Doing by Lee Thayer
    – Long Tail
    – Net Promoter
    – author: Ronald Coase
    – Digital Economy

    Hope you’re enjoying your sabbatical. :)

  5. Hey Josh. Seems you are spending your summer vacation which is near and dear to my heart. The topic is complex, but I’ll try to summarize what my current thinking is.

    The founding fathers were kind enough to both establish intellectual property rights and to explain their rationale for creating them. The Constitution itself says that Congress has the power to:

    To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

    There are a couple of things that are interesting about this. First, that the founders believed that there was no _natural_ exclusive right granted to Authors and Inventors. This isn’t one of those unalienable rights that is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, exclusive rights are granted by the government in an attempt to promote the progress of science and useful arts. Secondly, that Congress can’t grant these exclusive rights _for any other purpose_.

    Sadly, when the case Eldred v. Ashcroft was brought before the Supreme Court, 7 out of 9 of the Supreme Court justices chose to ignore precedent and rob the American public of access to works which were previously scheduled to become their possession. Nobody seemed more tragically suprised by the court’s inability to form a decision based upon principle or precedent than Lessig, who based the strategy in the case entirely upon appealing to the courts opinions in cases like U.S. v. Lopez or U.S. v. Morrison.

    No new works will enter the public domain until 2019 at the earliest. Because of the decision in Eldred, Congress has carte-blanche to rob the public again and to serve their high paying lobbyists.

    What can we do?

    1. Encourage authors to seek other ways to capitalize their creative efforts. Let’s face it: copyright law is mostly good for the large publishers, it’s actually of relatively little use to the average author or musician. Their works will be out of print after just a year or two, and if the rights to redistribution are held by the publisher (as they typically are, because funding musicians and authors typically is done under contracts which are favorable to the publisher, rather than the author) then it’s pretty clear that most authors and musicians gain little from the long copyright.
    2. Create new works which encourage participation rather than exclusion. Open source is part of that.
    3, Make good use of existing public domain sources. Use them to create new works, and encourage people to take these new works and make new works from THEM.
    4. Be willing to pay for and/or fund significant work that you like directly.

    Just some ideas.

  6. Awesome comment, Mark. Those are the things I’ve been studying (Eldred vs. Ashcroft, etc.). Infuriating. But I like your points for what we can do – that’s what I’m doing, and more people need to do it, too! :-)

  7. Pingback: I think I’m turning into an activist and a copyfighter at Josh Bancroft’s TinyScreenfuls.com

  8. Mike says:

    Josh — A number of comments and thoughts:

    1. Free time agrees with you and it frees you for some powerful thinking.
    2. Your commenters have some great ideas and suggestions, I’ll be busy all winter following up on them.
    3. Don’t think you are not smart enough, this is a huge problem with a number of groups putting large amounts of money and time into influencing their case, one individual can only understand and work through so much at one time. Go with your passion, which it seems you are doing.
    4. This is only one of our social/legal/moral problems. Wow, that’s a truly frightening thought, we have the same issues in health, finance, and a host of other subject areas.
    5. Hate politics–verb, not noun–because no one should love politics for itself. Politics should only be a means to an end. Our founders realized this, which is why we have term limits on almost all representative positions in our government (term limits defined as being capable of being voted out of office, a very progressive concept for a world in which people were born into office). But enjoy and pursue the politics of your passion, that’s how we all get the best our society has to offer.
    6. Thanks for taking up this idea. Thanks for joining the others fighting for these ideals. Thanks for opening my eyes further to this subject.

    Lastly, an old jazz man I played with used to say, “There’s only 88 keys on the keyboard, I have to use the same keys everyone else uses.” He was talking about why sometimes a refrain from some other piece would show up in a song. That’s the problem and the requirement for copyright, there’s only “88 keys” in most of life, it’s what we do with the “88 keys” that makes all the difference.

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