here is an interesting piece from today's all things considered, about a bookseller in tunis who dealt with state censorship for years. now she's trying to decide whether to stock the memoir of leila ben ali, the hated and deeply corrupt wife of the former dictator. the bookstore person says she wants to read it herself, and i would imagine many tunisians would be curious. look there are many reasons to read a book, right? including to find out more about what and how and why to hate. she has decided not to stock it, which i can understand. but here's what i would suggest. what would convince me not to sell it would be that leila is presumably getting royalties. get ahold of a copy and then go for maximum piracy. xerox it and give it away. xerox it and deface it and give it away. post it on multiple websites in multiple formats. try to make it irrational for anyone to buy the thing. post it with your own introduction. post it with commentary. throw a party where you smoke it, etc.
this here is a reductio ad absurdum of the very idea of intellectual property. not only did ford claim to own 'the blue oval,' but it put this abstract geometrical/chromatic concept up as collateral on a loan. maybe i'll try this with 'anarchism' or 'knowledge is just true belief.' or maybe i can identify some investment-grade polyhedrons or topological forms. if someone tries to sell you the brooklyn bridge, it's a con. but at least it's plausibly something that could be owned, like a particular physical object. but people actually do purport to buy, sell, and collateralize things like 'the blue oval.' it would be much more plausible to claim ownership of a particular cumulus cloud or the planet neptune.
one way parts of history are sometimes narrated is as an expansion of the categories of things that can be owned. maybe nomadic tribes don't think you can own land. maybe we developed ownership for what's under the ground or bits of the atmosphere or expanded ownership or sovereignty over the waters etc. pretty soon we'll be staking claims to interstellar space, or to pieces of the past and the future or something. now, it is not clear that the expansion of what can be owned is an unalloyed good. the idea of ownerhip in abstract objects such as ideas, words, musical tones and so on might seem obvious or inevitable. but what if the situation started to reverse and we started to delete items from the list of things that can be owned?
one basic question to ask about sopa-type stuff: what aesthetic climate is produced by a corporate intellectual property model of 'content' or arts creation? so, warner bros. can't spend $100 million on sherlock holmes unless they can protect their copyright. but every dollar spent on special effects in sherlock just made the bombastic emptiness more bombastic. really, you can ask beyonce how great big record companies (as parts of huger conglomerates) are for artists and perhaps she will enthuse. go back and ask the average even modestly successful musician in 1990 what he thinks about the artistic effects of giant record companies and who made the money. then just ask the average professional musician; he got dicked by some record company. he never got heard. he got signed. he recorded and it never saw the light of day and he didn't even own the masters. you know, ask john grisham. but then ask a hundred comparable novelists who never happened onto the little-bitty gravy train. ask yourself, on average, how good, how interesting, how bold, the average shimmery pop song is, how really good the average hollywood blockbuster, the average bestseller, the average sit-com, etc. it just has not served most artists or most experiencers of the arts well at all. these companies suck money out of the arts; they don't nurture them or broaden participatiion.
in short, under the trad intellectual property model there are too few artists who are promoted too heavily: too much money directed at too few works and producers. the budgets are so big that only a few works can be made, and much of the money is spent to manipulate an audience toward those few works or outlets. all of that necessitates assertion of ownership over digital or textual or sonic structures. the arts are conceived by giant corporations fundamentally as hierarchies with a few huge stars at the top. great stuff has emerged, even so, and there are, it is true, things a filmmaker can do for $100 million that she couldn't do for 1. but your chances are better of getting a good movie making a hundred movies for a million each rather than one for 100 million, and that 100 million is a temptation to corruption and bombast and pandering. we need to start thinking in terms of millions of producers finding their own audiences, and artists need to remember why we are artists. i hope, not for the small possibility of the huge prestige score, but for the intrinsic meaningfulness and satisfaction of the work.
as perhaps this shows, the concept of copyright is in its last stage of twitching unto death. there are of course problems, among them coming up with a new "biz model" for newspapers. the paper thing is very sad. the rocky mountain news is done. the philadelphia inquirer, for which i wrote a lot for many years, is bankrupt. it was tremendously sad when the washington evening star went down, way back in 1981 (though it's worth pointing out that the decline of the daily started long before the internet): that's where my dad worked, and i was a copy boy there when it died. but whatever the biz model is, if any, it can't be cutting off quotations and links. there's no future in legally controlling all uses of content. it's too late for that, and if it could be accomplished, it would be incompatible with a free press and with the function of the press in a democracy, one portion of which is facilitating public dialogue. no doubt the blogosphere etc depends to a certain extent on the msm. but the msm depends, more and more, on the blogosphere. asserting ownership of content is likely to kill the msm entirely: just keep reducing its audience and making it irrelevant. i realize it's a rock and a hard place, but the information anarchy of the future is the best thing we've got going.
let me give you a quick idea about what's wrong with the concept of intellectual property. consider the history of recorded music in jamaica. from the beginning, it was made by people with extremely limited resources. whenever they could, they used simple technologies to reduce costs, and often recycled their own and other people's rhythm tracks and ideas over and over again: the most popular riddims in jamaican music have been recycled dozens of times by singers, djs, dubmasters, sound systems - some of them for decades. and for decades, producers and artists were completely unconcerned about the whole concept of copyright; it was simply not a going notion that people owned sequences of notes and so on, and they could either be reproduced or literally grabbed and sampled. this idea, first of all, helped create the atmosphere in a which an island of a couple of million people could revolutionize the world's music: you hear reggae and ska everywhere, all over the globe. and paradoxically it created incredibly rapid innovation and transformation: a new idea was instantly seized and transformed again and again and again. and it revolutionized the way the world made music: it provided the basic concept of hip hop, in which, for example, we sample chic's "good times," throwing down some poetry over it: the idea of assembling tracks from the history of recorded sound. the idea of popular music as it exists is impossible or would be utterly impoverished without this constant insouciant theft. on the other hand, consider contemporary american pop music, like the teen preens or american idol schlock or pop country. this observes some legal definition of ownership in ideas about music: you use it, you pay, etc. so first off, the actual history of recorded sound is only available to those who can afford it: corporate entitites, essentially. and second the music is incredibly creatively challenged: without heart or guts: paradoxially (again) unbelievably formulaic and derivative. i really do believe that the notion of intellectual property is nonsensical. but even if it's not, it's extremely, obviously counterproductive in terms of basic creativity or in terms of access to creation, in terms of originality and quality.
i think that filesharing has to be a kind of bottom-line issue for any libertarian/anarchist/fan of actual democracy or freedom. so check this and this and this:
Barney and Harry Reid By Crispin Sartwell
The Senate recently passed legislation enlisting colleges by law in the effort to police p2p networks and file-sharing, to prevent "piracy" by their students of music, movies, and for that matter, books. Now one might wonder exactly why Harry Reid, who introduced the amendment, then tempered it when there was an outcry from college administrators, is concerned about campus filesharing. To find out, you might consider the patronage of the Democratic party by the entertainment industry. According to The Chronicle of Education, Reid's measure "called on the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America to draft annual lists of the 25 colleges receiving the most notices of copyright infringement. Those colleges would face a choice: Either use technological tools to block peer-to-peer file sharing, or risk forfeiting federal student aid." The punitive portions of the amendment were withdrawn after college officials reacted with outrage, though it is likely that similar measures will be slipped into various bills in the future. One might wonder how in the world or why in the world Reid or these trade organizations believe that colleges should be in the business of enforcing the copyrights of Hollywood studios. The reasons given by the institutions for not wanting this sort of regulation are that it would be costly and outside their purview or expertise, burdensome and likely ineffective. True. But I hope that this has got college administrators quietly wondering about the whole notion of piracy, and about the role or function of copyright in relation to the educational mission of their institutions. Offhand, it would seem odd for an educational institution to oppose disseminating or sharing information; that, and not football, dorm life, or counseling services, would seem to be the irreplaceable essence of education, its business end, if you see what I mean. From what we might call a purely educational point of view, it is obviously vastly preferable for information to be perfectly liquid than coagulated or knotted or monopolized. Even films and music contain important information and are the subjects of pedagogy and academic research. That textbooks can cost $100 a pop represents not just the unfortunate result of a property claim to information, but a concrete barrier to education. Google's idea of putting whole gigantic academic libraries online for free - a project from which they've retreated bit by bit because of pressure from publishers and other copyright-holders - would obviously be entirely desirable from the point of view of education: it's the wet dream of a Milton or a Dr. Johnson. The function of copyright with regard to this project is merely to present a barrier; in the age when all forms of communication can be digitalized, copyright might have certain functions, but for research and teaching, the functions of a university, it is merely a problem, literally a cost. In scientific research, there may be a phase of competition during which you don't want other practitioners working along your lines; you want to publish first; you don't give the information away, and when you are finished it is to some extent owned: by yourself or by your institution or funding agencies. But this phase, though perhaps unavoidable, is all things considered unfortunate, and if the various labs were co-operating they would be likely to make faster progress. And if, at the end of this process, you refuse to share your detailed procedures, or patent and manufacture the only equipment that can reproduce your experiments, then you've turned from science to an authoritarian model of knowledge. Rather than enforcing anti-sharing rules, colleges ought to be investing in and exploring the potentials involved in filesharing software and sites. Much of the content that an institution of higher education provides is also already available on the internet, and colleges had better get about the business of sorting it, evaluating it, a re-presenting it, the sort of thing their expertise is good for. In the immortal words of Barney, sharing is caring.
as you may know, i'm no fan of the copyright in general. and it's just impossible in the era of digital information. this shows what copyright will do to the way music is actually made today. now it's just a flat bar to creativity.
to me, kazaa has become almost unusable because of the incredible infestation of viruses and spyware. i suspect, in fact, that some of this comes from music or movie companies that are trying to destroy p2p. but still, the idea - now being tested in the australian courts - that systems that allow people to swap files over the net are illegal because they can be used to transfer copyrighted info, is offensive. of course, it is the big four record companies that have brought the suit. but even if filesharing were to gut these four companies (which is hardly likely) it would only be doing the world's music a favor. the control of the music industry - radio, television, record stores, etc. - by these four companies is by far the biggest threat to musical expression, musical diversity, and musical quality. evryone except a few artists and execs would benefit by total disintegration.