There’s a war goin’ on here, donchaknow?

I hate to use war metaphors, not only because they refer to a practice I abhor but because they are so trite. But I am getting tired of people blindly accepting the official line of copyright and intellectual “property” as some sort of eternal right, rather than the modern (and increasingly faltering) invention it is. The relationship between “content,” “owners,” “culture” and “folk” morphs and fluctuates over time, and whilst the people who have built up whole industries on selling you content would have you believe that the only role you have is as a consumer, an empty vessel into which they can pour their contenty goodness, it’s time we fought back. So join the not so secret revolution, share your content, use those non-rivalrous goods to make the world a better, more beautiful place. This one’s for you, Jimbo Groomie!

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18 thoughts on “There’s a war goin’ on here, donchaknow?”

  1. Man I love these posters! Up yours DRM is now officially my favourite image to wind up publishers with in presentations. General Leslie, your troops await you!
    I think, as Lessig argues, the danger of us not engaging in the debate is that it becomes taken over by extremists. Maybe that time has passed.
    The argument that particularly bothers me is the way rights owners claim they are protecting the small, individual artist, whereas in fact they just buy up rights as revenue streams, like you might buy a pub business at an auction. It’s got nothing to do with artists.
    I still think there may be a pricing that works – eg if a whole album costs $1 on iTunes and you can do what you like with it, then people would generally pay and consider that a fair exchange for the artist.

  2. This is awesome Scott, and I needed it right about now. I am extremely depressed about the prospects of the web right now, and I can;t seem to save my mind from this funk. I shot in the patriotic arm is exactly what is needed to rally the troops. This really does suggest what I think is happening, there is an insidious war on our right to interact and critically consume our culture. UCLA’s refusal to challenge the educational media group that told them they are in violation for putting a part of a film on their LMS is just the beginning, and once ACTA is unveiled I think we will increasingly be seeing the ethical questions framed in these images turned into outright criminalization for simply sharing one’s work. In the end that is what the war is on, people freely sharing and engaging around a culture they’ve been force fed for decades. It is the harbinger of interest ridden public policy that pits the corporate bodies against the people, and what is so scary is that people don’t seem to notice or even care, it’s all increasingly naturalized as you suggest. Depressing, so freaking depressing.

  3. Agreed. Though we need to observe the “copyright” in a number of respects, as that’s an ethical practice, by acknowledging and using those information within limits. Blind following of rules would make us complacent, and retreat into a culture of ancient times, where we just wait for ‘waiver’ and ‘authorisation’ before information could be ‘transferred’and “remixed”. Knowledge is not “owned” by anyone when our world was created, and so should be shared with the widest community to build a better world. Any constraints that impose upon the spreading of knowledge amongst human would only limit our experience, and wisdom.
    I will surely show my content. And this should be free.
    Thanks for your inspiring post.

  4. Scott – I agree with Martin and Jim that those posters are really very good. They convey exactly the right spirit.

    However, I’m much less certain than Martin that this has nothing to do with the artists. We have jobs and the free exchange of information helps with that. How do artists make a living if their creations are given away for free? Maybe there is a good answer to that one – personal appearances, live performance. Does that work for the up and comer?

    I do share Jim’s sense of depression on this. DMCA happened when Clinton was president. He didn’t veto it. This is not an ideological issue for Democrats. It is evident that the Supreme Court has a slim but firm Conservative majority, with the likely turnover to weaken the other side rather than switch the power structure. So, tactically, this is a good time for litigants like that educational media group to press their case.

    Perhaps there is some solace in that individuals can readily move content outside their institutions and place in the public eye. And maybe that’s what open really means. But if I as a teacher am doing this mainly for the benefits of my students, who are enrolled at my institution, shouldn’t my institution be supportive of those efforts?

  5. These posters are fantastic!

    I’m continually fighting a battle to educate people on what creative commons licensing is and why they should be using it… and continually get this sort of blank stare, followed by the endless “yeah, buts”. Drives me nuts. I want to hang “This man is your friend” on my office door!

  6. Stop it you guys, you are getting me all verklempt. If you really want to print them out I can try to make bigger versions though the source images I was working on were all pretty small, sort of 300-500px range.

  7. @lanny I do take your point that the issue is *slightly* different for people who have a revenue stream that does not depend on the *actual selling* of the content, and that artists have a right to make a living. I often take a stance far more extreme than what I actually believe simply to counter the radical copyright conservatism and extreme bias I feel like we are facing. It is not a simplistic issue, but I don’t shed a lot of tears for the *record company’s* fates (much more for the artist themselves).

    It is also why, though, you can’t and shouldn’t separate out the issues around copyrights from those of net neutrality, from those of culture, of participatory culture, of economics, relationships and scale. Digital technologies and the internet ARE disruptive, but in my books much of what they are disrupting NEEDED to be disrupted. To cast this as only being about an artist’s livelihood is to be misdirected by powerful, interested forces of the status quo.

  8. Our culture belongs to all of us and the public domain is (should be) the default for “intellectual property”. No one creates in vacuum. We all draw upon the past in our creative works. Copyright is a “temporary” monopoly granted by the state to promote economic growth. In the early days it was the monarch giving economic power to friends of the regime. This temporary aspect is seldom discussed by those holding the current legislative or economic power.

    “The fundamental problem with intellectual property as an ethical category is that it is purely individualistic. It focuses on the creator/developer of the intellectual work and what he or she is entitled to. There is truth in this, but not the whole truth. It ignores the social role of the creator and of the work itself, thus overlooking their ethically significant relationships with the rest of society. The balance is lost.”
    Source: http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/law/st_org/iptf/commentary/content/1999060503.html

    Artists have had to change their models over the years. Renaissance artists needed wealthy patrons. Before the advent of the phonograph, local musicians could make a living playing live concerts. Things change and artists are usually the first ones to figure out new business models. For example, Hugh Macleod @gapingvoid has shown how it’s possible to be successful by giving art away.

    Supreme Court of Canada (2002):
    “Excessive control by holders of copyrights and other forms of intellectual property may unduly limit the ability of the public domain to incorporate and embellish creative innovation in the long-term interests of society as a whole, or create practical obstacles to proper utilization.”
    Source: http://scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2002/2002scc34/2002scc34.html

    “Up yours, DRM”

  9. When you look at the initial berne convention…it was trying to protect the wholesale theft and reselling of books. It is neither necessary in the ‘incountry’ sense as that would conflict with other laws now anyway… and it does not serve to stem copyright on the black market.

    I can understand why they needed it in the 19th century… but we obviously need new ways to support artists in their work.

  10. I’m in the middle of watching the Lawrence Lessig at Educause General Session talk
    http://educause.mediasite.com/mediasite/SilverlightPlayer/Default.aspx?peid=b84be1d5613841aaae441aac8272e2e7
    and I’m really wishing he had used Bob Dylan or some other Artist instead of Britney Spears as his canonical example of the commercial paradigm for copyright, because I can not imagine creating a montage that includes stuff from Britney Spears that would have learning value to a community that wishes to communicate freely. So I don’t think he goes far enough. But he does make a rather forceful point that our community should be talking about these issues the way your post (and ensuing thread) does. So I would encourage further posting on this topic in the near future.

    I also wonder why it isn’t Librarians who are leading the charge on this topic. Any insight on that?

  11. @lanny it’s funny you should mention that, as I have been giving the gears to librarians on twitter for the past few weeks. What triggered me as a number of interactions where they’d clearly bent over for the publishers (ridiculous things like “queues” for digital ebooks, self-destructing DRM’d ‘copies’ of materials, to name few). The answer I always get back is “We need to do this to provide service to our customers but once we ‘get our foot in the door’ we can start to lobby the publishers.”

    Maybe. I want to be sympathetic, I get that, especially in the case of public institutions, there is real risk aversion to directly confronting/provoking the publishers. And maybe that’s not theirs to do. But increasingly I find myself routing around the libraries as much as I route around the publishers.

    It’s too easy to be simplistic and polarized about all of this, something I know I am guilty of in an effort to move the debate a few degrees back towards the commons and public good. But I can’t help but feel that many of the efforts I’ve seen by libraries so far feel more Vichy Government than Resistance.

  12. From an economics perspective, I believe the Librarian behavior can be explained by two things. Most of us tend to be more cautious than is rational.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/30/sports/caution-is-costly-scholars-say.html?scp=1&sq=Caution%20Is%20Costly,%20Scholars%20Say&st=cse
    And then there is the old Free Rider Problem – let Campus X fight the good fight. We can play it safe and get the best of both worlds.

    I agree that it does seem rather myopic. A few years ago I wrote a rather long tirade
    http://lanny-on-learn-tech.blogspot.com/2007/04/ly-berry-20.html
    after reading a report from ACRL that I thought was way too timid. I got a few comments at the time, but I doubt it moved the conversation at all.

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