A Voice from the Other Side

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Somebody asked me to “give the other side a chance, too” on this digital copying issue.

The real problem to that is “the other side” usually is pitching a moronic name-calling temper tantrum.

There’s a big difference between something one disagrees with and something that is just plain dumb.

For instance, I may not agree with the Canadian approach of “tax the CD-Rs,” but I wouldn’t consider it ludicrous like I would somebody saying, “Music should be free, man” or “Who cares about laws?” or (this one just in, and I am not making this up) “I bought all the CDs. Where are they? Oh, I throw them all out immediately after MP3ing them.”

Unfortunately, most of what I see out on the Internet is just plain dumb, ignorant of the Constitution, ignorant of law, ignorant of political reality.

And stupidity is just Ignorance With Attitude.

Fortunately, somebody else sent me a link to someone with whom I may well disagree on critical points, but is far from being dumb about it.

A while back, Slashdot interviewed Lawrence Lessig. He’s a Stanford Law professor who is on the board of EFF, written two books on the subject, is heavily involved advising defendants in these cases, and even has debated Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, several times.

If there is anybody who is on “your side” on this, it’s this guy. He’s in the trenches fighting these battles, as you’ll see in the interview. Yet, if you read the interview, he makes many of the same points I’ve been making on this subject, including and especially the insulting ones. 🙂

“Copyright hoarders demand increasingly extreme rights so that they may exercise almost perfect control over how their content gets used. In response, the civil disobedience movement sends a message that they should have no control over how their content gets used at all. Between perfect control and no control, most would choose perfect control. And hence, we lose.”

Just what I’ve been saying.

“But we should not be calling for the repeal of all copyright. We should be calling for a balanced and limited form of copyright – much like the right of our framers – that gives artists the right to earn a living, without giving copyright hoarders the power to veto innovation. . . . But I don’t support copyright violations using these technologies.”

In short, stealing is the wrong way to handle this. He also thinks copyright protection has gone too far in favor of copyright holders, and to some degree, I can agree with that.

Let’s see what he has to say about geek participation. Remember, he’s on “your side.”

“We could make progress in demanding that right if those who got it did something. If, for example, slashdot readers weren’t such political slugs, something might happen. If more of you did something about this, whether spamming your Congressman, or giving money to those who resist this regulation (like the EFF), then we could resist this extremism.

“I am not optimistic, however. Those who get it (e.g., you) are pathetically apolitical. You’re proud of your apathy. . . . But while you do nothing, the future of creativity and innovation is sold in DC – typically to the highest . . . bidder. . . .”

“We need translators. We need to translate the values of the network into terms that nontechnical people get. . . . Will you do that? Again, I am skeptical. Rather than trying to focus this debate, or agree on ways to make others understand, you guys immediately turn these questions into irrelevant bickerings.

“But if you don’t want to become translators, . . . [t]ake the cost of Internet access (whether you pay it or not) for one year; send 10% to an organization fighting for your freedom.

“You guys could help teach that lesson. Indeed, only technologists have the credibility to speak reason to this idiot power. But that will require something more than a life of quibbling on Slashdot. And so far, you’ve not shown you’re up to very much more.”

If even people on “your side” think you’re a bunch of slugs, maybe it isn’t bias. 🙂

Mr. Lessig has written two books on this subject: Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace and The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World . Ordered the both of them this morning, and you’ll see a book review or two in due time.

Why Do You Obsess On This?

Why? This is probably the most important issue facing the overall computer community. It hardly matters if you have a 5.2 or 5.3GHz machine if you don’t have anything to use it with once the gravy train is over. The Wild, Wild, West days are beginning to end, and the next year or two will largely determine what will replace it. It can be the RIAA’s way, or it can be something else.

Keep sitting on brains and wallet, and as Mr. Lessig so eloquently put it, “Between perfect control and no control, most would choose perfect control. And hence, we lose.” He knows that isn’t going to fly.

This is a guy who fights people like the RIAA every day saying that. He understands what’s going on, and what’s at stake, and he understands what may fly and what won’t. Hint, hint.

I may or may not agree with the alternatives Mr. Lessig suggests in his books, but I’m certainly open to alternatives. Believe it or not, I don’t want the RIAA and Company writing these laws, because I know it will be bad for everyone if they do. But the way things are going, that’s just what we’re going to get because people are out to lunch on this.

At the very least, we both agree that the MPAA and RIAA will write the law as they please so long as there is no realistic alternative that provides for creators getting paid for their work, and the RIAA way will become the way if people keep not-thinking the way they’ve been.



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