Big Content Won’t Scare Me off the Net

Or why this site is not blacked out.

(Updated to add links for further reading at the end of the post. I realize as my thoughts are shared beyond my usual readership that this entry doesn’t adequately explain the issues and what is at risk, relying very heavily on my writing and podcasts to make clear what is at stake and my broader views on copyright.)

Blacking out web sites in protest of proposed legislation that would adversely impact the values embodied in online conversation and activity is one of the more venerable traditions in a space defined by a metaphorical clock that ticks at breakneck speed.

In the past, these efforts have seemed to me to be a bit tenuous at best. I say so not to doubt the sincerity or commitment of those participating but of the visibility of these virtual actions to the general prublic and responsible policy makers.

Not so this time around. I don’t think it is the sheer volume of participation, though I don’t have any hard data to back up my sense of that. I think that access to the net is now much more a part of an expanding fraction ordinary people’s daily reality than in protests past. There are still not inconsiderable challenges we have left to realizing true universal access but all the same I feel this campaign is a signal moment beyond just the issues it is directly addressing. The audience size seems to have passed a tipping point, not the head count of those speaking out. Perhaps this is as a result of the recent round of social innovations, maybe it is just the logical outcome of growth curves going back to the original commercialization of the net in the nineties.

The reason my site is still live has nothing to do with skepticism of other destinations going dark. Hopefully I’ve made clear how I feel the highest profile sites speaking out will affect more people than any other issue thus far. I am especially eager to get a sense of how broadly the self imposed embargo of Wikipedia reaches. A site that is more used by more people seems hard to imagine, even the most popular news or media outlet. And yet, try to think back to Wikipedia’s presence in the public consciousness ten or even just five years ago in comparison.

The core provocation invited by the web wide blackout is to imagine an online space where laws like SOPA and PROTECT IP are on the books. In such a world, the expanded and unchecked private rights of action will the your most notorious YouTube takedown spat to date look like a mild disagreement over an obscure point of netiquette in the most civil of networked fora. Easy to imagine existing voices quelled, as many are doing to themselves in protest; far harder to envision what voices might never be heard, what innovations never developed.

The most effective participation I’ve seen so far, at least for me, are the protests where the authors have clearly internalized the issues and put forward the same call to action, to contact your elected representatives to voice your concerns. Uniformity breeds complacency where as unqiue expression better begs thoughtful contemplation and hopefully active engagement.

In that context, in my speculative imagining of post-SOPA, post-PIPA world, I would still be here. Day in and day out I already try to parse and share the implications of the slug fest between the increasingly monopolistic entertainment industry and the innovators of all sizes from the technology sector. I don’t necessarily accept that piracy is the huge existential problem that the Hollywood establishment makes out. Taking that as a point of departure, there are just far too many questions around how legislation like the already on the books DMCA and the proposed ones we are currently protesting are appropriate responses.

Beyond my loud mouthed persistence in publicly teasing apart these questions, my own imp of the perverse would drive me to tempt the exercise of these new private rights of action on steriods, powers that lack appropriate cheks-and-balances when the proven potential for abuse is so great.

Let them try to shut me up, if the stakes are free expression then being subject of impact litigation is well worth the cost.


To learn more about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and why so many sites and people are protesting them, the page for taking action at American Censorship has plenty of additional resources, scroll towards the bottom for a video, some selected articles and a timeline of events around these pieces of legislation.

Raiders of the Lost Remix

In case you haven’t been convinced by videos and essays I’ve linked in the past about the deep DNA of remix, re-use and re-purposing in the creative arts, David Weinberger posted another great side-by-side video similar to the Matrix video Kirby Ferguson shared.

To dismiss more tenuous references and inspirations is one thing. The almost scene for scene duplication from the sources is something else altogether. The point isn’t that derivative works are any less creative but rather that all artists work from a palette directly informed by all the works they themselves enjoy and assign personal and cultural significance. Whether a film or music buff has to explicitly call out the act of derivation or the style of work, as with sampling in hip hop, is self evident should matter one whit–it’s all due to the same underlying and perfectly valid impulse.

Raiders of the Lost Lawsuits, Joho the Blog via BoingBoing

New Copyfighting Rap from Dan Bull

TorrentFreak, among others, pointed to a new video by copyfighting rapper, Dan Bull.

Dan organized participation by his fans via Twitter and Facebook to make the video for this latest protest song. I think high degree of participation very well demonstrates that the average person, at least the average rap listening person, gets how dangerous SOPA is to the open Internet.

Do click through and check out the enigmax’s post as it includes an exclusive quote to TF about the video, beginning with:

“As an internet geek, a musician, and a non-evil person, SOPA is abhorrent on several fronts,” Dan told TorrentFreak. “It threatens the future of the internet, which is something far more valuable both commercially and socially than the entertainment industry ever has been, or ever will be.”

I am still holding out for a greatest activist hits album from Dan, that we speculated about in the interview I conducted with him earlier this year.

File-Sharing Darling Dan Bull Publishes Anti-SOPA Rap, TorrentFreak

Copyright Protest and Parody Song, “Death of ACTA”, Taken Down

Mike Masnick at Techdirt has the gory details of Dan Bull’s “Death of ACTA” song being taken down from the file locker service, Mediafire, one of the many ways Dan distributes his works on his own. Masnick undertook the difficult job of trying to parse a take down letter that was not exclusive to Bull’s work on Mediafire.

Dan was kind enough to forward on the takedown message… and it’s a total mess. There’s simply no useful info in it other than that a French company called TF1 wants the file (and a bunch of others) off of Mediafire as quickly as possible. Now, it’s not clear what the issue is here, but it’s not difficult to take a guess. “Death of ACTA” is obviously a play on Jay-Z’s “Death of Autotune” Jay-Z’s song features prominently a sample of the song “In the Space” by French film composers Janko Nilovic and Dave Sarkys. It’s quite likely that Jay-Z licensed the sample. Not surprisingly, Dan Bull did not, but that’s the nature of creating a parody song.

Masnick also reminds us that the EU (Dan himself is in the UK) doesn’t have fair use laws as such making a parody defense difficult. I interviewed Dan recently and he knows full well his works often exist in a troublesome legal gray area. He also doesn’t rely on only a single means to offer his songs and videos to fans. More likely this take down will serve as an opportunity to highlight the idiocy that the song itself speaks to in copyright law rather than interfering with Dan’s ability to produce his art and connect with his fans.

I would love to see Dan, or perhaps one of his creative fans, create a meta-rap about the takedown of the rap complaining about the overreach of intellectual monopoly like poorly justified takedowns.

‘Death Of ACTA’ Song Taken Down In Copyright Claim, Techdirt

Latest Video from Copyfighting Rapper

Dan Bull’s activist, rapping (rap-tivist?) songs and videos have addressed many recent copyright skirmishes from the hypocritical ravings of Lily Allen to the trauma of internet disconnection once promised under the Digital Economy Act. enigmax at TorrentFreak was the first to share Bull’s latest, targeting ACTA. (Although Mike Masnick at Techdirt told us it was coming yesterday as part of a case study of Bull’s work that is also well worth the read.)

TorrentFreak got in touch with Dan Bull for an interview to go along with the release of his latest work. If you are unfamiliar with ACTA, its a good way to get caught up on the broad strokes of the concerns over the trade agreement. If you like Bull’s work as much as I do, go to his store where you can sample his debut album for free or better yet send him a donation.

feeds | grep links > Latest iOS Thoroughly Jailbroken, DDoSing Copyright Infringers, Robots Taught to Deceive, and More

  • Hacker find iOS 4.1 bootrom vulnerability that enables jailbreak of all current hardware
    Via Hacker News. Hardly surprising that such a flaw exists, though a little bit so that it is so comprehensively exploitable. As geek.com explains, the vulnerability doesn’t look to be software fixable so owner override rules the day until the next generation of hardware emerges.
  • Amazon acquires Amie Street
    As The Register explains it, this is actually sad news. The music retailer that experimented with sliding prices based on popularity is shifting over to exclusively streaming music, winding down its download option. The silver lining is that Amazon pretty much only acquired the name, not the business model or any customer records.
  • Big content turning to DDoS for stubborn infringers
    As Slashdot points out, the big content players in question are mostly based in India though the firm performing the attacks admits to doing so on behalf of Hollywood. Regardless of legalities, especially with the thorny questions raised by international jurisdictions, this sort of attack strikes me as highly immoral.
  • Clarification on warez raid, Pirate Bay and others not affected
    Ernesto at TorrentFreak has a further follow up to the story of multiple, coordinated police raids against European ISPs the other day. Despite reporting elsewhere, the target wasn’t the Pirate Bay, nor was another BitTorrent site, both of whom TF contacted for confirmation.
  • Swiss supreme court rules against anti-piracy firm, TorrentFreak
  • Robots taught to deceive, Slashdot
  • Open source VLC submitted to Apple for approval on iPad
    Slashdot has the details, the outcome of which I am skeptical. I don’t think this is the first time someone has tried to tweak and compile the wonderfully capable media player for Apple’s mobile platform. That past effort never amounted to much. If this attempt fails, maybe the next one will only include those codecs, like Ogg and Flac, that Apple has no interest in supporting.

Another Commodity Digital Scanner Specifically for Books

It looks more compact than Danny Reetz’s DIY scanner and as a kit, plus cameras, is targeted to come in at less than $500. As the post at QuestionCopyright explains, the goal really is to throw fuel on the fire, to change the normative expectations around the ability to make copies of durable goods, in this case printed books. This is not about piracy but laying bare the latent ambiguities in the law constantly exposed by technological change.

The Book Liberator at QuestionCopyright (HT Glyn Moody)

Following Up for the Week Ending 6/27/2010

ASCAP Seeking Funds to Fight CC, PK and EFF

This is surreal to say the least. Cory has a post at Boing Boing sharing a letter sent to a member of ASCAP. The mind boggles at the suggestion that these public interest and non-profit organizations have more lobbying power than the music industry. Maybe ASCAP’s influence specifically is waning relative to the record labels but this characterization that the evil forces of free culture are conspiring to rob composers of their right to make a living makes my head spin. The plea for funds is insult on top of injury as ASCAP already generates revenue on the back of its members.

More seriously, this sort of sloppy thinking and rhetoric really irks me. It stomps on the idea that culture should be a shared and shareable good, not locked up behind the current effectively perpetual range and extreme reach of copyright. No one from CC, PK or EFF has ever suggested artists shouldn’t have a choice in how to exercise their copyright. CC in particular is all about giving creators far more choices beyond the flat assertion of all rights reserved.

I will avoid descending into a whacky Batman-Joker style dialogue of who created whom in terms of the rapacious enclosure of the public domain, DRM, etc. inspiring the desire to foster a new commons as the old one has been eaten away, followed by this latest turn. I will suggest that the real heartbreak here is that if ASCAP had sought a dialogue with any one of its perceived enemies, I know for a fact that would have opened a rich and rewarding conversation around how everyone concerned can support both our cultural heritage and creators trying to support themselves while contributing to it.

TCLP 2010-06-13 News

This is news cast 216, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In the intro, an update on the badge experiment.

This week’s security alerts are diffusing botnet control makes them more robust and bad passwords and the economics around perpetuating them.

In this week’s news open source could make attackers’ jobs easier, understanding the real risks of Android fragmentation, programmers should stop being smart-alecks, and heated atomic force microscopes for 12nm graphene elements.

Following up this week, another social network bill of rights and judge may dismiss most defendants from US Copyright Group suits.

[display_podcast]

View the detailed show notes online. You can also grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.