2011 04 14

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2011-04-14

(00:00:17.002) Intro

(00:03:32.990) Listener Feedback

(00:10:28.707) Hacker Word of the Week: flarp

(00:11:09.201) Book Review: Piracy

  • Adrian Johns' book is an immensely ambitious tome
    • As a copyright nerd, I've heard or read many pat stories about its history
    • An easy approach to a book like this would be to regurgitate that same fare
    • Even where Johns does discuss favorites, like the enacting of the Statue of Anne
      • The purported first copyright law
      • He fills in much more of the subtle and complex tapestry of the times and debates
        • That serve as a much more intricate background to the law than is commonly discussed
    • In the instance of the Statute of Anne, he much more clearly reveals
      • What exactly it was the Stationers Company actually did
        • And the arguments over mere formalisms vs. a properly constituted law
    • I enjoyed the parallels he drew through the Royal Society
      • To explain how proprieties and courtesies worked
        • In terms of establishing precedence through registration and deposition of copies
    • The threads of argument from the earliest history of intellectual property
      • Are teased out through the subsequent generations with great care
    • The historical examples from the Enlightenment, in particular
      • Reveal that piracy was far more than just a pejorative label the establishment
        • Foisted on its adversaries, trying to paint them in the worst light
    • Access to knowledge, the distinctly modern coinage by public domain scholar James Boyle
      • Is an incredibly apt description of the views espoused by re-printers in the Enlightenment
      • And surfaces again in other forms in succeeding generations dealing with new technologies
    • The care and attention Johns pays in fleshing out the history
      • Makes this book immensely readable to those interested in the subject
    • By the amount of time it took me to finish this book
      • I definitely realize just how long and comprehensive a work it is
    • The experience of actually reading it, though, never felt like a chore
    • I was constantly making note of interesting ideas he highlighted as he revealed his history
    • For those that follow me on social networks, I even shared some of those minor epiphanies
      • As I had them as I found them to be compelling insights into a subject
        • I had largely and unfairly taken for granted
  • Johns reveals that the role of copyright in the American revolution
    • Was more involved than usually discussed
    • Most of the stories as we have them are of a pirate nation
    • I know I haven't read many accounts that really dig into the whys
      • Beyond just the founding of a new nation
    • There was indeed nation building, importing knowledge and culture
      • But that actually has its antecedents in the Grub Street & Scottish re-printers
    • The chapters leading up to the American revolution
      • In addition to discussing the battles over perpetual copyright
      • Developed the early pirate, or re-printer rhetoric
        • Of helping to spread the Enlightenment by improving access to knowledge
          • In the form of editions that were cheaper and more portable
    • In terms of development, the early American nation didn't have the means yet
      • For sustained journalism in addition to need patented knowledge & skills
    • Importing broad sheets filled in this early gap
    • There were also active curators, picking and compile news, info from Britain
    • The practice of reprinting made me think of link sharing
    • It wasn't just the act of selection and importation of info
      • There was a parallel in the development of public discourse
    • One of the participants, an English immigrant, Henry Carey
      • Expressed concern over the lack of response to critical pieces that were published
    • It made me wonder whether a certain amount on inertia is inherent in such dialogue
      • Rather than the echo chambers and other lop sides exchanges
        • Being accidents restricted to modern development
    • There was an obsession with metrics, in the form of numbers of copies, editions and circulation
    • This put me in mind of bloggers obsessing over hits and social media users over followers
    • There was even a dimension of physical spread of information comparable to the internet
    • In the 18th century, this took the form over calls to build canals
      • Then railroads as early information networks as well as means of conveying goods
  • Other selections that Johns shares differ from the usual stories
    • Instead of discussing piano rolls and Souza
      • He shared the history of early sheet music
    • As much as this episode is a bit of a surprise
      • The choice isn't arbitrary
    • There are compelling parallels to modern piracy
      • A theme that recurs through the book, almost from the very first chapter
    • In this case, his discussion reminds me very much of the arguments over file sharer
    • Sheet music re-printers were serving a market of buyers too poor
      • To buy at the higher raters the legitimate publishers wanted
    • This form of piracy was closely associated with activity in the home
    • The sanctity of the home is Johns expansion of the simpler idea often discussed
      • Of undiscoverable uses, like the youths singing on their front stoop
        • Described in the historical set up in Lessig's "Free Culture"
    • I had a bit of an epiphany reading Johns' account of the role of music at this time
      • Around the start of the last century
    • Music may be qualitative different than other, newer media
    • Sheet music is interesting because the demand for it was driven by home performance
    • There was a corollary rise in the sale of pianos, as well
    • More so than books or film, music has a deeply ingrained participatory nature
    • That the conception of the home as a personal, inviolate space is bound up
      • At least in some forms of musical piracy is not so surprising
    • I think what confounds industry and law makers today over sharing music files
      • Is that while it principally occurs in the home as modes of sharing did in the past
        • The internet is far more accessible than its predecessor, the press
        • And has the potential to expand the scope of music shared to the entire planet
    • The other example Johns illuminates that is a bit unexpected is radio piracy in Britain
    • You'd expect from the chapter title that this would deal more with pirate broadcasting
      • But it actually concerns an even earlier period where there was a struggle
        • Over the licensing of receivers largely contingent on fears over interference
        • Or what was termerd "ether chaos" at the time
    • Johns uses this to introduce us to the earliest arguments around innovation
      • Here embodied in the image of the individual inventor or tinkerer
    • A lot of the same arguments are playing out in modern media
      • Like wireless and wired broadband as we struggle with the effects of consolidation
        • And the challenges in trying to leave room for new applications and ideas
  • An aspect of the history with which I was previously unfamiliar
    • Were struggles for authenticity and authority
    • You can think of these concerns like the requirement for attribution in open licenses
      • And the moral quandary of plagiarism vs. the legal concept of infringement
    • The earliest example Johns gives, pretty much from the start of the book
      • Is the system of deposit with the Royal Society
    • The question of who discovered something or expressed some idea or work first
      • Are at the heart of non-legalistic solutions
        • So called courtesies or proprieties
    • These notions also show up in copyright over and over, in a couple of different forms
    • For example, some of the issues and questions we take for granted
      • About the nature of creativity and the author's role were far from settled
    • Johns paints the arguments, generation after generation, rather vividly
    • The idea-expression dichotomy, for one, originally was the reverse of what we think today
    • Arguments were made about mechanical copies, that the artist interpreted the idea
      • In the course of producing the copy
    • There were several iterations of ways to understand what made print distinct
      • From mechanical inventions, a divide clearly represented in today's split
        • Between how copyrights and patents work
    • The idea that knowledge in a printed work trumped any moral rights
      • Rose and was rejected more than once in the course of these debates
    • That central tenets we take as just so today were previously so contentious
      • Should inspire a greater willingness to re-think intellectual monopoly
        • In the face of such clear and dramatic upheavals in technology
        • Such as digit copying and networks
    • Johns even points to moments of crisis in the history
      • That he likens to the hard questions with which we are now faced
    • He finds that cause for optimism, that such junctures in the past
      • Have netted considerable re-balancing and adjustment
    • There certainly were large incumbents in many of these fights, just as powerful as today
      • And captive regulators often more than sympathetic to the status quo
    • I certainly hope he is right about this particular lesson from history
      • And in the meantime this book serves well to offer specific instruction
        • On how we might try to re-frame the modern debate and move forward
  • One of the most striking themes of the book was the recurring modern parallels
    • Copyright has always been about money
      • Fueling the conflict originally between the interests
        • Of the book retailers, the printers and eventually but not at first the authors
    • These opportunities to seize control of creativity have always been so lucrative
      • As to inspire the sort of invasive response with which we're faced today
    • I've touched on other, more obvious and more palatable parallels woven throughout
    • What surprised me is that the Stationer's Company for one took for granted
      • It's ability to essentially invade the homes of suspected re-printers
        • For the sake of preserving the propriety of their registry of titles
    • The Stationers Company was heavily involved with the earliest fight over copyright
    • They wanted a perpetual right where as printers, in particular re-printers
      • Were in favor of no copyright or at most a very limited form
    • Those search and seizure powers cropped up again around the turn of the twentieth century
    • The chapter on the piracy of sheet music focuses very much on the pirate catchers
      • And the lengths to which they went and the techniques they employed
    • A large part of the pirate radio listeners chapter also dealt
      • With the question of detection, explaining the checkered history
        • Of interference detection vans and later technologies
  • If you were to read nothing else, the conclusion alone would be worth reading
    • Johns sums up all the parallels I've touched on and then some
    • It is also worth reflecting at the end of the book
      • That the term piracy pre-dates the usage of copyright and intellectual property
    • I am not unsympathetic to listener Eric's feedback from a few weeks ago
      • That is is worth distinguishing between piracy that involves various brutalities
      • And the kind that usually merely involves a violation of contrived rules over intangibles
    • If Johns' book proves little else, it is that copyright's history is defined as much
      • By those who question the idea of intellectual property for a variety of ends
      • As it is by the development of the modern legal and ethical concepts
        • With which we are familiar
    • The concluding chapter not only recaps the past relating it to the present
      • But also offers some hope for the future
    • We've already seen some modern revival of historical responses to problems with intellectual monopoly
    • EFF among others has tried to advance compulsory licensing as an alternative
      • To ever more draconian enforcement measures and inherently unfair licensing terms
    • This idea pre-dates even the legislative compromises which we often discuss from American law
      • Like the compulsory license terms that have turned music deals into a bundle of sticks
      • Or granted cable companies back when they were actually innovators
        • A fair access to terrestrial broadcast
    • It actually dates back to some of the first complaints against the British patent system
      • That seems to have been over complicated pretty much from the beginning
        • Pre-figuring the mess we often assume is purely a modern phenomenon
    • Johns' history also serves to illustrate that what we now call copyright's negative spaces
      • Like the fashion industry and the design performance of stage magic
        • Are far from novel in how they deal with the real concerns
        • Over precedence and authority, as I discussed previously
    • This commonality through the couple of centuries worth of evolution
      • Of the very idea of intellectual monopoly itself
        • Gives Johns reasons to hope that if we pay closer attention to what has come before
        • We'll find better ways to server the public serve and encourage cultural creation
  • If you've read any of the more accessible, popular books on copyright
    • Such as "The Public Domain" by James Boyle or "Free Culture" by Lawrence Lessig
    • Then "Piracy" may well be worth your time if you didn't get enough of the history
      • That shaped and informs this very complex and increasingly important aspect of modern society

(00:30:55.975) Outro

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