Odds & Ends (It’s that kind of week)

What Color is the Sky in Rick Falkvinge’s World?

Someone please tell me that Rick Falkvinge is the Ron Paul of European politics.  I’m sure every country has its slightly kooky politicians; after all, we have guys who talk about mothballing the Navy or the magical powers of women’s reproductive systems, and I guess Europe has Rick Falkvinge.  I don’t go looking for Rick’s writing because shooting a duck in a barrel (and a lame duck at that) isn’t sporting, but I stumbled upon this piece this morning and had to share.  Falkvinge asserts that the act of copying an existing work (e.g using software to rip a DVD into a file for upload) is real labor that has value, and that “copyright monopolists” are offensive in their desire to profit from this “labor.”  Yes, at this moment, your head should be cocked sideways like a confused spaniel.

I’ve done a lot of digital compression and conversion in my life, and it’s true about the labor I guess. I mean, you’ve got the sliding a disk into a drive, and then probably half a dozen mouse clicks, followed by up to twenty keystrokes to name the file; then there’s the opening of the beer and pretzels while you watch the gas bar crawl across the screen. So, by all means, it’s obnoxious for those who represent millions of dollars in investment and tens of thousands of highly-skilled man-hours to produce the thing your chubby little fingers are laboring away to copy to think that it’s somehow their property. I guess if somebody robs my house, I ought to pause before calling the police and consider how hard the burglar is working.

Maintaining Perspective

If you haven’t seen it,  I encourage you to read Chris Ruen’s piece about Aaron Swartz for Seattle Weekly. The article endeavors to take some of the emotion out of the discussion regarding Swartz’s hacktivism. I have purposely not talked about Swartz thus far because the first truth is that his story is just plain sad. But Ruen is right that Swartz was wrong about SOPA, and that does matter even through the fog of emotion. I don’t presume to know why Mr. Swartz committed suicide, but it is a tragedy that strikes regardless of age, sex, economic, social, or political conditions; and it is worth noting that the very tools Swartz proclaimed to champion have been used to bully others, whose names we hardly know, to the same fate. Moreover, while freedom of information is a cornerstone of a democratic society, not everything that can be hacked is “information” just because it’s digital — and hacking itself is not a game. Just this week, we have reports on the specific origin of cyber attacks on US properties from within one Chinese military headquarters.  The prospect of an attack that could cost the lives of thousands is not an exaggeration.  Naturally, Swartz’s hacking didn’t amount to anything like this kind of threat, but we cannot have a national policy debate on the issue of cyber security that is bent out of proportion because of the suicide of one man.

The Inevitable?

I have predicted for several years that convergence between TV and the Web will make for new partnerships between the two industries.  The more the media creators and the Internet giants have common ground, the more likely we are to see much of the extreme copyright views be relegated to the fringe where they belong.  This article in Variety features a story about a deal between Fox and a couple of very successful YouTube channels, and I’m sure we will see more of these deals as the distinction between distribution via Pipe A or Pipe B fades into irrelevance.

I have little doubt that the end-game is a paradigm in which screens of all sizes become global jukeboxes offering on-demand access to vast libraries of finished works.  Clearly, those who use torrent sites have chosen to hasten this reality without regard for the creators, but deals like this one and projects like House of Cards demonstrate that media producers are in no way out of touch with new distribution methods or new approaches to scheduling or geography; and they haven’t been for quite some time. When Google and Fox shake hands, it means their profit motives are aligned, and this could be beneficial to independent artists, who are the first to be hurt by online piracy. The more the Internet industry has skin in the content game, the less likely it is to fund the kind of hysterically blurred messages confusing free speech with free media.  That said, we have miles to go…

TPB-AFK (The Pirate Bay Documentary)

Yeah, I watched the documentary about the founder/operators of The Pirate Bay, and I admit to being pleasantly surprised that it is not the overbearing propaganda-fest I’d expected. In fact, to director Simon Klose’s credit, I found the film’s relatively detached lens on its subjects made it eminently watchable and only considered a few choices overly contrived — particularly the eerie music played over moody tracking shots of blinking servers.  There’s no question the film is supportive of its subjects, but assuming we can take its content at face value, we are provided with what appears to be an honest glimpse into the personalities and character flaws of TPB’s three co-founders.

Most of the film focuses on the trial in Swedish court, and I thought one of the most telling moments was a comment by Gottfrid Svartholm describing their business as “disorganized crime.” The comment was meant to be mocking the authorities’ perception of the The Pirate Bay, but his words are actually consistent with the childlike posturing of all three men throughout the documentary. Svartholm, Sunde, and Neij all vacillate between naive innocence and banner-waving freedom-fighting — literally trying to have it both ways.  It is as if they are saying, “We didn’t do anything, but what we did is certainly the right thing to do.” The film is engaging and informative, although it is dismaying to discover that these presumptive heroes of the digital age really are the proverbial rebels without either a cause or a clue.

David Newhoff
David is an author, communications professional, and copyright advocate. After more than 20 years providing creative services and consulting in corporate communications, he shifted his attention to law and policy, beginning with advocacy of copyright and the value of creative professionals to America’s economy, core principles, and culture.

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