Years of Searching for a Community of Peers – A Few Previously Unpublished Thoughts

Revisiting a few of my unpublished articles, notes, and remarks from the last six years, I felt a compulsion to record them once and for all for whatever the act might be worth. I’d also dusted off my bookmarks folder of all my favorite socio-cultural blogs only to find that every one of them had since been retired and stripped from the Web. That realization reinforces my resolve to document these thoughts and questions which still remain on my mind years after penning them and my search for a community to share these ideas.

Here they are…

Copyleftism, Open Culture, and the Future of Mass Media: A Brief (Immediate) History of Media Culture

03-12-2016 (prev. unpublished)

In the last decade, we’ve seen the growth of niche markets and the rise of user-generated content as Youtube and Netflix quickly replaced television in millions of households.

Similarly, annual revenues of subscription-based music streaming services are on the rise while physical media purchases continue their rapid decline, (excepting the niche used and new vinyl markets with yet another year of monumental growth.)

Subscription-based media access is quickly replacing broadcast packages, where for a fixed monthly fee consumers can access any media under the provider’s network of licenses (Spotify and Netflix are this year’s most active examples.)

And media streaming hardware is gaining popularity, as Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV are each vying for the public dollar.

In the 3rd quarter of 2014, mobile use hit critical mass, rivaling television use in hours-per-day.  The smartphone and the tablet were proudly dubbed, “America’s First Screen.”  This is a direct reflection of the way users get their news and information and consume their media in the digital age.

The democratization of music-making and filmmaking technologies has made user-generated content a critical element of our global culture.  At present, 300 hours of new user content is uploaded to YouTube every minute.  And, paired with social media, user content can have instant exposure to millions of potential viewers with little to no distribution expense.

More important still is the continued-growth of the Open Culture movement.  Wikipedia has become a global primary source of information and has spawned innumerable spin-off wikis of their own.  Creative Commons makes content shareable and relevant as users are free to copy, transform, and combine ideas instead of creators scrambling to secure their works under digital lock-and-key.

The GNU Project, Copyleftism, and Open Culture are growing and having a greater impact on the world with each passing day.  Many major universities have opened their digital doors, offering online course material completely free to the public, and an ever-increasing number of texts, films, and music albums are finding free and legal accessibility on the web.

What does the future hold for these cultures?  By what system will creators be compensated for their work in the digital age?  Will media conglomerates succeed in locking down content, further-extending the reach of traditional copyright?  Will the public passively accept forms of DRM as simply part of the digital territory?  What lasting-impact will increased media accessibility have on the global audience?

And what’s next?

The following short piece was composed as a conversation with myself fleshing out the undeniable conflict surrounding the future publication of my book on mass surveillance, digital privacy, free culture, filesharing, and its impact on previously-reining media distribution models.

This write up, concluding with an intimate conversation with a scholarly peer, helped me arrive at a very difficult conclusion about my work.

Free

09-03-2016 (prev. unpublished)

I find myself faced with a terrible and heartbreaking conundrum. I’ve written passionately about the subjects of filesharing and of digital privacy for some time now. And to speak of one without acknowledging the other does a great disservice and misrepresents the very real circumstance that we face as a global culture. So both must be addressed.

Sadly, these subjects are strangely taboo in the economy of published works, as the acts are ostracized and demonized from the global conversation. It is inconsequential whether or not filesharing is a moral act, though there have been numerous examples in recent history demonstrating circumstances where they serve a far greater morality than the illegality of the act, itself.

It is understandable that anti-authoritarian reference texts by their very nature had to remain somewhat under-the-radar throughout history and in times of revolution. But in an age where subversive guides to filesharing and the protection of anonymity are a single Google query away, why does the world have to pretend that it is a secret anymore?

One might suppose that, if the establishment were to publicly acknowledge the actual frequency and simplicity of free media access, that the entire commercial market would crumble in a matter of days. Put simply, nothing can compete with “free.”

But in the age of mass surveillance, there has nonetheless been a tremendous clandestine tidal shift in the public conversation about any information unpopular with the powers that be. Society stubbornly ignores information which is readily and publicly accessible from any of thousands of sources which eliminate the relevance of commercial markets and services.

And this is the very conundrum I alluded to at the outset. In all likelihood, a book published outlining the simplicity and ease of filesharing and highlighting some of the greatest achievements in large, decentralized media library metamapping would be instantly struck down as a corrupt and evil text, and its author(s) would be punished to the fullest extent of the law for inciting anti-authoritarian thought and promoting illegal activities. The RIAA, international media conglomerates, and copyright troll organizations like Righthaven and Rightscorp Inc spend millions of dollars to make a public example of their accused infringers and a guide to its subversion would surely be rapidly extinguished.

There is also the dichotomy of the effect of sharing this sort of information to the public, itself. Those who wish to participate in filesharing already have the common sense to search for and educate themselves as to the best acquisition methods and means of protecting their anonymity without the need for a printed guide. (The internet already EXISTS.) So in fact, exposing this widely-practiced and incredibly simple activity to the public discourse may actually result in a net harm to the filesharing community.

The final factor of this puzzle is the nature of the format. The printed word, as beautiful, elegant, and surely powerful a thing as it is, is static and fixed upon the pages. Whereas discussions of emerging and ever-changing web technology are far better-suited to the dynamic and fluid environment of the net. Post-scarcity replicability, revisioning as networks and technologies rise and fall, zero cost distribution… each of these critically important factors make the internet – the very home of filesharing communities – the ideal means of disseminating related information. But as I’ve said – a simple Google search will yield all one needs to know. Numerous guides already exist – just none of them are acknowledged by the establishment.

The act of widely-publicizing the simplicity and commonality of filesharing might be enough to disrupt the status quo and inspire a global revolution of media consumption… I just don’t know if I’m ready to die (or disappear) for that cause.

Until 1987, (particularly before the passing of the DMCA), the publication of a work of this nature would have been plausible as I’d be protected under The Fairness Doctrine. My work would be justified as in the interest of public welfare and not as a malicious guide written to directly harm the media industries. However, the Doctrine was eliminated by the FCC in 1987. And the DMCA, (written by the RIAA and fellow industry giants), effectively eliminated any trace of that former protection, silencing this conversation and others like it from the public discourse. If the text were published today I would instantly become the target of countless litigations and would be sued in perpetuity. Most likely, my credit would be eliminated and my wages garnished by as much as 60%, destroying my livelihood in the US. My only course of action would be to flee the States and to seek asylum under a foreign government (or lack thereof), and to live out the remainder of my life in exile.

This isn’t just a statistical likelihood. Based on the legal actions of the media industries in their war on piracy, these lawsuits are a guaranteed and inevitable eventuality – precisely the reason that books of this nature do not exist in print, but are instead bound to quiet circulation in less-conspicuous digital environments.

And after constructing a spreadsheet and a library of over 130 books on related subject matter, I penned this note.

Untitled Note

08-27-2019 (prev. unpublished)

I’ve compiled 100+ books on the subjects of Free Culture, Open Culture, Copyleft, Creative Commons, The Post-Scarcity Digital Economy, Linux, and Pirate Culture from The Cathedral & The Bazaar to Galloway’s The Four

But the majority of these texts were published before 2010. I’ve pored over metadata on several sites and the only recent publication I’ve found is The Essential Guide To Intellectual Property by Aram Sinnreich; (I LOVED his book, The Piracy Crusade).

Surely the subject isn’t dead? Doesn’t the streaming service revolution, the struggle for artist compensation, and the ever-increasing consolidation of content distributors warrant further discussion of the matter?

Am I missing out on a wealth of analytical and philosophical texts about the digital economy?

As we enter the closing months of 2022, I’ll continue my search for a community where these ideas are actively discussed and debated. Perhaps one day I’ll find peers with whom to engage and further this discussion.

I welcome my readers’ ideas.

Professor Cory Doctorow – Essential Texts on Free Culture

Cory Doctorow Books 08-10-19 Content Context and Information Doesn't Want To Be Free

Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger, as well as the co-editor of Boing Boing, and a contributing writer to Wire. He worked for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and helped establish the Open Rights Group. Doctorow was also the keynote speaker at the July 2016 Hackers on Planet Earth conference.

He is the originator of Doctorow’s Law: “Anytime someone puts a lock on something you own, against your wishes, and doesn’t give you the key, they’re not doing it for your benefit.”

Common themes of his work include digital rights management, file sharing, and the digital economy.

I’ve read and re-read his articles numerous times after downloading his DRM-free ebooks from his Craphound dot com website, and decided these were essential titles for my physical library so I’ve purchased printed copies and am enjoying reading them all over again.

Here are Content, Context, and Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free. Highly recommend as an insightful, brilliant, and funny collection of his infamous articles, essays, and polemics on the state of copyright and creative success for content creators in the digital age.

These are essential works on Free Culture, Open Source, Creative Commons, Free Software Foundation, Copyleft, and the post-scarcity economics. I’d greatly welcome recommendations for other related films and literature for my library.

 

The Department of Records – A True Piece of Internet History

Over the past several months I’ve taken a considerable interest in Copyright Reform, Fair Use, Free Culture, and the fight for Internet Freedom.  I purchased a copy of Prof. Lawrence Lessig’s cornerstone text, Free Culture and have been reading papers on the subject at every opportunity.

This returned my attention to one of the most prophetic and cautionary pieces ever written on collective freedom – John Perry Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.  Written during the infancy of the internet in 1996 by the co-founder of The Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Declaration warned readers to be ever-vigilant, warning that the governments of the industrial world would continuously work to erode and destroy the liberties afforded to us by the world wide web.  At the time of its drafting, Bill Clinton had just signed the Telecommunications Reform Act into law – an act which perpetuated the merging of the largest corporations in the communications industry  granting them even greater control of information than ever before.

Barlow has the distinction of being the only person to be inducted into both The Internet Hall of Fame and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  And his short but incredibly relevant paper is a pivotal piece of internet history.  That’s why I am so honored to have claimed this latest addition to my library.

While poring over the EFF’s deep links, I came upon an article from December of 2014 describing a special limited release from The Department of Records.  DOR’s homepage describes its mission, “to preserve cultural artifacts for the collective memory in both the physical and digital worlds.”  And the first historical work for their catalog is a recording of John Perry Barlow reading his Declaration.

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This special vinyl edition was limited to just 500 copies worldwide and distributed directly by DOR.  The 180g album sports a smart minimalist black cover with the title of the work embossed at the center of the jacket.

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The gatefold sleeve contains a transcript of the original document and information about the three recordings on the album.

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Side A Track 1 features A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace as spoken by John Perry Barlow

Side B Track 1 is A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (ft. John Perry Barlow) by Dražen Bošnjak 

Side B Track 2 is an Instrumental version of A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace by Dražen Bošnjak.

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DOR kindly offers the album’s contents free to all courtesy of The Internet Archive.

When I discovered that DOR still had copies remaining for sale, I purchased it for my own archive without a moment’s hesitation.  It instantly became the most significant artifact of my cultural custodianship.

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You can watch the recording session below.  Tune in for an incredible moment of our culture’s history.

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