A Call To Arms
Posted 9 Sep 2000 at 15:11 UTC by tibbetts
On Friday Suck ran an article about the
increasing role that the real world and the lawyers that run it are
playing on the Internet. Downtime By Law might
be just another bit of caustic Internet prose, but at its heart is a
truth what is becoming more and more apparent. While geeks and hackers
are focussed on what the technology can do, they are allowing
judges and lawyers to control what the
technology will do.
The community of Internet users, and especially its intelligentsia,
have failed to put up any significant barriers as their rights are
being trampled. While there is a lot of talk there is little action if any. Is it time to put together a
unified effort? Is it even possible? How? Or should we just give up
and start ignoring the laws that
the rest of the world makes for us? Can we really get away with that??
At Evil Geniuses For A
Better Tomorrow we have a three-pronged strategy for changing the
First: make our company and our users safe on the legal front. We
spent a year talking to lawyers before we wrote the first line of code,
in order to make sure that what we were going to do was legal and
Second: make the technology so robust and distributed that it can't
possibly be shut down. Even if our company were to disappear for some
open source and highly distributed Mojo Nation network would go on.
Third: make peace, not war. The Mojo Nation concept
voluntary, efficient micropayment system so that fans and consumers can
give a small donation to the artists and producers that create the art
they love. We hope that in the future Mojo Nation will be regarded as
the great provider of funds for art rather than the great destroyer.
as if, posted 9 Sep 2000 at 17:56 UTC by graydon »
the mistake this article makes is in thinking that it's the concerns of
the geeks which makes the internet a cultural force in need of
legislating. all fine and well if you get off on insulting geeks, but
we've weathered far worse situations in the past. no amount of
legislation can ever reduce the internet to the level of
shittyness it had in 1985, yet there were geeks, slaving away on it back
legislation like the DMCA or UTICA, while in some ways annoying to the
"free software, HO!" mentality, really do not cause cataclysms in the
activity which occupies most of the human effort on the internet:
non-geeks writing, reading, collaborating, teaching,
socializing, and learning to work in the open the way the geek factions
have to varying extents worked for the past 20 years.
- government officials can be asked direct questions thru email
- teachers post lecture notes online
- researchers share results in seconds which used to await publication
in journals for months
- average, middle-income citizens are stock holders
- people meet lovers from all over the world
- kids in small towns talk to kids in the city
- people stay awake well into the night chatting with people in
countries they never would have even heared of before
all of this is working out, certain boneheaded lawyers notwithstanding,
better than most of the geeks had ever dreamed. the authors at
Suck point out that all this legislation has produced is a lot
of posting. I'd suggest they consider the full implication of
that fact: 5 years ago, nobody knew what the verb "posting" even
meant, much less expected that there were people doing it
all over the planet, all the time, on every conceivable topic and at
every possible level of sophistication.
A clarification, as suggested by a thoughtful reader:
The current version of Mojo Nation (soon to be v0.9) does
not offer the feature of tipping artists directly.
I said that tipping artists is a central part of our strategy, and
that is correct.
In addition, since Mojo Nation does have a fully functional
Internet micropayment system, which is being tested daily by hordes of
beta testers and open source hackers, we are that much closer to being
able to pay artists directly.
Or should we just give up and start ignoring the
laws that the rest of the world makes for us? Can we really get
away with that??
I'm not sure what geek planet you live on, but I'm still stuck down
here on earth and therefore form a part of the `rest of the world'
thats makes the laws for you. And the problem, if there is one at all,
is the law. All lawers do is give a rigourous case for their
clients. To say that lawers are a part of the problem is to say that
lawers shouldn't represent someone who wants to dissagree with your
Where is the justice in that idea? We live in democratic countries
where people are allowed to have radically different opinions. If that
freedom should mean that the shareholders of a company can apeal to
a court to have something I like banned then that's OK by me. If I
actually disagreed with the results of these lawsuits then the proper
way for me to deal with it would be to lobby for a change to
When people start talking about ignoring the law it just
means that they are either too inept or lazy to go through the long
and boring process of lobbying. If coporations get the ear of
legislators then it is simply because they are more than willing
to put in the boring and tedious work to get their side across while
the young techies lose interest after ten minutes and then go on
to whinge about how no-one listens to them.
If you really want to change things then you should set up a
financed lobbying group with membership fees. You then go out and hire
lawers and professional lobyists to give you advice on how to put
your case across and then get off your arse and put in all of the
long, boring and tedious work needed to get a law changed. If you
can't find enough people to pay membership fees, or to put in those
long hours then there clearly isn't many people who really
care about your ideas. Now if that is the case then why should
the legislators listen to you?
I think the recent legal decisions on the net are a mixed bag. Yes, there's some stupidity out there... particularly with respect to linking...
you have websites suing websites over "deep linking", as well as the decisions that equate "linking" to "copying", but on the other hand is
anyone really surprised or even concerned that MP3.COM and Napster seem to be losing? I can't imagine the "real world" allowing a
company to make a business out of piracy and get away with it. What these people are doing is even more extreme than Microsoft's theft
of Stacker's intellectual property, and everyone was cheering for Stacker when it was Big Bad Microsoft getting their wrist slapped.
Let's fight the battles we need to win. Linking has to be given the same standing as a bibliographic reference. But copyright violation
doesn't magically become OK just because it's happening online in a peer-to-peer network.
Outrage, posted 10 Sep 2000 at 00:07 UTC by schoen »
It's nice to see that outrage isn't dead -- some commentators have been known to write books claiming as much on the cover. No, people still care about things --
how refreshing! (It isn't this article that lets me know this.)
One problem is that, on the net as in the real world, outrage and its
consequences are very ephemeral. Some people get mad, they "lose" (e.g. in court), the vast majority of people forget about the issue,
and there things lie for a few decades or centuries. If I were today to talk about some of the causes of the 1960s (I mean some of the idealistic ideas of social activists in the U.S. from that period),
even people who agreed might make fun of me and say that it was silly to try to "relive" that era by renewing some of its activism. So some things may not even be considered "wrong", so much as "forgotten" or "obsolete".
In the U.S., major national political news can be more or less forgotten within about 1-5 years. (A major
example of this is U.S. military actions in Latin America while I was a young child; I heard them mentioned now and then as I was growing up, but to learn any details normally requires a lot of research. They're not taught in school, they're not commonly mentioned in mass media or in conersation.) If I were to start talking about how bad certain
(currently precedential) U.S. Supreme Court decisions had been, all sorts of people might tell me to stop whining, or insist that these were long-settled points I ought to get used to.
It's impressive to see people like (say) Richard Stallman, who manage to keep their outrage and activism even though
popular opinion eventually relegates them to a "lost era". It's difficult: it's difficult to remember, it's difficult to persist, it's difficult to have people call you or your causes a relic of a different moment.
I agree with the writers who say that we need a sense of history and
a longer memory. Even if you don't (a la Stallman) dedicate your life to a cause, you can at least try to make sure it's not completely
forgotten. I mean, causes are really only "lost" when they are lost to memory.
mettw, I want to disagree with you, but my "disagreeing with mettw about legitimacy of political authority"
backlog is already full of five or eight messages... I'll have to try to empty it first. :-)
"Whining", posted 10 Sep 2000 at 00:24 UTC by schoen »
I remember a few long arguments about whether particular people
are "entitled to complain" about things (most commonly, people who
don't vote criticizing political systems or political decisions).
Sometimes people who are thought not to be "entitled to complain"
are accused of "whining" about something.
I don't quite get it. In San Francisco, thanks to assorted journalists', hackers', and free software enthusiasts' "whining", we had
over two dozen protestors at the Sony Metreon in a "useless" protest against Universal v. Reimerdes. (In how many cities can you get two dozen people together to protest about copyright law? At least four, so far.)
If we're actually in this for the long haul, then 1,000 or 2,000 more San Franciscans have now heard about CSS, the DMCA, and some free speech activists' objections to the latter. Much as Michael Eisner didn't call up Emmanuel Goldstein the following morning and humbly beg Emmanuel's forgiveness, I think that's something real.
Awareness builds awareness, and publicity builds publicity. There are hundreds of ways to pursue activism; some of them are hundreds of times more effective than others, but all of them are potentially constructive in support of a good cause.
So I say that even "whining" is a form of conceivably useful spreading-the-word, and I'm amazed that even a tragically noisy short-on-detail long-on-flamage forum
has gotten thousands or tens of thousands of people to care about an issue that would have been "off the map" fifteen years ago. (How many people were eagerly following the Betamax lawsuit
through a Harvard-sponsored on-line forum in 1984? Hmmmm?)
I don't know whether "we are making progress" -- and we have a long way to go in some areas, like understanding the kinds of power that can be exercised through the legal system, and what can be done about them.
In the meantime, I just want people to stop belittling other people's contributions. If you tell your mom about the DMCA, you have done a good deed for today. If you
tell your mom and dad about the DMCA, you have done two good deeds for today.
It's unfortunate that people continue to believe that the primary effect
of legal action is to see justice done. Anyone who has played poker
knows how frequently a tall stack of chips beats a pat hand.
You can't win a legal battle if you can't last through the motions and
subpoenas. Legal work costs money and if you don't have the money and
your opponent does, it's that much harder to win, regardless of the
merits of your case.
Then we get to the core issue, democracy. I don't know of a pure
democracy on the planet, most are representative democracies. You vote
for a party or an individual and then they either represent you well or
not. If they don't represent you well on one issue, you have to decide
whether their good representation on other issues outweighs that
problem. Electing someone to office is no guarantee they will do your
bidding; it never has been.
And is democracy "right"? Democracy tries to ensure that a majority of
voters gets their way. That gives an individual 2/N of a voice in
deciding what happens, where N is typically >15,000. Add to this that
the game is usually rigged, because only people with enough time to
devote to getting their side of the issue on the ballot can actually
work to produce an alternative to be voted upon. If you have the time
and want to make an impact, you'd better stick to one issue per
election. Or you had better just give up and program yourself to agree
100% with the positions of some political party. That way you won't get
what you want, but you'll want what you get.
When I call the plumber, there's a very good chance I will get exactly
what I need. Politics is not about getting what you need, it's about
getting coopted into a system that justifies the people in power.
Forgive a slight case of cynicism, based on a lifetime of experience. ;)
I live on a geek planet where Thoreau spoke of disobeying unjust laws
as a moral imperative and Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. put
it into practice.
I agree with you that when possible, solving things through the
democratic process is the best way of doing things, but I figured I'd
point out that it isn't always possible.
BTW - I just saw your sed hack on ethics from the barrel of a gun.
: People have a very strong inbuilt
resistance to change, so every person who wants to change something
has to convince people that there is nothing to be frightened of.
Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. both used civil disobedience
to do this.
Three black kids walk into a caffee to order some
coffee and get beat up for it. "It's not the blacks we should be
frightened of," would have been the thought running through the
average American's head after that incident.
A group of Indians stage a peacefull protest and get gunned down on the
orders of a British officer. "There's nothing radical in what the
Indians are asking for," would have run through the mind of the average
But implimenting a system that could arguably take away the livelyhood
of every musician, author and programmer on the planet? Suddenly your
enemies RIAA and MPAA become the white knights.
PS: No-one commented on "Ethics through the barrel of a Penis," but
15,000 people had a look at it.
I was thinking the other day that if programmers and other computer
geeks *really* wanted to influence the law, all we really need to do is
stop working. The world is so wired now that any significant
work-stoppage on our part would completely cripple the economy. All we
would need to do then is dictate terms.
It's a silly fantasy, though. Computer geeks are notorioiusly greedy
and have little or no political savvy, which means you'd never get a
wholesale buy-in for such a project. Programmers can't even form a
decent union, for God's sake.
Still, it's an interesting thought....
But implimenting [sic] a system that could arguably take away the
livelyhood of every musician,
author and programmer on the planet? Suddenly your enemies RIAA
and MPAA become the
As far as I know, neither the MPAA nor the RIAA represent most authors
and programmers. And to most of the people I talk to, they are not "the
white knights"....because most of the people I talk to have not heard
much about the prosecutions and what they've heard hasn't affected them
much. The propaganda from those organizations serves mostly to enrage
open source people, from what I have seen.
And arguably neither mp3.org nor Napster is going to take all that much
money away from most musicians, who are not paid much for their
contracts anyway. Still, it makes a great propaganda point.
, Democracy results in The People getting The
Leaders that they deserve.
graydon, your observations are enlightening and
encouragement that there is hope for humanity and fulfilment of
schoen, remember that in Germany, certain people are
writing "history" books that teach that the holocaust never
If you were asking for my opinion on these things, i would say that it
is not Laws or Legislation that needs changing, but people's attitudes
and awareness. Appropriate Laws and Legislation will [belatedly]
follow, and more importantly, people will already have been following
them and continue to
The question then becomes, how do you go about changing peoples'
attitudes and awareness?
[i have a few suggestions: i am interested to see if anyone else has].