A Call To Arms

Posted 9 Sep 2000 at 15:11 UTC by tibbetts Share This

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??

Mojo Nation's strategy, posted 9 Sep 2000 at 15:23 UTC by Zooko » (Master)

At Evil Geniuses For A Better Tomorrow we have a three-pronged strategy for changing the world.

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 defensible.

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 reason, the open source and highly distributed Mojo Nation network would go on.

Third: make peace, not war. The Mojo Nation concept features a 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 » (Master)

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 then even.

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.

clarification about Mojo Nation, posted 9 Sep 2000 at 20:32 UTC by Zooko » (Master)

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.



What have lawers got to do with it?, posted 9 Sep 2000 at 22:31 UTC by mettw » (Observer)

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 opinion.

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 legislation.

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?

A mixed bag of results, actually., posted 9 Sep 2000 at 23:35 UTC by argent » (Master)

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 » (Master)

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 » (Master)

Another angle:

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.

Democracy will fix it all?, posted 10 Sep 2000 at 03:17 UTC by lilo » (Master)

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. ;)

Re: What have lawyers got to do with it?, posted 10 Sep 2000 at 07:15 UTC by hiller » (Journeyer)

Hey mettw,

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. ROTFL. :)

Re: What have lawers got to go with it?, posted 10 Sep 2000 at 12:29 UTC by mettw » (Observer)

Hiller: 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 Britton.

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.

Maybe Atlas should shrug..., posted 10 Sep 2000 at 16:00 UTC by mrorganic » (Journeyer)

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....

MPAA and RIAA as white knights?, posted 11 Sep 2000 at 02:52 UTC by lilo » (Master)

mettw wrote:
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 white knights.
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 recording contracts anyway. Still, it makes a great propaganda point.

Democracy will fix it all, posted 20 Sep 2000 at 05:14 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

lilo, 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 promise.

schoen, remember that in Germany, certain people are writing "history" books that teach that the holocaust never happened...

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 follow them.

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].

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