Apr 112012

Whilst I did a piece recently on the real origins of content “piracy”, Paul currently has a lovely piece over at Never Trust a Hippy on the real origins of copyright.  Interestingly, a commenter responds thus:

Another example of ideas being far older than one thought

And here, in far fewer words than I could ever manage, is the prime justification for there existing a public domain into which all thought finally ends up residing.

This is what I recently had to say on the subject:

[…] I appreciate the need for reasonable periods of copyright, but before we support “original works” we have to understand the process that leads to their creation – and recognise what any creator owes to a previous generation of creators. There is now a massive hole in the public domain, absolutely unheard of in previous times, where nothing but nothing can legally be done to have a creative conversation with, for example, the film industry – an industry which has appropriated with every moral and legal right to do so public domain works from the 19th century for its own wonderful purposes but has refused to return its own property created thus back to the public domains of the 20th and 21st centuries.

And whilst those who are unhappy with related Google-like dynamics may indeed have a complex case to answer, we shouldn’t mix what are essentially issues of trademark and/or copyright law with matters that relate to the almost social contract that is the public domain.

I read an interesting piece in the Guardian yesterday whilst waiting for a train at Oxenholme in the Lake District.  It was arguing that the research of publicly-funded scientists should end up – as soon as practicable – in the public domain via the legal figure of open access.  As the scientific journals and their publishers added very little real value to the scientific process, and in the meantime through their paywalls made access to new ideas evermore expensive and distant (I remember a calculation made by Lawrence Lessig recently which had him hunting down online documents to allow him to understand a family member’s illness better – if he hadn’t have been a top scholar at a US university, it would have cost him over $400 to access the information), so the argument in terms of a societal benefit to automatically place in the public domain such publicly-funded data has become considerably stronger.

But I’d go even further – as you jolly well might expect.  I’d argue that such principles should not only be applied to publicly-funded scientists but also to all elected figures who reach positions of prominence or otherwise on the backs of the voters.  Without the voters and their desire to delegate responsibility, a prime minister or secretary of state would be absolutely nothing politically speaking.  When politicians give exclusive interviews to national newspapers and other media, such organisations hug very close to themselves the content thus generated.  But, in reality, they have no right to at all: arguably the words and thoughts and ideas of our politicians already belong, in very strict measure, to ourselves:

David Cameron wants to snoop into your emails, SMS text messages and telephone calls. He is bringing forward powers to enhance the big brother state in exactly the opposite way he said he would do when he was opposition leader. But guess what, I have news for Mr Cameron. In 3 days time, I discover whether or not I will be given the right to snoop into his SMS text messaging. […]

This does, of course, have implications for open government movements across the world.  But it is only the application of a very simple and fair principle: what you get out of the system, at some in the (near and reasonable) future you put back in.

As they say: what goes around, comes around.

So why should copyright, scientists, public figures and the public domain be any different?

Mar 082012

In a short exchange on Twitter this morning, I observed:

@JamesFirth I notice your domain has changed to .eu. Do you consider this reasonably out of reach of unreasonable extrajudicial takedowns?

James then responded with the following excellent point:

 @eiohel It’s not a question of reasonable vs unreasonable but culture and familiarity. I’m familiar with the law and culture of UK/EU

Over at his blog, James has expounded more broadly and clearly exactly why he has recently moved his .com Blogger-based content to an .eu domain.  You can find this post here.

In particular, I’d draw your attention to two passages in the post.  Firstly (the bold is his):

Clearly there are some limits to what can and can’t be published, and few would argue against a robust system of oversight to remove illegal content which respects due legal process in order to protect free speech and guard against unwarranted take-downs.

However I am worried about moves to force global websites to submit to US law and in particular extradite website owners to the US to face American justice.

In this I would agree one hundred percent.  I have always been in favour of copyright laws.  The options provided, for example, by CreativeCommons.org seem to me to be exemplary in allowing one both to choose the jurisdiction and corresponding copyright conditions one is most comfortable and familiar with as well as helping others understand how far they can go with quoting, building on and attributing or not original authorship.

Just because one is against what might be considered by some to be copyright abuse – abuse in the sense of extending periods of copyright to absolutely unreasonable lengths of time – does not mean one is against copyright as a concept.  The distinction must be made and consistently sustained and repeated.

The second passage I’d like to draw your attention to is this one:

As I said at the start, I expect to follow the law of land where I live, not the country laying notional claim to a top-level web domain popular around the world.

Whilst the move is purely symbolic – I don’t plan to fall foul of the law and I am after all still using California-based Google Blogger to host this blog, for the time being at least – I think it’s worthwhile.

Again, I agree one hundred percent with this assertion: I too would like to know whose laws must apply to what I create.   At the moment, we are living in a truly World Wild West of a frontier situation.  Everyone seems to be jostling and pushing to see who can frighten off and inhibit the most.  This isn’t what freedom of speech in a modern democracy should be about.

This isn’t right.

I look forward to a time – hopefully not too far in the future – when it will be clear whose jurisdiction each of us, wherever we live and work, is acting under.  In the meantime, I’m pretty convinced that steps such as those which James has recently tentatively taken are not only worth it and sensible but also clarifying and understandable.

Good stuff.

Where angels fear to tread …


Mar 062010

Google might be good for finding things that serve to distract you from the job in hand – but when you’re looking exactly for something which you are absolutely positive exists, sometimes it’s really not up to the task you ask of it.  This lyric, for example:

When the midday sun is over
Coke adds life
And everybody wants a bit of life.

Now I challenge you to find this short snippet of a jingle that has distracted me all afternoon. Don’t know why. Don’t even see that – as an adult of 47 and with so many awful things going on the world – I should allow myself the luxury of such foolishnesses.

But hey ho. There we go.

After much searching on both Google and YouTube, I finally came up with this advert which shows Jack Nicklaus playing golf to my favourite lyrics.

But as one of the commenters points out, the ad we really love was more upbeat and definitely didn’t feature the golfer in question.

Curious how some parts of what we are and feel can get so easily buried by these gigantic corporations. Someone, somewhere, obviously feels that those of us who remember this piece of advertising art don’t deserve an access any other century would have more than happily permitted.

Just more of the same, I’m afraid. Our memories only have value for these organisations whilst they can be monetised.

And yet if I still buy Coke, in part it’s due to that jingle and ad I mention above. An ad I can only remember these days even as I am surely unable to properly track it down. An ad that reminds me of a far more hopeful youth – and most definitely not the bland consumer-orientated histrionics they seem to currently propose to engage our attention with.

Points and specious freebies? Guitar-hero riffs? No sir. Not for me, anyhow. Identification with a musicality and an optimism that spoke volumes. That was (and is) rather more my line, I can tell you.

And so we come back to a lack of a true public domain. If YouTube has done anything useful, it is to create a de facto public domain for the dominant arts of the 20th century, precisely where and when their progenitors – the music, TV and cinema industries – have simply refused to play ball.

I fear that YouTube’s glory days are coming to an end.

Monetisation knocks at all our doors.

Ready yourself to become just another soulless consumer.

The beginning which is nigh was – in reality – never more an end than now.