Tag Archives: copyrights

A children's book about cosmogenesis? Oh yeah!

Recently I was contacted by James Dunbar about his new comic book BANG! where it seems he’s doing some good ol’ self-promotion of it. James seems to have send an email to a number of people including me, explaining the concept and providing a link to the free online version of the book. I promised I’d take a look when time allows and here I am.

BANG! reads like a children’s book, with a rhyming style and lots of pictures. It tries to explain cosmogenesis and the Big Bang theory in as simple terms as possible. Unfortunately, even though the effort is admirable, the complex concepts within the book are unlikely to be grasped by children (although, of course, I could be wrong. I have to run this by my girlfriend who’s dealing with children’s books a lot). I guess it would make a good gift for teenagers but I’m afraid that the style might turn them off as it might sound like it’s made for a younger audience. It seems to me that it’s a difficult situation where the style is made for the young while the content is made for the older, therefore making it hard to use by either.

Nevertheless the concept is very well done, the large majority of the rhymes work and the art is pretty good in itself. As an adult, I enjoyed the simple and concise way it presented those complex concepts in ways that made them look as interesting as they really are. Being a children’s book does not mean that it’s not enjoyable by adults. Plus, I am really curious to see how children will actually react to it (if you have any practical examples, do tell).

The only thing that dissapointed me is that James opted to go for copyrights and place big scary copyright warnings all over the place. He should have realized that the value of his work does not lie in the ability to replicate it, which is in fact why he’s allowing everyone to read it online and sends it away as a promotion. The value of the book lies in being able to sell paper backs, and this would not have been prevented had he licensed it under a Creative Commons license.Hopefully he’ll change his mind in the future and follow a similar tactic like Cory Doctorow who gives away all his books for free online under CC licenses. Not only do you make it far less controversial for people to promote your work via sharing and posting online (as they do not have to fear about violating your copyrights) but you also create goodwill about your name.

Anyway, I thought I’d give you all a heads up to check it out if you haven’t already (as I’ve seen other atheist bloggers have promoted it) and give a thumbs up to James for the good work. I’m not waiting for the one about abiogenesis and evolution, hopefully under copylefts this time 😉

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Quote of the Day: Convenient shifting of laws

Quoth Anna Nimus

Intellectual property laws have shifted with the winds of history to justify specific interests. Countries that exported intellectual property favored the notion of authors’ natural rights, while developing nations, which were mainly importers, insisted on a more utilitarian interpretation that limited copyright by public interest. During the 19th century, American publishing companies justified their unauthorized publication of British writers on the utilitarian grounds that the public’s interest to have great works available for the cheapest possible price outweighed authors’ rights. By the beginning of the 20th century, as American authors became popular in Europe and American publishing companies became exporters of intellectual property, the law conveniently shifted, suddenly recognizing the natural rights of authors to own their ideas and forgetting previous theories of social utility.

This example should nicely show you how the laws of capitalist states are always modified to help the resident bourgeoisie make as much profit as possible. It was the same thing with tarriffs and corporate laws. They just paint them in a thin coat of populism and let the suckers who still believe that the common law is for the benefit of the common peopl, support them.

Anyway, read the whole thing. A very interesting take about the way the copyrights developed and what their real purpose has always been. Hint: It was never to promote creativity but to preserve existing monopolies and facilitate the exploitation of artists.

Does Free Software destroy the IT Profession?

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A new commenter has opened a new vector of attack against Free Software in the comments of my article about manager’s dislike for IT Pros. There he tries to argue that the proliferation os Free Software and the GPL is harming the IT profession as a whole because now that anyone can write software and the combined efforts of thousands can create as much of a quality software as any capitalist company, the demand for expensive proprietary software is decreasing and thus less programming jobs can exist as there’s less opportunity to use state granted monopolies (i.e. copyrights) to make money.

The argument relies on what makes one a “Professional” and in the words of the commenter:

As for “giving many more people the opportunity to take part in the IT profession” — that’s just an outright lie. If you ain’t gettin’ paid, you ain’t a professional — and that’s by definition; go look up the word “profession” in a dictionary if you don’t believe it. All those coders putting stuff out for free? They aren’t professionals. Even if they lived up to what are laughingly known as professional standards (which they certainly do not), they wouldn’t be professionals.

This arguments sounds very much like the classic anti-piracy rhetoric from the Recording Mafias about how file-sharing is killing the music industry. But instead of file-sharing, the author here replaces it with Free Software. But the principle remains the same. When people can get something for free (whether that is free software or free music), they will not pay for it, therefore companies will not make enough profits, therefore there will not be enough jobs for people being paid explicitly to write proprietary code for sale.

But much like the music industry argument, the software industry argument is also flawed: Just because people cannot make money via the previous business models does not mean that nobody will ever make money. The Free Software business models are some of the newest experiments in money making, much like giving your music away for free is also a new experiment in making money. Both of them are not mature yet and there’s a lot of testing and trying to make them work, but there’s certainly a lot of people who do make money out of them and even better, there’s a lot more stuff being made.

And that’s the clincher really. When people complain that an industry is “dying”, they don’t really mean that less stuff related to that industry is being made but rather that those who were already using a particular business model cannot continue doing so. The original commenter’s problem is that those who were earning a lot of money by selling software cannot continue making as much or more. Why? Because free software outperforms them for a lower cost. In short the argument is that some people cannot continue selling less value for a higher price.

Of course they set it up so that it seems that it’s the poor wage-slave coder who is taking the hit by not being able to find a job or having their wages reduced. They completely forget to mention that it’s the consumers that benefit by being able to use a better quality product for a fraction of the price. In fact, the wage-slaves of the IT world have far more to fear from the Indian outsourcing companies than from Free Software which at least, when given enough critical mass, will allow far more people to work independently rather than in a wage-slave position.

Becuase this is the main way people can make money out of coding via free software. They do not have to sell their code, they only have to sell their services as a coder. They don’t build a program and then sell it, they are contracted to build and improve an already existing product which then everyone can enjoy. Taking a holistic view, this is overwhelmingly a positive result since rather than having people rediscover the wheel every time they want to sell something (and thus end up with many different programs offering basically the same functionality), you get people improving on what came before them; standing on the shoulders of giants and improving things for everyone that comes after them.

Another common argument to this point point that is brought is how people currently work: They build a program and try to sell it. by then pointing out that free software is gratis they assume that people will simply not build programs anymore. This is usually used in conjunction with games and to show why people don’t write free software games. This argument is simply taking the current system and asserting that this is the only way it can be. They ignore that the way people work is because of the way the rules of the game have been set which make one particular path,  “build and then sell”, as the most optimal to make money. But the rules of the game have not been set in stone and we can and should challenge them directly when they stop making sense.

If copyrights weren’t enforced on us from the dawn of IT, the current business models would not have built themselves around them. There would certainly be a demand for software and games and that would certainly have been fulfilled, only it would have been done in a different way. To take the way the software system has evolved because copyrights existed and assert that this is the only way it can ever work and the end of the world is nigh if we challenge this is simply absurd. Free Software proves this wrong.

Sure, the biggest software companies who are sucking at the tit of the state would suffer from it and possibly some programmers earning currently absurd salaries would have to scale down their demands to be in line with everyone else in the world, but everyone else would benefit. Better software for a fraction of the cost and a far wider tail for people to make a living on. The IT Profession would go nowhere as long as a demand for it exists.

In closing, one has to ponder how completely misaligned the ethical compass of scomeone can be, when they consider the voluntary act that thousands do for free – and for the benefit of everyone else – as something wrong, because it harms the greedy and for-profit acts of a few which are based on state violence and privilege and lead to a result where most can’t even possess the results. It shows how the way the system works can become so ingrained in the mentality of someone where they cannot even look externally at it and notice that if because of the way Capitalisms works a good act can be considered “bad” while a bad one becomes “good”, perhaps there is something inherently broken in the system itself.

UPDATE: Redditors have been providing some excellent arguments to support my point as well. Take a look.

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Copyrights beautifully point out for whom the State works for

Recent times have shown how little politicians care to follow on their promises and how crassly they use their positions to promote special interests from the Capitalist class. However, nowhere is this more obvious I believe than in the continuous reformation and amendments to Copyright laws. The latest example really takes the cake.

You just have to admire how little the US state even cares to keep up appearances of serving the people anymore. They don’t even care to bring up some non-corporate lobbyists around, even if it’s just for show and will get ignored anyway. They even go as far as kicking the press out when it’s it doesn’t present the bright picture they’d like.

This is like a textbook example of what revolutionaries are talking about when we say that you cannot trust in the current system to reform for the better. Here you have copyright laws, who have shown that they historically do jack-shit for promoting creativity and progress and actual harm it, that have a huge public rejection (just check how many millions are file-sharing copyrighted work per second) , that have been continuously increased in scale and magnitude based on false data and used to promote monopolistic practices, and the only people who are invited to discuss government policy on them is corporate lobbyists.

This kind of thing should really point out that States have very little to do with protecting the majority interests, even when this is provable via widespread public opposition and scientific data. And yet, for all this, in the face of Mikey Mouse protections and other such legislation designed to simply protect the interests of the already wealthy, Statists will blindly insist that a bigger, more powerful government is better for all of us.

I really don’t know if all the naked cronyism of the later US governments even register in the mind of people who still naively believe in it. It seems as if the US “Liberals” will accept anything as long as it’s from the Democrats and the Conservatives will accept anything as long as it’s from the GOP. They only remember to protest when it’s the other party that does something they don’t like. At best they may pathetically mumble a bit and that’s it for public dissent.

In the end, both sides simply accepted the naked power and wealth grabs the capitalists did by using the state. The various “wars for peace” which simply opens border for oil and resource grabs, the “war on drugs” which provides ample workers for the increasing private police nation, the foreign aid to dictators and right-wing “freedom fighters” who make their countries more open to US special interest groups, the anti-terror operations which more often than not target peaceful environmental groups and of course the laws increasing copyright and patent powers which directly feed the Publishing monopolies which are primarily USA located.

One does need to retain hope that freethinkers might eventually become cynical enough from all those crass sell-outs of their interests for the benefit of the wealthy. There’s only so many toes a state can step on before people band up to do something about it. Now it’s stepping on the toes of the creativity crowd, yesterday it was the recreative drug users, tomorrow it will be whatever thing you hold dear instead. Perhaps this will be a trigger to people radicalism. One can only hope.

European Copyrights

European Copyrights for works created 50 years ago are about to expire and a handful of major record labels are lobbying heavily for their extension in order to be aligned with US copyrights and in a sense make our European version of the Mickey Mouse protection act.

As expected, the only activist group that cares for our digital rights, the EFF, is starting a petition to lobby the European Commission (and other relevant groups) to block this extension that is set to rob us of our cultural heritage for the benefit of a bunch of greedy corporations.

You should sign.

Even if you’re not EU Citizen.

Like, now!

And since I’m on this subject let me just state my personal opinion (This is a blog after all).

Copyrights represent a deal, or a promise if you want, between the artist and the goverment. The artist puts some effort in creating something of “artistic value”[1] and the goverment provides him with a limited protection so that he can capitulate on his work. This protection is a form of monopoly that is supposed to spur creativity by giving artists an incentive to create more work. It is not supposed to be a welfare system, as it has ended up today where the grandchildren of famous artists are earning money from the cultural work of their forefathers (How many of you keep getting paid for work you did 50 years ago?). This is not only bad for our culture, but it is counter to the spirit of copyrights.

Not only that, but extending copyrights so much is economically unsound as far too many researches have shown.

Furthermore, if we are to treat Copyrights as “Intellectual property“, shouldn’t the owner have to pay taxes like all of us? Here’s an alternative off the top of my head:

Have automatic copyrights last for 5 years after the day of publication and after that the author has to a fee proportionate to the number of years passed since initial publication in order to keep them from passing to the public domain. This way, the fee would be modest (but significant enough) initially but would grow steeper as the time passed. Thus, the economically viable works could be retained (while also paying the appropriate tax) while the rest would pass to the public domain for the benefit of everyone.

I personally don’t agree that copyrights should last more than 10 years (more than enough to earn from the effort you invested) and only for artistic work; but the previous suggestion is, at least, a better alternative than what we have now.

The problem you see, is not strictly Mickey Mouse or other known works. It’s that the copyright holder tends to possess copyrights to non-economically viable works. He does not release them because, hey, why should he? And he doesn’t publish them because they won’t make any money. This leads to our loss as we cannot anymore share, modify and enjoy our own culture.

PS: Take a few mins to FSD or Digg this to help raise awareness.

Footnotes
  1. This idea of course excludes absurd things like threatening people posting Cease & Desist letters online from being threatened with copyrights in order to silence them.

Public Venture, Public Content

We live in an age where worldwide communication and access to information is easier than ever. The audience that utilizes it has been steadily growing with the thing that allowed it to happen, the internet, in a never-ending self-sustained cycle. These people, these millions of internet users have also demonstrated that they want content now and they want it for free; not by a dubious voting or by “statistics” but by their deeds only. Just a look at the growth of Peer to Peer traffic and the widespread disregard for the copyright laws is all the proof that is needed.

The copyright laws as we now know them, something that was put to use barely a century ago, have not yet become a part of our ethics and we have already reached a stage where they do more harm than good to the public interest. It is no wonder that most people either disregard them or consider them outdated and outright irrelevant. Still, the publishers, the only ones who ever truly gain from copyrights, are fighting with tooth and claw to see them enforced in the digital age. They can see that the internet will make their role obsolete as it allows widespread distribution, without cost, of most types of entertainment content. Movies, music, games, comics, books, all can be copied and spread around by the user himself now.

However, there is still one problem that will never truly allow creative works to become inherently free.

Cost.

Yes artists, musicians, game designers, actors, cameramen and every other little gear in the master plan must still eat to live. The current business model allows that by using the so called venture capital. Someone (which can mean a person or a major publisher), usually quite rich, is presented the idea for a new work. If he decides to pursue it, then he funds the project with the ultimate goal of making the famous ROI. The Return of Investment.

Unfortunately this leads to a few problems as the last years have exemplified wonderfully.

First of all, the goal of funding such a project, is to for the venture capitalist to make money and as such the resulting work must be proprietary, patented, copyrighted and as locked down as it can be. This is the main reason why expensive projects will never be allowed to be released to the public freely, either through Creative Commons or the GPL. For how can the funder make the ROI when everyone will just simply copy the work and go on his merry way? It is unfathomable…at least for the behemoths that provide the venture capital. As a result, we get outdated methods of distributions that are deemed “safer” or crap-filled content that, in the best case, takes away our basic rights.

Then, we have the classic case of the money controlling the vision. It is not at all uncommon for the one who provides the funds to try and control the direction of the work. Regarding works of art, this can be disastrous. Either the artist will bow down, castrate his ideas and release something deemed as safe-for-consumption or the whole thing may break up (Firefly anyone?). This is of course for the case where the idea is even picked up in the first place, for let us not forget the hundreds of musicians that are doomed to obscurity (good for them I say) because the blue shirts could not understand their style. Or how about the classic problem with video games, where a novel idea is not even considered unless proposed by someone like Will Wright, and even he had to fight for it.
Of course, the winner here is not the artist or creator but the venture capitalist, who most often than not is a publisher as well. RIAA, MPAA, EA and all the rest. The creator, even if he IS given copyrights to his work (something that does not happen in the game industry at all) has to follow strict rules because he has sold his soul of the strict contract he signed, or the rights are transferred to the publisher. This is why, for example, RIAA can sue fans of artist who do not condone such action. Furthermore, the creator gets the scraps from any work he produces which, unless he becomes insanely famous, does not even allow him to live off his work [1]. Those publishers then use these money, this ROI to either fund more works or to sue p2p users, lobby for laws that protect only their interests and search for ways to limit what we have access to on the net.

Solution

This problem, as I see it, can only be solved in one way; take the distributor-provided venture capital out of the equation. The ones that should be giving the money for the project are not the ones that are motivated by greed the ROI, but the ones that want to enjoy new content. The people themselves.

This, in turn leads to two problems. Coordination and Gathering.

Like I said before, the world has millions of people using the internet at the time and they grow by the second. If a number of them donated an insignificant number, say 2$ for a specific project, even the money for a major-budget movie should be easy to gather, and the more people that are aware of this, the less the cost for each individual donor.

In the past, coordinating such an effort, making all the millions of people donate money to a specific entity which in turn dealt with the game/movie/recording studios to create the content would be impossible. Not any more however, and we can thank technology for that.

There is a problem with donations of course. Most people donate after the work is done, depending on the quality. This works for many Free Software programs and websites that do not strictly depend on them, but cannot work for projects that need funds from the start. This is why I propose another donation scheme. The Public Venture or Up-front donations.

Vision

Imagine a website where various artists or studios have proposed projects or ideas along with the expected cost in detail. People from all over the world can see what has been proposed and donate money to whichever ones they would like to see produced. These funds are not immediately transferred to the creator but instead stored, or rather held electronically in the site, and available for withdrawal from the owner at any time he happens to change his mind.
If a project reaches it’s expected cost however, then the money is transferred to the creator who is free to begin his work. Furthermore the creator is also required to release the resulting work in the public domain, or perhaps under the Creative Commons or GPL and has a legal binding to finish the work he has been paid to do.

The site could gather contributors by word of mouth, the Free Software community already has a few hundred thousand people that contribute because they like it, and many more who just donate money. The P2P network is filled with people who dislike the Recording Industry and would love nothing less than to see an alternative method to it. Artist and creators can be reached as well. Just word of mouth again. Tell someone who knows someone…

I believe the benefits of such an approach, where the public provides the capital are evident but just for the record let me name some that come to mind.

  • The artist retains his copyrights in a way which does not limit what the public may do to his work. He is also paid adequately and someone truly talented will be capable of living off his work.
  • The public domain is enriched and people have access to much more content at a lower price.
  • Since there is no need to sell a product, there is no need to spoon-feed the people with advertisements and direct them on what to enjoy. What is worthwhile is created, and what isn’t cannot gather the funds to do so. Original ideas have a chance to flourish as people have a chance to see them in the drawing board and the risk of failure is minimal for each person involved.
  • Quality is increased. There isn’t some publisher pushing for a Christmas deadline. There is no need to drive developers to the limit.
  • No more DRM, no more rookits in our content. No more lawsuits. No more payola, No more guilt. Artists are rewarded

Just imagine. How much would you donate if Josh Whendon offered to continue Firefly and release it on the public domain. If he wanted to gather $500.000 per episode, wouldn’t you give $5? The number of visitors to a medium popularity site would be enough to do it. The Digg’s visitors per day could donate 10 cents each and do it. And let’s not even talk about the numbers of the P2P pirate network.
What about Starcraft 2? Wouldn’t you give some money do finally see it and GPLed no less?

Epilogue

With this I’ll close this already lengthy post.
The power to change the world is already within our grasp, if only we realized it. As long as we keep twiddling our thumbs and let the powers that be lead us, we’ll continue to be handicapped and lose more of our rights with every day that passes. Fairplay, Vista and the “Treacherous Computing” are only the beggining…

PS: I wish to see this attempt happen and I’m certain it can be made to work. That said, if anyone wants to help me to attempts it, he or she is welcome to get in contact with me.