Over on the Creative Commons weblog, there’s a short fascinating interview with a “gonzo SF novelist” about how three years of making his works available for free download has changed his way of thinking about “intellectual property” and “digital rights management” and stuff like that there. Check it out.
By Harold | April 27, 2006
Throughout the public interest community, one can find much wailing an gnashing of teeth over today’s Commerce Committee mark up of the Communications Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE). “A Bad Day for Media Democracy” reads the headline at Save Access.
Well, I’m not happy with COPE so far, but I think it turned into a good day for democracy, with better days to come. Because if you thought today was grim, you weren’t here for the absolute spanking net neutrality got in subcommittee in the beginning of April. In the week since the SavetheInternet campaign got underway, four democrats switched their votes on Net Neutrality from “anti” to “pro.” The day before mark up, the Republican chair of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust in the Judiciary Committee and their new task force on telecom declared all out war against the Commerce Committee effort to eliminate a free and open internet. The telcos, who earlier this month boasted they could get the bill past both houses and signed into law before the election recess, don’t sound nearly as confident despite today’s win.
What changed? Until the Subcommittee Spanking, folks let the tech companies do the heavy lifting and fought by the standard lobbying play book. Hill meetings, inside the beltway briefings, insider baseball, blah blah blah. Google v. Verizon, people said, and tuned out. And while the tech lobbyist worked with us public interest folks, one could not help but detect a certain — how shall I put it? — condescension and cluelessness as to how this “public interest” stuff really works. It kinda felt like posing for photo ops, while the “real” decisions about spending money on messaging and what strategies to persue and the ever-important smoke filled room meetings never involved anything as messy as the public.
And, as usual, the tech folks got spanked. Spanked real good. The kinda spanking you usually have to pay good money for if you fancy that kind of thing. Because despite having more money than the telcos and cable cos combined, the tech cos can never win using telco and cable co rules. Because the telcos and cable cos wrote the goddam rules and have played this game by this rulebook for a longer than most tech CEOs have been alive. As a result, the telcos and cable cos are very, very good at it. Meanwhile, as my friend and fellow traveller Jeff Chester at CDD observed the tech companies still can’t figure out how to play this game, or what they want to get out of it if they could figure it out. Or maybe they just like getting spanked, and miss the days when the intellectual property mafia would toast their little bottoms for them with legislation like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
So, while still working with the tech lobbyists etc., the folks in the public interest community finally said “Screw this. You guys may be into getting spanked, but we prefer winning. And the way you win in democracy is by busting open the process, getting people to see what’s at stake, and reminding elected officials that their job is to do what’s best for their constituents not to referee industry food fights.” And thus, through the work of Free Press, Common Cause, Moveon and a host of others, was the SavetheInternet campaign born. And when the mainstream media refused to cover the story as too technical or boring or against the interest of their parent mega-companies, 500 bloggers took up the cry. And all this free speech stuff, that the telcos and the cable cos and the memebrs of Congress ignored because it doesn’t have a trade group and you can’t quantify it in dollar terms, really worked. And more and more people are writing letters and calling members and reminding them that there’s an election this fall.
There’s a lesson here; one backed up by the utter triumph of the pro-munibroadband forces against proposed amendments to outlaw munibroadband, or even to grandfather existing state-level bans. YOU CAN’T OUTSOURCE CITIZENSHIP. You can’t let “the tech companies” or even “the consumer advocates” or anyone speak for you. Citizenship carries responsibilities that go beyond the ritual of voting every two years. But when citizens wake up and speak up, and speak to each other, they find — to their surprise — they are strong. They find they have power. And they find that being a citizen may take hard work, but it is so, so, SO much better and more satisfying than being a couch potato. As the great Jewish sage Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not me then who? If not now, when?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the tech companies are on our side. They have a lot to offer, lots of resources, and, if they decide they are tired of of playing by the old rules and getting spanked, can really help push this effort over the top. But if we as citizens let this degenerate to a fight with Google, Microsoft and Silicon Valley venture capitalists who like tech start ups on one side v. AT&T, Comcast and Wall Street analysts who like monopolies on the other, with Congress brokering a deal between the two, then we citizens lose no matter which side wins. We can, we must, speak for ourselves.
When Ben Franklin left the Constitutional Convention someone shouted to him from the crowd “Mr. Franklin, what have you given us?” He answered “A republic — IF YOU CAN KEEP IT.” The Sausage Factory of democracy is a messy business, but it’s worth it. We can either let other folks make the sausage and eat whatever shit they put in, or we can wade in and make sure it comes out alright. We lost today’s battle. But we are turning the tide in the war. And if we keep growing and going like we have in the last week, we will win.
Stay tuned . . . .
By John | April 26, 2006
Please, please, please do your part.
Some helpful suggestions here at savetheinternet.org.
By Harold | April 25, 2006
Most folks reading this will have heard about the Communications Opportunity and Enhancements Act of 2006, aka COPE. I shall blog more thoroughly on this presently. For now, I want to focus on a narrow issue that may get lost in the shuffle: the efforts of Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) to accomplish for his telco masters what AT&T could not accomplish in his home state — killing muni broadband.
By Harold | April 22, 2006
Back in December 2005, I wrote this piece suggesting that it might not be smooth sailing for the proposed deal between Comcast and Time Warner to split the bankrupt Adelphia systems between them and achieve total cable dominance. At the time, I was a lone voice suggesting that the split at the FCC might force the companies to chose between accepting conditions or walking away, especially as Adelphia creditors demand that the parties close the deal and come up with the money.
Apparently according to this article in Variety, I am no longer a lone nut or in denial. The endless delay and the likelihood that the FCC will impose conditions (despite the party-line green light the Federal Trade Commission gave at the end of January) has a number of analysts suggesting the deal may crumble in the face of creditor concerns and possible “deal breaker” conditions on access to regional sports networks and net neutrality.
Meanwhile, Robert McDowell’s nomination as fifth FCC Commissioner, on whom Time Warner and Comcast pin their hopes to break the tie and prevent real coditions on the merger, remains stuck in the Senate. McDowell is non-controversial, but scheduling a vote remains hostage to the vagaries of Senate politics. Senators can place a hold on any nominee for any reason. McDowell has been caught up in various controversies and thus remains in limbo. Given the short legislative calendar this session, because folks want to rush back home and campaign, it is possible that McDowell will remain in limbo until the fall. Or he may get cleared by a Senate vote when they come back this week.
If you were an Adelphia creditor, would you want to bet on the timing? Or would you rather see the deal close? And that gets you fighting with TW and Comcast.
Hmmmm….. maybe the other bids weren’t so bad after all. Anything would clear more easily than this mess. And wouldn’t it be nice to get paid?
Stay tuned . . . .
By Stearns | April 20, 2006
As lots of Croqueteers already know, we have FINALLY released version 1.0 (Beta) of the Croquet Software Developer’s Kit. (The Web site is new, too.) This is the first released version of the Croquet innards that does all the stuff that Croquet is supposed to do: shared simulations in spatial environments in order to achieve a collaborative build/use environment with social presence.
Being open source with a very liberal license, we expect a lot of stuff to be built in, around, and on the SDK. In particular, there’s still room for folks to define an APPLICATION that Joe-Random-User can just pick up and USE. There are plenty of working demos in this new release: they’ll be particularly meaningful to developers who play with them and the code a bit. More to come…
By John | April 20, 2006
Step right this way!
If you’re looking for what Cory Doctorow calls my “gonzo hacker novels”, you are almost there. Click on the images on the top left of this page.
The creator of the illustrations for The Pains, Matthew Frederick Davis Hemming, is selling prints of the illustrations. Check out his site too!
Speaking of Cory, check out the podcasts of his interview with me:
If you care about holding onto democracy and yer constitutional rights in today’s modern digital-futuristic world of today, check out Harold Feld’s Tales of the Sausage Factory. He’s written a lot of good stuff lately — on net neutrality, on the new FCC chairman, on collusion in FCC auctions, on municipal wireless & democracy. . . When Harold writes something it’s usually well written, informative, funny, and very important.
Speaking of cool web n+1 software, isn’t about time that you checked out OpenLaszlo?
In conclusion, let me beg for money. Please buy one of my books (or make a paypal donation as a token of value received for the free downloads).
By John | April 18, 2006
It started with a simple sentence in a Kuro5hin diary. Farq Q. Fenderson wrote,
“I woke up this morning with a pain in my body that felt like it might be a soul gone bad.”
I was struck by that conceit. What might “a soul gone bad” feel like? And how would you know? What would cause it? And by the way, what exactly does that phrase mean, “a soul gone bad” : Bad like falling irremediably into sin? Or bad like rotten meat? I liked the way Fenderson wrote, “pain in my body”, making explicit and emphatic the distinction between a soul-pain and a bodily pain.
(The rest of that diary entry is pretty intriguing as well, but in a much less mystical way.)
For weeks that sentence ran around in my head. Eventually I wrote to Farq Q. and asked him if he would mind lending it to me for a story I could feel bubbling up within me. Fenderson responded afirmatively right away. The bubbling up, however, took a while. In fact the story bubbles still.
By Stearns | April 18, 2006
She put copies onto DVDs with nice printed labels for distribution. I would have thought that seeing the physical product would give us a sense of completion and having accomplished something. It was nice, but it didn’t quite close the effort.
Then we uploaded the bits to Google Video and waited for review before it was accessible. And waited. And waited. And then one day we just checked to see if it was up. Bingo! We watched it over and over again. I was struck by how much greater the sense of accomplishment in seeing the video up on Google, available for world-wide viewing.
This is the new distribution. This is the Age of Imagination.
By Harold | April 18, 2006
Wanted to share with you the ongoing problems folks at United Church of Christ (UCC) (a frequent client of my employer, Media Access Project), are having with getting an advertisement of their on the air. As some of you may recall, the United Church of Christ has found it difficult to buy air time for advertisements urging folks to come to church. Please note, that’s BUY airtime. UCC has not asked for a freebie public service announcement.
Apparently, the message that Jesus ministers to everyone regardless of whether they are mainstream or not is still too “controversial” for mainstream networks. Worse, and further proof of the power of consolidation to supress debate, the cable networks owned or affiliated with the broadcast networks have now joined in the black out of UCC’s controversial “God loves everyone” message. Even the Viacom gay and lesbian network has rejected the advertisement (apparently a church that actually welcomes members of their target audience is too controversial).
For anyone who laughs at the idea that a “free market” will willingly forgo revenues just to block potentially unpopular speech, I advise you to look again. You can read a god op ed on the matter here.
Below I reprint a letter from the Rev. Bob Chase, the head of UCC’s Office of Communication, describing the situation.
As an Orthodox Jew, I am not myself a member of UCC. But I know what it is to be non-mainstream. Anyone who cares about ensuring a free and robust exchange of ideas in this country should ask why UCC can’t find anyone to sell it air time. Is it UCC’s activism on media ownership issues? Their “controversial” decision to appeal to non-mainstream (e.g., gay) parishoners?
And what makes you think the next “controversial” message about your favorite cause will get through?
Stay tuned . . . .