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This Week In The Fight For Digital Culture

Much in the way of interesting and infuriating has gone on this week in the areas of intellectual property, privacy, digital rights, open source and Googlization. A lot of it comes down to the rights of citizens and businesses in a networked society both parties helped create, the crucial need to protect the public domain, where innovation lies and the golden rule: he who has the gold (in this case, money and political power) makes the rules.

IP ALLIANCE TO OPEN SOURCE: YOU’RE PYRATES. ME: YARRRR! Like anti-healthcare legislators who take money from insurance companies, the US-based International Intellectual Property Alliance and its friends in congress should not have any say in determining the future of copyright and intellectual property, and how other countries set their own IP laws. Instead, the IP Alliance wants the United States to consider a Pirate or Enemy Of The State any nation that uses and encourages free/open-source software. Indonesia is the latest nation on the Alliance’s 301 watchlist for having the audacity to give “preference to free/open-source software because it will cost less and reduce the use of pirated proprietary software in government.”

That’s Apache, Blender, GNU packages, Linux packages, Perl, Python, Ruby, Thunderbird and WordPress, for starters. While I fully agree with Cory Doctorow that “this is like crack dealers campaigning against having a laugh with friends because happiness reduces the need for intoxicants,” what angers me about it is the sheer hypocrisy of the IP Alliance and the businesses it represents. Any technologist or R&D person will tell you that an astonishing number of these same companies use free/open-source software to maximize their technology budgets, innovate using these free tools and then slap patents and all kinds of proprietary-IP stickers on their final products. You think I’m kidding? The Recording Industry Association of America website runs on Apache and PHP. *facepalm*

No, kids, Walt Disney did not invent Cinderella and Snow White. Just like Disney built its fortune by copyrighting works in the public domain, the IP Alliance fosters this unethical business model: Build on or monetize free or cheap ideas and technologies that have come before, and then shut off these alternatives by buying yourself several congresspeople. (And people wonder why the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision was so dastardly and wrong.) When the technology world clamors for automation, standardization and interoperability, i.e. different systems of different capabilities playing together more efficiently, is not the time to make useless noise against open standards and technologies. During a recession when innovation is key, charging $1000/lb for a sack of shit top dollar for clunky, mediocre products and enforcing these as preferred solutions with political bribery, in lieu of free, shared and open source technologies, is stupid and tantamount to the communism Real Americans so fervently dread.

SPYCAMGATE Schools spy on kids through webcams. This shocker made it into the mainstream news, so I’m sure all of you know about the class action lawsuit filed against Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion School District and associated offenders by now. What you probably don’t know is that this is not an isolated incident. In the PBS Frontline Digital Nation documentary, which aired earlier this month, a Bronx school administrator boasts that he regularly monitors students remotely through their school-issued laptops. Parents: This is an egregious violation of privacy, especially using property purchased with your taxes. Take this opportunity to check your kids’ equipment, know your rights and read Cory Doctorow’s Creative-Commons-published Little Brother before he is thrown in the brig with the Indonesians.

PLEASE ROB ME & SCRUB MY KITCHEN FLOOR WHILE YOU’RE AT IT Despite being an IT professional or perhaps exactly because of it, my husband has no social media accounts. He can be contacted solely via email, phone or the occasional private IM. D’s rationale is that there is enough information about him out there, should someone choose to search hard enough or pay enough, that he doesn’t need to feed the beast. Conversely, Twitter Queen (someone at work actually called me this today) here is still not afraid that someone is going to rob my house when I’m gone and tweet from the road because they have to a) know where I live and b) say hello to aforementioned big, burly husband if he happens to be home. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. You’ll just have to find out. Big, burly Neighbors 1 and 2 and crazy hunter dude with shotgun may be around, too, so take your chances.

Patrix comes closest to pointing this out, but if you are smart about what social media outlets you pick, employ the highest privacy settings and don’t declare your street address or UTM coordinates, you can tell the whole world you’re leaving your jewelry and electronics on the back porch and are going away for a month and folks will not be able to use social media to locate your home. Unless they bribe your crappy friends, in which case you’re screwed anyway and it’s not Twitter’s or FourSquare’s fault.

MORE BAD NEWS FOR GOOGLE Google’s Top Executives Defied Italy’s Privacy Laws Except this time, I’m on Google’s side. They did not act quickly enough to pull down a YouTube video that showed kids bullying an autistic/handicapped boy, which violates Italy’s privacy laws, but this may be the only chance for justice for the assaulted child. Should the kid’s guardians sue, the video may be thrown out as evidence for being fruit of the poisoned tree (assuming Italy does assault lawsuits & has similar legal code). This is a tough one: Do we allow Google to flout international laws in humanitarian ca(u)ses, but complain loudly that we don’t want a large corporation in our business when it comes to our email and Buzz? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

BOOK Tarleton Gillespie, law-technology-media-culture professor and blogger, was at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on February 23rd to speak about the politics of online media platforms. I wasn’t able to attend but am waiting on responses from friends who did attend. Gillespie’s book Wired Shut: Copyright and the Shape of Digital Culture nicely sums up the fight for digital culture and the links in this post. From the Wired Shut website:

… the enforcement of copyright law in the digital world has quietly shifted from regulating copying to regulating the design of technology

… this approach to digital copyright depends on new kinds of alliances among content and technology industries, legislators, regulators, and the courts, and is changing the relationship between law and technology in the process. The [print,] film and music industries are deploying copyright in order to funnel digital culture into increasingly commercial patterns that threaten to undermine the democratic potential of a network society.

That’s it for This Week In The Fight For Digital Culture. Keep thinking. Keep fighting.

4 comments… add one
  • Blair February 27, 2010, 8:51 AM

    I’ll think – and I’ll fight if I have any strength left after battling the hypocrites who are trying to nationalize health care.

  • Maitri February 27, 2010, 9:30 AM

    Hey, Bush’s Patriot Act was just renewed with NO civil liberties protections whatsoever. Where was & is the federalization outrage there? When it comes to healthcare for their fellow Americans, as insurers increase rates for patients & doctors alike with no regulation, everyone gets up in arms. Spy on my neighbor, that’s cool, let me fix you some coffee. Give them access to healthcare, grab the placards & pitchforks, honey, we’re at war!

  • jeffrey February 27, 2010, 10:12 AM

    My God that Frontline story is frightening. What if people our age went through middle and high school where the principal could just come in and read through everyone’s notebooks at any time? I would have never written anything down.

  • Maitri February 27, 2010, 2:57 PM

    You mean if the principal could come over to your house and watch what you did in your room & take photos? I wouldn’t have emerged from under my sheets. Which would have been fine with me.

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