Intellectual Property

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Alienating Potential Allies

I'll admit, I was at first taken aback by Mike's implicit characterization of my opinions on open source and free culture as mere duckspeak, but then I saw Cindy's comment. The last thing I wanted to do was alienate anyone, to bifurcate the issue, or to attack anyone's credibility, but obviously I have contributed to doing all three, and for that I apologize. Mike is pointing out these rhetorical problems because he cares about open source, just as Charlie and I and many others do. So I'll try this again: my opinion, offered sincerely. I realize that I agree with a certain contingent of people, but these are my thoughts too.

Yes, I think that generally, people should use open source software and should allow derivative works of their content if possible, but not because someone's a poseur if he or she doesn't do those things, or that it's an all-or-nothing matter. Of course, there are circumstances under which other choices are more practical. I support open source software and open content because they help to free information--code and content, which I see as overlapping, as I've said elsewhere--and allow everyone (who has the hardware, that is) the opportunity to participate in building upon that information. It enables people who couldn't afford the software otherwise to use it. I know it sounds florid, but I support open content and open source because it's a beautiful, altruistic collaborative vision, a gift economy, people's helping each other by improving the software and content because they can, and want to. I genuinely believe that open content/open source can have a positive effect on knowledge-making on a global scale. [Update: Open source software and open content aren't the things that will be the undoing of global capitalism and make it so that we can live on love and tater pie in a glorious utopia; I don't mean to come across as that enthusiastic. Open source/open content can't, for example, solve the environmental and public health crisis in some developing countries that has been the result of discarded computer hardware.] I'd still argue that this goal is best attained by engaging all three layers of the internet:

The primary strategies for building the core common infrastructure are:

  • An open physical layer should be built through the introduction of open wireless networks, or a spectrum commons.
  • An open logical layer should be facilitated through a systematic policy preference for open over close protocols and standards, and support for free software platforms that no person or firm can unilaterally control. More important are the reversal or refusal to adopt coercive measures that prefer proprietary to open systems. These include patents on software platforms, and the emerging cluster of paracopyright mechanisms like the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act2 , intended to preserve the industrial business models of Hollywood and the recording industries by closing the logical layer of the Internet.
  • An open content layer. Not all content must be open, but intellectual property rights have gone wildly out of control in the past decade, expanding in scope and force like never before. There is a pressing need to roll back some of the rules that are intended to support the twentieth century business models. These laws were passed in response to heavy lobbying by incumbents, and ignored the enormous potential for non market production and decentralized individual production to become central, rather than peripheral, components of our information environment.

    See also Frank Field's notes on the stakes in this debate.

    Defining "Copyfighter"

    I've been thinking more about the copyfight/weblog software debate after seeing the subsequent posts from Charlie, Jeff, and Krista. Krista in particular, although she may not realize it, has really prodded me to think about my thoroughly unexamined use of the term "copyfighter." She definitely thinks it's important to contribute to the commons, as evidenced by the fact that she doesn't do "All Rights Reserved" on her weblog, but she doesn't self-identify as a copyfighter. What is a copyfighter, exactly?

    I define it rather broadly: To me, a copyfighter is someone who engages in conversations on authorship and intellectual property, even if the approach is oblique, as I'd consider Mike's to be. Moreover, copyfighters look at our current copyright model--automatic copyright, life + 70 years as soon as the content is put into a fixed medium--and express some kind of qualm about it; they think it should change in some way. To be more specific, I don't think one necessarily has to want to do away with copyright, advocate copyleft, or even support Creative Commons to be a copyfighter. I'd consider someone a copyfighter who thinks we should go back to the Founder's Copyright or, as Lessig has said in The Future of Ideas, the copyright laws we had in the Nixon administration.

    I hope this clarifies my prior post. To clarify further, I didn't mean to misrepresent Krista's research in any way, and I'm glad she set me straight on her views. Finally, I don't mean to come across as an open source zealot here. I do think the software overlaps with knowledge-making and content, and I find Benkler's and Lessig's arguments to that effect persuasive, but I'll be the first to point out that I use Windows 98 and will soon be using OS X, both proprietary. In fact, most of the software applications I use are proprietary and, truth be told, I would probably still be using Blogger if it weren't for Charlie, who installed Drupal for me and has given me a lot of tech support.

    Taking Copyfighters to Task

    Charlie is pointing out that there are many copyfighters who aren't using open source software for their weblogs. His point is well-taken; it makes me think of Yochai Benkler's contention that if the internet is really going to be free, it needs to be free at the physical layer, the logical layer, and the content layer. I noticed that there are more copyfighters who don't (yet) use open source software:

    Rad Geek and Mike are still with MT too, but I think they'll be switching soon.

    I am certainly not trying to pick on anyone here, and I know Charlie isn't either, but this is a kairotic moment for conversations about proprietary and open source software. To paraphrase Matt Barton's hyperbolic words playfully, let's remove our lips from the poisoned suckbottle of proprietary software and switch to the wholesome breast of open source. :)

    Update: See subsequent posts here and here.


    Blogging will be light for the next few days as I am at iLaw. I'm having a marvelous time! Much more later. :)

    Food for Thought Discussion at iLaw

    I finally got my blurb done for my Food for Thought discussion at iLaw Friday night. Donna Wentworth is also leading one, and it sounds terribly stimulating, as does the one Frank Field is leading. Too bad I'll have to miss them.

    Scholarly Publishing, Weblogs, and the Digital Commons

    Right now, we are in the midst of a shift in scholarly publishing from print to online and, some might argue, from a proprietary model to an open access model. A profusion of scholars are keeping weblogs, and many are licensing the content under Creative Commons licenses. Moreover, several online academic publications, including the forthcoming edited collection Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs, Classics @: The Electronic Journal of the Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University, and The Stanford Undergraduate Research Journal are publishing under Creative Commons licenses. As one who frequently converses with scholars about alternative publishing models, I will explain the resistance I have encountered to Creative Commons licenses, particularly those that allow derivative works. I hope to facilitate a fruitful discussion of ways that the current face of scholarly publishing can be changed, especially to the benefit of the public interest, libraries, and webloggers, who, I would argue, are making a significant and as yet unacknowledged contribution to knowledge-making in the academy.

    Darknet chapter drafts on a wiki

    JD Lasica, whose blog I should read more often, has put drafts of his book, Darknet: Remixing the Future of Movies, Music and Television, on a public wiki. He says:

    Goal: In the spirit of open media and participatory journalism, I'd like to use this wiki to publish drafts of each chapter in the book. I hope you'll participate in this effort by contributing feedback, edits, criticism, corrections, and additional anecdotes, either through the comments field below or by sending me email. Feel free to be as detailed as you like or to insert comments or questions. After all, you're the editor. (And remember, this is for a book manuscript, not a finished online document.) If you make a couple of helpful edits, I'll mention your name in the book's Acknowledgments (and buy you a drink next time we meet up).

    Although this would be even cooler if he were using a Creative Commons license or Founder's Copyright (and he may do that later, but this text is at the bottom of Chapter 1: "{Many users mistakenly believe that material on the Internet not accompanied by a copyright notice is fair game for taking. Not true. In any case: Copyright 2004 by J.D. Lasica.}"), I like this collaborative model and that he has given us free access to the book.

    Via Mary Hodder.

    Academic Journals With CC Licenses

    By way of the Creative Commons weblog come two journals that are publishing under Creative Commons licenses: Classics @ and The Stanford Undergraduate Research Journal. Both are using the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license; I'm especially pleased that they are allowing derivative works, and I hope more journals and other academic enterprises heed the call of this model. Allowing derivative works is good--doing so will only enrich the original work, not compromise it. Come on in; the water's fine. :)

    Essays/Research/Conference Notes Link

    You might have noticed that I've added a link at the top of the site to my essays, research, and conference notes. It's something I've been meaning to do for some time now; I was thinking that if anyone came here only wanting to see my essays and representations of my research interests, a portal to those would be in order so that sifting through everything in the Rhetoric and Feminism categories wouldn't be necessary. I've been admiring Andrew's "Recent Essays" section of his sidebar and Anne's research section for ages, and finally I've done my own. I'm still working on it; I probably need to break it down into shorter essays and longer essays in each category, and I think I'll take a cue from Anne and include an abstract (or annotation for the shorter essays) of each piece. I also need to put them in some order--chronological, reverse chronological, or alphabetical. Come to think of it, this is a great opportunity for me to write a statement of my research agenda.

    Edited to add: I meant for this to be a request for feedback. How do you think I should arrange the work here? Would you like to see it divided into short essays/long essays, rather than rhetoric and feminism? Reverse chronological? What?

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