A glimmer of hope from whitehouse.gov

A glimmer of hope from whitehouse.gov

Politicians in general are not terribly tech-savvy, let alone conscious of the most important intellectual freedom issues, but President Barack Obama does have a reputation of being more aware than most of the new media and new possibilities of the internet. The new US presidential website shows some promise that indeed, we now have a US president who isn't afraid of the future.

Let's face it, for techies like me (and probably you if you're reading this, but I don't want to presume), my main issues just aren't page one stuff for the mainstream. I care deeply about issues like striking the right balance between "intellectual freedom" and "intellectual property" and I care about long range issues like the development of extraterrestrial space for human prosperity.

I will say that I think intellectual freedom is of critical importance to the sustained innovation and application of technology, and that if we are to get out of our present economic woes, we need to embrace it

But it's pretty hard to claim that these issues can trump two wars in Asia, a collapsing banking system, and what is, according to some, simultaneously the most expensive and least effective health care system on Earth. There is also the matter of rejecting "as false, the choice between our safety and our ideals", of which the first step was taken today in halting the travesty going on in Guantanamo Bay (though there are many more steps that must be taken to reclaim any semblance of respect for human rights).

But then, given Barack Obama's job, I would run screaming in the other direction.

I will say that I think intellectual freedom is of critical importance to the sustained innovation and application of technology, and that if we are to get out of our present economic woes, we need to embrace it, and not try to prop up the old system of corporate hegemony that has brought us to this pass by clinging to the outdated revenue models of an intellectual property system that has gone completely mad. Paranoia about the ills of "rampant piracy" of information on the internet needs to give way to joy at the opportunities that widespread, low-cost sharing of information presents.

Well, the website looks freer anywayWell, the website looks freer anyway

I also think that development of solar power satellites in space (a technology fully conceived by the 1980s, but never developed or implemented) is the only real solution to our energy woes and dependence on oil. Frankly, we could have already implemented this system for what the US has spent on invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a shame we've already spent that money, and are planning to spend even more bailing out rich bankers who couldn't manage their businesses responsibly.

(Has there ever been a situation more demanding of laissez-faire capitalism than to let bankers who make bad investments go bankrupt? Sure, protect the homeowners -- I get that. But why do we need to protect billionaires from bankruptcy? I think they can take care of themselves, and is pretty clear that, being fully warned of the risks they were taking, they should be fully responsible for the consequences. But, hey, I'm not an economist, so what I do know?)

Most of my colleagues see space development as a Republican issue, despite the fact that it was a Democrat who started the US moon program (and a Republican who killed it). Certainly George Bush attempted to claim it (though at bargain prices: lots of words, but not a lot of money).

Obama, though, has said he wants to "restore science to its rightful place", so maybe there's a chance some of these issues will be looked at seriously. Of course, it is way too early to say with any certainty just how tech-savvy or pro-science or intellectual freedom the Obama administration will be. I don't even know yet whether the President's "weekly video address" will be in a free video format (surely it ought to be, but I have doubts about the reality).

There is this, though: the new whitehouse.gov website is a great deal more interactive and open than the firewall site that the Bush administration kept up as yet another shroud over the most secretive presidency in decades.

Wow. Free culture on the radar of the US President. That's new

And then there something else, from the "Copyright Policy" page (which is linked near the bottom of the front page). The first part is old hat (though it still makes me proud):

Pursuant to federal law, government-produced materials appearing on this site are not copyright protected. The United States Government may receive and hold copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

The interesting bit is this:

Except where otherwise noted, third-party content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Visitors to this website agree to grant a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the rest of the world for their submissions to Whitehouse.gov under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Wow. Free culture on the radar of the US President. That's new. I will decline comment on the DMCA notice that follows it. There'll be time for cynicism later.

Still, the fact that the authors of the White House website have even heard of the Creative Commons gives me hope. Maybe we'll be able to get that video address in Ogg Theora format after all. Given time, anyway.



sgrocott's picture
Submitted by sgrocott on

I recall seeing shots of various Obama campaign HQ's, where the PC screens displayed no fruit, and no 'flapping in the breeze multi-colored window', instead they showed some small human-like creatures right foot....

Terry Hancock's picture

That has to be a good sign.

The videos, BTW, seem to be available via two online sharing sites, including You Tube, and are also available as an MP4 download. I don't know whether there are any legal issues with the codec used, but pragmatically, it worked fine with the stock Debian VLC I have installed.

jimwelchok's picture
Submitted by jimwelchok on

Not every open source/free software supporter is a Democrat. Lets not bash Republicans in a tech article. Leave that for the political sites. You destroyed the integrity of your message with the hate speech.

Terry Hancock's picture

Disagreeing with someone, no matter how strongly is not "hate speech", and I do not "hate" Republicans.

I do disagree with them (sometimes violently) both in fundamental values and in strategic thinking, and I think there is ample objective evidence of the latter problem (the former being subjective by nature). I also have some disagreements with Democrats (as evidenced by my comments on the financial bail-out), though clearly not as many.

One cannot simply check one's values at the door when considering the politics of intellectual freedom, and I am certainly under no obligation to avoid talking about politics here, particularly as they impinge upon issues of importance to the free software community.

President Obama, in contrast to past Presidents of the US, has embraced new media outlets, the internet, and (apparently) free content to a much greater degree. IMHO, that has more to do with his age than his party affiliation -- but whatever the cause, it is a good thing from the point of view of our community.

Author information

Terry Hancock's picture


Terry Hancock is co-owner and technical officer of Anansi Spaceworks. Currently he is working on a free-culture animated series project about space development, called Lunatics as well helping out with the Morevna Project.