When I wrote an article for FSM a few years ago about 3D printing it was a big topic in the open-source community but it had not yet gone fully mainstream. If there was one thing guaranteed to make 3D printing explode onto the mainstream news media it was an item about someone "printing" a gun. That got your attention, didn't it? Mine too. It's controversial of course but it might just be the beginning of a rerun of the Napster/Piratebay episodes in the 21st century - with the inevitable debate between patent-free, non-hierarchical open-source models and patent-encumbered proprietary software and hardware. Napster was a ripple. 3D printing will be a tsunami.
Lovers and users of free and open source software are a hardy bunch. They've seen it all: Microsoft EULAs, DRM, UEFI, proprietary software and constant attempts to prevent end users jailbreaking and rooting the devices they paid for with hard-earned cash. If you think you've seen and heard it all, well, you haven't. Apple may have trumped them all with a possibly unique EULA.
Recently, as I was browsing the shelves of my local used book store, I realized that I was engaged in "piracy" of exactly the same kind as what the legacy entertainment industry has slammed as a scourge so terrible that it is worthy of giving up our online freedoms to protect. This is what SOPA is supposed to protect us from.
One of the most irritating myths promulgated by the entertainment industry is the idea that copyright is an ethical imperative because it's bad to "steal other people's ideas". This is frequently combined with an illustrative story of plagiarism -- in other words, a situation in which someone fraudulently claims credit for someone else's work. Of course, this is nonsense. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are two completely different things. Although they sometimes occur together, there are many examples of either without the other. And if your eyes just glazed over -- no problem: Nina Paley has made it easy with her new Minute Meme for QuestionCopyright.org, called "Credit is Due".
Earlier today (March 24th, 2010), I submitted this response to the IPEC call for public comment on future Intellectual Property enforcement policy. Given the short notice (only six days!), I was not able to come up with a more detailed response, but I did want to express my dismay at the way these policies are being framed.
Free software exists in a kind of "special trade zone" within the existing copyright system, defined by free copyleft licenses like the GNU General Public License (GPL). Free culture has created similar zones with tools like the Creative Commons' licenses. We usually consider that to be sufficient. Yet we are often frustrated by the desire to interface with the rest of our culture, and sooner or later we'll all have to face the big bugbear that is reforming the copyright system. Aside from a few vested interests in the entertainment industry, nearly everyone hates the system we've got -- it's clearly overreaching and ill-adapted to the electronic world of the internet. But what sort of system would we like? That's much more contentious. Here's a synthesis of a few prominent ideas of what real copyright reform might look like.
In lieu of today's regular column, I've decided to present an edited transcript of a very informative interview of Nina Paley by Thomas Gideon of "The Commandline Podcast." Paley has been doing a lot of interviews since her free-licensed release of "Sita Sings the Blues" and her subsequent work with QuestionCopyright.org (specifically her two "Minute Meme" animations: "Copying Is Not Theft" and "All Creative Work is Derivative") -- reading them all would be quite a bit of work. But this interview is possibly the best -- covering all of the major issues she's been talking about in what I thought was a very insightful way. So: kudos to Nina Paley and to her interviewer, Thomas Gideon, and I hope you find this text version interesting.
There seems to be no respite from the predations of Microsoft FUD and the machinations of Big Business. Just when it seemed safe to come out of the closet and admit to being a user of free and open source software without being accused of being a Communist, it appears that we are now criminals too--even if we are not using pirated versions of proprietary software. The culprit this time is something called "Special 301", an annual review of the status of foreign intellectual property laws carried out under the auspices of the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) which is an Executive Office of the President. It's definition of criminal would make criminals of every single user of FOSS.
How do you deal with an entrenched content industry that tries to pump its twisted values down your throat with ludicrously illogical emotional appeals? Well, one way is to fight fire with fire by making your own emotional appeals, and trust to the viral amplification of free culture distribution to get the message out. This is the essence of the "minute meme" idea from Question Copyright, and animator Nina Paley has fired the first volley with her one-minute animation "Copying Is Not Theft."
"Sita Sings The Blues" by self-taught animator Nina Paley, may be the first feature-length animated film released under a free license (the Creative Commons By-SA). Presented through a variety of animation styles and narrative tones, it fuses apparently disparate ideas and sources into a unified whole. An ancient Hindu epic, The Ramayana, is retold largely through the songs of a 1920s American singer, Annette Hanshaw. The mode of storytelling also mirrors aspects of the world-wide collaborative potential of twenty-first century art, reflected also in the film's real life controversies, including copyright entanglements and censorship concerns.
It can be hard to get paid for producing free-licensed works. Software represents a niche where a lot of exceptions can be found, but for aesthetic works, the problem is severe. This has spurred a lot of innovative ideas for better incentive systems. Along the way, though, the most obvious and simple solution has mostly been overlooked: just re-implement the traditional limited copyright idea in a way that makes sense for the 21st century. Here's a simple solution that I call "FLOW-IT" for "Free Licensing Of Works -- In Time," which simply leverages existing Creative Commons licensing to do the job.
By rights, copyright really shouldn't apply to binary executables, because they are purely "functional" (not "expressive") works. The decision to extend copyright to binaries was an economically-motivated anomaly, and that choice has some counter-intuitive and detrimental side-effects. What would things in the free software world look like if the courts had decided otherwise? For one thing, the implementation of copyleft would have to be completely different.
Hypothetical? Academic? Not if you're a hardware developer! Because this is exactly what the law does look like for designs for physical hardware (where the product is not protected by copyright).
I was surprised to find that I have never seen nor heard of this movie before it just suddenly appeared in Google video today. Called Alternative Freedom the Movie I just couldn't resist.
Doseone (rapper: pop culture commentator) DJ Danger mouse (mix maker extraordinaire) Richard Stallman (The Grand philosopher of Free Software) Lawrence Lessig (Super lawyer, creator of Creative commons) Andrew "Bunnie" huang (reverse engineering pro)
"IPRED2", a proposed EU directive to criminalise copyright, patent, and trademark infringement, will be voted on next week in Strasbourg. The MEPs are talking about it in their meetings this week, so it is important to contact them as soon as possible to tell them what we think.
I will be sending an open letter from FSFE to the MEPs tonight, after translations are completed.
The free software world is experiencing another legal storm. This time, the trouble doesn’t involve a big company attacking a free software project—this time, you could probably call it a “civil war”. A former contributor to Pligg (a very important free software content management system for creating digg-style sites) intends to take Pligg’s developers to court. I managed to talk to Eric Heikkinen, the co-founder of Pligg, and ask him a few questions...
TM: Hello Eric. Please tell our readers a little about yourself and Pligg.
Do you remember that old game that you used to play all the time? Do you still play it? It probably isn’t free software. Do you wish it was? Sometimes writing a clone of a game is a lot of work compared to the amount of work it takes to relicense one. Here is a story about how one group of people are going about freeing the game known as “Moria”.
There are a lot of important and exciting discussions currently taking place around issues concerning the ownership of ideas. The thoughts and the accompanying practices surrounding the subject have been formed through a diverse range of alliances, interests and motivations. The arguments are becoming increasingly polarised into distinct methods and approaches that already challenge and govern, not only our lives and working practices, but also, our ability to communicate.