Posts filed under Free Culture

Hypertext Wants To Be Free

From an article a couple weeks back, on anniversaries and Resurrected Landmarks, by Eric Meyer. Boldface mine.

It was just last week, at the end of April, that CERN announced the rebirth of The Very First URL, in all its responsive and completely presentable glory. If you hit the root level of the server, you get some wonderful information about the Web’s infancy and the extraordinary thing CERN did in releasing it, unencumbered by patent or licensing restrictions, into the world, twenty years ago.

That’s not at all minor point. I don’t believe it overstates the case to say that if CERN hadn’t made the web free and open to all, it wouldn’t have taken over the net. Like previous attempts at hypertext and similar information systems, it would have languished in a niche and eventually withered away. There were other things that had to happen for the web to really take off, but none of them would have mattered without this one simple, foundational decision.

I would go even further and argue that this act infused the web, defining the culture that was built on top of it. Because the medium was free and open, as was often the case in academic and hacker circles before it, the aesthetic of sharing freely became central to the web community. The dynamic of using ideas and resources freely shared by others, and then freely sharing your own resources and ideas in return, was strongly encouraged by the open nature of the web. It was an implicit encouragement, but no less strong for that. As always, the environment shapes those who live within it. . . .

— Eric Meyer, Resurrected Landmarks (May 8, 2013)

It’s worth noting that as hypertext technologies go, the web stack (HTTP, HTML 1) wasn’t the most sophisticated implementation; in many ways it still isn’t. But it was operational, and available, and learnable, and it was free and open. And that has made all the difference between science-fiction dreams and a fundamental, transformational shift within world culture, society and learning.

In other news, thanks to Eric for reminding me to wish a very happy belated 10th anniversary to CSS Zen Garden.

Real Good Friends Of Mine

Many years ago, when I was first setting up and preparing to migrate my blog over to it, I had already come around to completely rejecting so-called intellectual property. But I liked messing around with markup languages and microformats, and I was playing around with the new Creative Commons licensing gee-gaws, and I was not yet as thoroughly and acutely digusted with legalistic approaches or licensing formalities as I am now. So my way of making a statement at the time was to slap a CC-SA-BY logo on my website, and a long copyleft statement to go with it, which stuck around for the next 9 years. Man, that shit got boring.

So, back in February, I threw out my old copyleft notice for a new, Anticopyright statement. I didn’t put up much notice on the front page, but after everything that happened in January, and with the new work I’ve been doing for the past few years, I felt like it was time for a change. The old statement was an elaborate production, boring and full of legalistic notices, based around an explicit viral licensing scheme. I thought then — and, really, I still think now — that the open-access terms of copyleft licenses are — in the abstract — justifiable as a sort of legalistic kludge, to try to wedge open spaces for open content within the immensely shitty, locked-down political situation. But the more I’ve thought about it — and especially since re-reading William Gillis’s 100% anticopyright and re-printing Aaron’s Manifesto — the more I’ve felt like this was not nearly enough, and the more I felt like it was both conceding far too much of the argumentative ground, and also compromising far too much of my voice, as an enemy of copyright — for me to go on repeating those things with a straight face. So whatever good CC, GNU-FDL, and other copyleft licensing schemes have done to facilitate some of the technical aspects of the free culture movement, there is no legal solution to the problem of intellectual monopoly, and there will never be any solution at all except for a culture of widespread, radical, non-legalistic, ethically-grounded rejection of all claims of intellectual property, and a grassroots culture of social solidarity with remixers, pirates and other free copyists. The more brazen, the better. So I offer my anticopyright statement, such as it is, as a contribution to that culture.

. . . I don’t care anymore. It’s not enough to try to kludge the legalities of copy-monopolies from within. So-called intellectual property is in fact nothing more than a legally fabricated monopoly, suppressing competition and emulation, constraining creativity, confining culture, science and technology to captive, capitalist-dominated markets, and violently depriving many of the poorest and most marginalized from access to critical resources for education and life-saving medicines. The legal fictions of copyright and patent are despotic attempts to monopolize the human mind; power-psychotic burdens crippling and destroying individual ownership and the progress of grassroots culture and technologies; outrageous constraints on human intelligence and creativity; and a destructive and desperate protectionist scheme for the profit of powerful corporations. This web project is, in spirit and in letter, at war with every aspect of Intellectual Protectionism, in its principles — of monopolizing power, entitlement, social control and economic privilege — and in its operation — through increasingly invasive government policing and legal coercion — and in the disastrous global effects of patent and copyright restrictions.

I’ve been glad to see that some people found the statement useful, and have passed it around, even though I made the change fairly quietly behind the scenes of the website and didn’t make any particular effort to post notice on the front page. In the first part of my anticopyright notice, I wrote:

Copying is not theft, and when you reprint, duplicate or imitate you don’t deprive anyone of the work or the ideas that they had. . . . Copy, reprint, translate, make derivative works as you please. If you want to support the work, you can do that. But anyone found copying the content on these pages without permission, will be a real good friend of mine.

And so, with that in mind, here’s some real good friends of mine:

And most recently:

Thanks, y’all! I’m glad if you’ve found the writing useful; and I’m really quite honored if you’ve passed it around. If you’ve copied the free-copy-notice, and I didn’t catch it here, feel free to let me know in the comments.

This machine kills intellectual monopolies.

Political Aesthetics available free online

Good news, everyone. From Crispin Sartwell’s blog comes the announcement that his study on Political Aesthetics is now available for free online:

cornell tells me we can’t expect a paperback of political aesthetics anytime soon, so i’m putting the pdf of the proofs up onlne. i really think this is my best book.

— Crispin Sartwell at cheese it, the cops! (25 February 2013)

PDF is available here through Google Docs, and I’ve mirrored a copy here. Contents and a bit of the thesis:

Crispin Sartwell, Political Aesthetics

  • Introduction: The Idea of Political Aesthetics
  • Ch. 1. Leni Riefenstahl Meets Charlie Chaplin: Aesthetics of the Third Reich
  • Ch. 2. Artphilosophical Themes
  • Ch. 3. Dead Kennedys and Black Flags: Artpolitics of Punk
  • Ch. 4. Prehistory of Political Aesthetics
  • Ch. 5. Red, Gold, Black, and Green: Black Nationalist Aesthetics
  • Ch. 6. Arthistorical Themes
  • Ch. 7. Political Power and Transcendental Geometry: Republican Classicism in Early America
  • Ch. 8. Conclusion: Political Styles and Aesthetic Ideologies
  • Appendix: Suggestions for Further Study

Introduction: The Idea of Political Aesthetics

There are, of course, many connections between art and politics. For example regimes of all sorts—democratic, monarchical, communist, and all the rest—use and repress the arts in various ways for propagandistic purposes, to control or deflect public opinion. And much of what we take as fine art has explicitly political themes; this is truer now than ever, or was truer twenty years ago than ever, as artists expressed feminist, antiracist, animal rights, or AIDS activist ideology in their work, for example. These are important areas for investigation. But what I am calling the program or inquiry of political aesthetics begins with a claim that I think is stronger and more interesting.

Not all art is political, but all politics is aesthetic; at their heart, political ideologies, systems, and constitutions are aesthetic systems, multimedia artistic environments. The political content of an ideology can be understood in large measure actually to be—to be identical with—its formal and stylistic aspects. It’s not that a political ideology or movement gets tricked out in a manipulative set of symbols or design tropes; it’s that an ideology is an aesthetic system, and that this is what moves or fails to move people, attracts their loyalty or repugnance, moves them to act or to apathy. But the political function of the arts—including various crafts and design practices—is not merely a matter of manipulation and affect: the aesthetic expression of a regime or of the resistance to a regime are central also to the cognitive content and concrete effects of political systems. . . .

— Crispin Sartwell (2010), Political Aesthetics

Patents kill, part IV

Here’s some passages from a great letter to the editor of the Daily Herarld (Sint Maarten, Dutch Caribbean), by my friend and fellow C4SSer Nathan Goodman.

Deadly Contradictions: Patent Privilege vs. Saving Lives

In his 2013 State of the Union address, US President Barack Obama claims that the U.S. will help end extreme poverty by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths, and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, the president directly contradicted these goals earlier in his speech by pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is typically presented as a free trade agreement, but there’s one type of trade barrier it proposes to strengthen: Intellectual property. Patents and other forms of intellectual property restrict trade by granting monopolies on the sharing of an idea or the manufacture of a product. Intellectual property makes it illegal to use your own personal property to manufacture a product and sell it on the market once the state has defined the very idea of that product as someone else’s property.

Intellectual property harms consumers by raising prices. For some goods this is just an economic cost. But when it comes to medicine, the price increases associated with pharmaceutical patents cost lives.

As Judit Rius Sanjuan of Doctors Without Borders says, Policies that restrict competition thwart our ability to improve the lives of millions with affordable, lifesaving treatments. . . . The Trans-Pacific Partnership would expand these already deadly patent monopolies, further restricting access to lifesaving medicines. Tido von Schoen-Angerer of Doctors Without Borders wrote in 2011 that leaked papers reveal a number of U.S. objectives: to make it impossible to challenge a patent before it is granted; to lower the bar required to get a patent (so that even drugs that are merely new forms of existing medicines, and don’t show a therapeutic improvement, can be protected by monopolies); and to push for new forms of intellectual property enforcement that give customs officials excessive powers to impound generic medicines suspected of breaching IP. Each of these provisions would use government force to prevent poor people from accessing medicine.

It’s clear that entrenching patent monopolies contradicts Obama’s stated goals of saving the world’s children from preventable deaths and realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation. . . . Contradictions like this are nothing new for the state. While politicians repeatedly promise to protect public health, they have long used coercive power to raise medical costs, sacrificing public health for private profits. The state has long justified its power with the language of the public good, all while wielding that power to protect privilege.

If we really care about “saving the world’s children from preventable deaths” and “realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation,” we must end this murderous collusion between state and corporate power.

We must smash the state and its deadly contradictions.

— Nathan Goodman, Deadly Contradictions: Patent Privilege vs. Saving Lives, in The Daily Herald (February 18, 2013)

Read the whole thing. Many thanks to Nathan for a great letter on an important point.

Patents kill people. They mean that the pharmaceutical cartel can call up the armed bully-boys of almost every government in the world in order to enforce artificially high prices for their top money-makers; and that means that State violence is being used to prevent affordable, life-saving drugs from reaching the desparate and the poor. The multilateral so-called free trade agreements of the past couple decades — NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO, and now the TPP — selectively cut back on traditional industrial protectionism, but they simultaneously dramatically expand the scale, scope, and deadly reach of intellectual protectionism.

To hell with that. Intellectual property and patent privileges are not about incentivizing or encouraging or opportunities. Patents about pure, invasive force: invading other people’s property to force them to render long-term rents to corporate monopolists, long after the inventors have brought their ideas to market and long after they’ve stopped putting any particular work into what they are claiming to be theirs. A necessary corollary is that it also means invading those who offer incremental innovations based on the work that the patent holders control, unless those innovations comply with a very narrow set of guidelines for authorized use. They are tyrannical embargoes on creative intelligence, and prohibitions on the natural capacity to peacefully imitate, emulate and bring competing goods to market. Patnet holders have no right to do that, and they sure don’t have the right to do it at the expense of innocent people’s lives. A free society needs a free culture, free knowledge and free technology. Patents kill and freedom saves people’s lives. This is as dead simple as it gets. To hell with state monopolies; to hell with state capitalism.