Monday, October 25, 2004:

In which I post a song and then rant a bit

Le Tigre -- Fake French
I put off today's post because I still hadn't decided what to post by the time I had to go to work. Then I came back and picked up this month's Wired, not because I wanted to read it--I didn't; I'm not that tech-savvy and not sure I want to be--but because I wanted the CD that came with it. It's got 16 tracks under a Creative Commons license, all cleared for sampling and sharing: from Dan the Automator to David Byrne to Zap Mama to My Morning Jacket.

I'm posting one of these because I think they are, in general, pretty damn good. Especially for $5. There's a brief writeup and track list here; the tracks are free to share so you can probably find them on your favorite p2p network.

Feel free to skip all the following: I haven't decided if I'm really making sense or if I'm just being a pretentious windbag. But if you do read it, I'd love to hear which you think it was. ^_^

I think the Creative Commons is exciting because it reverses the traditional position of copyright: copyright assumes that you must get permission before doing anything with anyone else's creation, which is a problem if you can't find the copyright holder or if the copyright holder doesn't want you using his or her work (that happened recently with a documentary made criticizing Hollywood's glorification of violence. Obviously for a film like that it's helpful to use the footage you're talking about, but the studios weren't interested in cooperating, so the film never got distribution.) Apparently the First Amendment is for the wealthy only--licensing footage, samples, excerpts etc. is not cheap--and sometimes it's not even for them, if you're saying something too much against what the copyright holders already think. I'm not sure if I agree with the film maker's premise--I haven't seen the film--but I would have liked to have a chance to see the work and decide for myself.

People tell you to vote with your pocketbook, but copyright is standing there like a poll tax collector--if you can't afford to buy the right to free speech, your only vote is an abstention; you are not allowed to speak in public.

Creativity results from the intersection of ideas, right? Metcalfe's Law, talking about the value of a computer network, has it that the value of any communication system grows exponentially with the number of users on the network--it makes sense, if you've ever logged onto AIM when none of your friends are on. Just a decade ago it was nearly unimaginable to have first-person accounts of something going on on the other side of the world, and to be able to talk frequently and at length with people on the other side of the world, but it's becoming increasingly common. Globalization is networking the world. IMO the value of that network is in the communication; and the value of the communication is in the number of ideas available on the network: with each new input the potential for creativity increases exponentially. Or it would, except for copyright.

Intellectual property isn't property; I can give my idea to you and it doesn't diminish its value--all it will diminish is my ability to make money off that idea, and then that will happen only if you can execute my idea better than I can. The only intellectual property I can have is an idea that I never share, and even then people can still arrive at "my" idea independently. It's happened with any number of inventions, so why not be able to patent or copyright everything, up to and including the combination of beans and rice? IP is an artificial monopoly, and it's getting an unhealthy bit of government protection. Creative Commons matters, and the public domain matters, and every time copyright is extended there's much less you and I can talk about meaningfully and forcefully, and public discourse loses.

I'm not sure when it was decided that commerce should trump freedom of speech, but that's not a decision I agree with. I think it's exactly backwards. Using economics as a barrier to free speech is inherently classist and undemocratic; the public welfare is more important than private wealth (and no, I don't believe trickle-down works--if it did, would the middle class be vanishing, and at such an alarming rate?)

Anyway, now that Creative Commons has come about, artists have a clear and easy way to be proactive about allowing others rights to their work. I think it's a good start towards a solution of a thorny problem.

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