Free for all

16 05 2011

Mosh Pit

Most schools and libraries impose restrictions on Internet access.  To protect kids, so they say, but also to keep users from doing things they shouldn’t.  It’s all about control.  But it doesn’t work very well, because the filters have major flaws.  People trying to access legitimate sites to do research or to download material needed for projects are often stymied.  (Try getting information on breast exams, for example.)  And the kids quickly manage to find loopholes in the filters that let them access games and other naughty stuff anyway.

One solution might be better filtering software.  Another is to do what the director of our library chose to do; just dump the filters and allow patrons free access.  We are there to facilitate freedom of information, not to peer over our glasses suspiciously and pass judgement.  But if we walk by the computer and notice someone drooling over hardcore porn, we inform them politely that this is hardly appropriate in a place where toddlers are running about, and they may consider their computer privileges revoked until they can behave themselves.

At home, we don’t have filters, either.  Our kids have free access and we don’t interfere in their choices. We’ve talked to them about the dangers of cyberbullies and stalkers, about porn and advertising (often indistinguishable).  We’ve taught them to think critically and to ask us if there’s any question.  I check in with them now and then to see what they’re up to.  I’m usually amazed at what they’ve dug up.  They play with it, they get inspired, come up with their own spin, and send it out for somebody else to find.

The Internet is a lawless place, where a wrong turn could land you in a bad neighborhood full of violence and predatory cruelty.  You need to learn how to avoid those neighborhoods.  The Internet is also a loud, frantically busy marketplace, where you can make a fortune or get fleeced down to your underwear.  You need to learn how to find trustworthy vendors and keep the pickpockets from robbing you blind.  There are thieves and pirates around every corner.  If you set up shop in this market, you run the risk of getting robbed.  But you also have the opportunity to make your name.

The Internet is redefining the meaning of intellectual property.  Part of the new paradigm is Creative Commons licensing, trying to impose a little structure on what’s happening anyway.   Those who cling to the old paradigm fume about the crime of piracy, the need for legislation, the problem of enforcing traditional copyright laws.  There’s talk of regulating the Internet to get rid of the bad neighborhoods, to crack down on criminal activity.  Some are trying to work within the realities of the new paradigm to stop piracyOthers look at piracy as a blessing in disguise.

The Internet is a reflection of all the human beings who feed into it.  Humans have their evil side, which thrives on brutally exploiting others for their own pleasure and profit.  But humans also have their social side, which loves chatting and sharing.  Most marvelous of all, we are creative.  We do art, and lots of it.  The Internet is the greatest creating and sharing tool since the printing press.  Maybe even since the invention of language itself.  It’s astonishing, amazing, utterly unpredictable, and completely out of control.

Never mind should, can the Internet be regulated?  Some governments try very hard, with a certain amount of success.  The results are not very encouraging.  Rules designed to protect often backfire or have unintended consequences.  Creativity and communication get stifled in the process.  Revolutions happen anyway.  Geeks and idealists always find a way to burrow through the walls.  So do criminals.

We may have to accept that this is the new paradigm.  Let the freedom to create and share roll, because the benefits in artistic and intellectual growth may prove far greater than the ugly dark side which will inevitably grow with it.  It’s like massive climate change; if we can’t control it, then we have to figure out how to live with it and even thrive in it.  Adapting; that’s something humans do very well.

It’s not about control.  It’s about learning how to deal with freedom.

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3 responses

16 05 2011
Brenna Lyons

If it wasn’t illegal to steal a loaf of bread, or the law forbidding it was never used to successfully prosecute the crime, very few people would be honest enough to pay for one. That’s not to say I want to break my back chasing down downloaders.

And therein lies the problem that many people don’t get. Forget about prosecuting the downloaders. Prosecute the UPLOADERS, since they are providing illegal goods to others. Prosecute the sites that make it possible, if they won’t work with us to stem the flow. Make it harder to commit IP theft, and definitely make it easier to purchase legal copies, and you have a chance of actually having your idea work.

A couple of quick examples?

Look at what’s happening on Amazon right now. You’ve got Amazon blocking the legal upload of IP by someone like me for up to two weeks at a time, making me jump through hoops for something I am legally allowed to sell. Their reasoning? They have a listing for a used print copy of the same title, that has been out of print for about 6 years, selling in their shops. Never mind that my legal name and pen name have been linked on Amazon Connect/Author Central, Amazon DTP/KDP, and Amazon Create Space for longer than that, which means they should be able to say: “Oh, yes. This author has been publishing through us, alone and via publishers, since Amazon Kindle was a newborn and before that for print.” Never mind that I’ve loaded the first half of the serial novel weeks earlier and already jumped through the same hoops for that half, which means they should be able to look back and say: “Ah…yes. We already did this with part one. Just put part two up.” Amazon won’t do that. They specifically told me they won’t shortcut, even if you are well known to them and obviously the copyright owner of the work.

But these self-same people are refusing to take down illegal copies selling when rights owners approach them, because they got up there to sell in the first place. So? It’s not like Amazon hasn’t made THAT mistake before. When approached by a copyright owner, the sites should have to comply. Safe harbor makes them think they don’t have to, and that’s just unethical, in the extreme.

Second example… You mentioned Creative Commons Licensing. I personally use that on free reads. Mine is very sweeping. People can pass along my free reads FOR FREE, as widely as they wish. It’s a free read for a reason…to bring in new customers. They are NOT permitted to alter the file or to use it for ANY FORM of commercial gain. Still, I have people on eBay every day, not only illegally selling my publisher-attached works, which are covered by the full scope of copyright, but also my Creative Commons Free Reads. What part of “you may not use this for commercial gain” is not clear? What makes these people think they have the rights to do this? What makes someone so unethical as to essentially steal, not from me but from the readers that SHOULD be getting the work for free, because that’s the license *I* attached to it?

Some people out there are so focused on the idea of “sharing” works, they are forgetting that many of us are not only dealing with that but also with the flood of IP thieves SELLING our works illegally. And the sharing sites and search engines making money off of the sharing and selling illegally of our works. To even make a dent, we have to enforce the laws on it being illegal to profit from the IP of another and make it stick. That means going after the sites that accommodate pirates and the uploaders that start the domino effect.

Brenna

16 05 2011
Trish W.

Thanks for the post @Justine and the reply @Brenna! Both are very enlightening. I’ll admit, my response is more musing than any answers. I did a series on copyright and art and such last year around this time on my blog and my final conclusion was that there was no easy conclusion.

We can make laws to prevent piracy, but we have laws to prevent murder, abuse, and theft – yet each of those things still happen with frequency. The victims aren’t always guaranteed justice with the laws, either.

More laws get passed and eventually, the victims and non-criminals rights get legally violated and we aren’t allowed to protect ourselves in our homes. (In MA, a man breaking into a house fell and sued the house owner, and WON!) I don’t know how much legislation over the Internet would help piracy and what cost the legislation would be on the rights of individuals who are putting things up for sale legally and purchasing things legally. Furthermore, with the way laws are currently working in the US and outside, is there a way we can even get laws drafted that don’t specifically favor the large corporations – like Amazon – or certain political points over individual or independent artists’ rights.

Would it be worth it to inspire programmers to create ways for independent artists to protect their work that fits with different Creative Commons licensing… to have it so the artist and only the artist could upload it to any pay site?

I don’t know – I’m not a programmer of any type. However, I think continuing this discussion and raising awareness of this issue is key, so what we’re doing here and on our lists, I believe, is a benefit to helping the artists without infringing on individuals’ rights. Keep talking!

17 05 2011
Brenna Lyons

One more note about the illegal selling…

I’ve found that sites like eBay and iOffer are even WORSE than Amazon about the whole subject of pirated copies selling. They absolutely refuse to ban repeat offenders. Against their own TOS, they do not notify prior purchasers that they have received counterfeit goods. Against their own TOS, they do not notify rights owners that they have been pirated in a bulk collection of ebooks. They drag their feet on the take downs so long that the illegal sellers manage to complete dozens of sales in the time they waste. They allow sellers to arrange for “off site” sales of further illegal copies that we can’t even track. They allow them to relist the same exact infringing auction/item again…minutes after the first was taken down, which starts the clock again. Oh, and don’t even get me onto them allowing sellers to use fictitious information in their bios and such when they get accounts.

Worse, eBay actively puts roadblocks in the way of authors trying to protect their IP. They allow bulk collections of ebooks to sell, which no reputable publisher/distributor is going to do. The ONLY person that might do collections this way would be individual authors. They tell their sellers that putting the ebooks on a CD makes it okay. WTH is that? They are giving incorrect information. They allow sellers to make the outrageous claim that they own the IP and are selling resale rights, creating a domino effect of illegal sellers on the same collection. Beyond that, they refuse to accept emailed take down requests from authors, even those that HAVE eBay accounts, until after the author has jumped through their OUTRAGEOUS hoops of faxing a 4 page form to them in the UK…international rates for US authors…and the faxed report has to be on a current, active infringement, which means a lot of authors miss the window, before the infringing auction finalizes. Remember them dragging their heels? They also allow collections to be listed without the seller ever listing what is included in them, and until someone can either purchase the collection illegally to check it (sort of defeats the purpose AND puts further strain on the authors, where it should not be)…or get the seller to admit the full list of contents, you cannot even file a take-down notice on the collection, because you have no proof it contains your work. Once the seller has been “burned” a few times, he/she simply stops replying to requests to list what is on CDs, even if the request comes from a new person asking. IOW, they are allowing infringers to duck and cover and give no aid to rights owners.

Mind you, I have asked eBay several times for changes that would make it easier for rightful copyright owners to police and report infringement…and would penalize the illegal sellers on eBay as a deterrent. eBay absolutely refuses to make any such changes, which tells me all I need to know about them.

B

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