SOPA solves the wrong problem. Let’s fix the right one instead.
The Stop Online Piracy Act is far from dead, but this week the White House released a statement rejecting the proposed approaches outlined in SOPA and PIPA .
The statement admits that the current legislation is unfixable, but tacks on the dubious statement that “online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response”. The assumption here is that, yes, SOPA went too far, but we need to move forward by passing some sort of legislation to give new legal tools to rights-holders to stop piracy.
We are expected to uncritically, and without any evidence, accept the notion that piracy is a significant cause of harm to our economy. Quite contrary to the evidence, we are expected to believe that piracy can be stopped with some chimerical piece of legislation that will magically enforce copyright without infringing on free speech, open knowledge, or technological innovation.
Tim O’Reilly just published a great post explaining that all this is a misguided effort to fix the wrong problem. He points out that piracy is a business problem, not a legal one, and that the proper solution for content creators is to adapt smart business models.
I believe that instead of pandering to the entertainment industry, we need to be rolling back the already overreaching “property rights” and “legal tools” of the rights-holders that have allowed them to cordon off our cultural and intellectual commons for the private benefit of big record labels and film studios.
For almost a century, copyright has been gradually ratcheted up, both in it’s term and it’s scope of eligible subject material. The original term of copyright was 14 years, with the possibility for renewal for another 14 years. Both the original copyright and the extension required the author to file for the protection.
Today copyright lasts for the creator’s lifetime, plus 70 years and Congress changed the law so that everything created by anyone is automatically copyrighted, even if the creator doesn’t want it to be.
The raison d’être of copyright was not the individual ownership of the author, but the societal benefit of a thriving cultural commons. With the incentive of a short period of government granted monopoly, we encouraged creators to publish their work, and get it into the public domain as quickly as possible.
In the U.S.A., nothing at all has entered public domain since 1976 and will not until 2019 thanks to all those copyright extensions. Tape reels containing our cinematic and musical heritage are disintegrating into dust because they are still locked away under copyright, though their creators may be long-dead. We are not allowed to see or hear them, let alone build upon them. Soon, they will be lost to us and to posterity.
Rather than fight this encroachment on our common heritage, we are expected to grant still more concessions to a greedy legacy industry.
What was wrong with the original copyright term length? A 14-year monopoly is more than enough incentive for any creator, and they should be happy for it. Thomas Jefferson foresaw the dangers of intellectual monopoly and asserted that it was not a natural right. He made it quite clear that our government should only grant this boon to content creators so long as it created a clear public benefit for society.
It’s clear who benefits from today’s copyright laws, and it ain’t the public.No comments
Last week, the location based social network, Foursquare, released its new Explore feature. The new feature centers around recommendations technology to help people answer the question, “what should I do?”
The recommendations engine carries some exciting possibility, and may even help break the flat-lining usage of location-based services. The app will mine your check-in history to glean information about your preferences, and locate ‘expertise’ within your friend list to help you discover new places, food, and activities you may enjoy.
As you can see from the category list though, there is one omission that should have been obvious: volunteering.
I’d love to see Foursquare help people discover great places to volunteer in their community. This would not only increase volunteerism, but would help drive innovation in the nonprofit sector, the same way that food critics and Yelp reviews drive improvements in the restaurant industry.
80 million Americans volunteer every year at roughly 2 million nonprofits. I hope Foursquare will not miss a major opportunity to enhance the activity that so many find so rewarding.No comments
I was at a party this weekend when I met a friend-of-a-friend who does fundraising at an anti-hunger policy organization here in town. He was already familiar with DC Central Kitchen, and so we started talking about some of our newer initiatives, like our recent contract to provide school meals to 7 DC Public Schools.
I mentioned how cool it is that we are now able to hire several more graduates of our culinary job training program to prepare the meals on-site. His comment was that it must also present a challenging messaging problem for us—that people might respond badly to ex-convicts or ex-addicts being hired to cook for schools.
It’s a fair point. A lot of people start to get nervous when you mention the possibility that an ex-con or ex-addict might be cooking at a restaurant they would eat at, not to mention cooking in schools.
But to me, the issue was framed wrong. As stated, the focus of concern is that our nonprofit would have difficulty raising funds for ourselves.
The end of this line of thinking is that it would be easier to raise money if we glossed over this discussion. But the discussion of this issue is not incidental to our fundraising; it is central to our mission. The real problem is that our society can’t find ways to reintegrate people.
In order for us to make meaningful change, we have to challenge the stereotypes and assumptions (some silly and some more legitimate) that serve as hurdles to reintegrating people into our communities.
It is understandable to categorize ex-convicts as more dangerous and less trustworthy than the general population. The problem is that we have a huge blindspot. We see the inherent problem with placing these men and women in jobs at schools, but we fail to see where they would be otherwise.
If we fail to provide opportunities to get counseling and training and find good work, what do you think these people will resort to? And where?
They will go back to what they’ve always done. On the same streets where our children walk to and from school. They will not be magically isolated from children if we simply refuse them these jobs.
I’m not saying we should blindly trust anyone, but we do need to provide opportunities for these people to earn back a place in our workforce. We must find effective ways to train them, vet them, hire them, and trust them.
This discussion is one that I very much want to have. It’s an opportunity to change an entrenched social problem. It’s part of our organization’s most vital work. It’s why I love working in nonprofit communications and fundraising in the first place.No comments
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal posted an article about the legal battle being waged by Susan G. Komen For the Cure against smaller nonprofits who it feels are infringing on its name and branding elements.
As the leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen For the Cure helped make “for the cure” a staple of the fund-raising vernacular.
The slogan is so popular that dozens of groups have sought to trademark names incorporating the phrase. Among them are “Juggling for a Cure,” “Bark for the Cure,” and “Blondes for the Cure.”
Komen sees this as imitation, and it’s not flattered. Instead, it’s launching a not-so-friendly legal battle against kite fliers, kayakers and dozens of other themed fund-raisers that it contends are poaching its name. And it’s sternly warning charities against dabbling with pink, its signature hue.
These incidents, and some of the comments on Twitter supportive of them, for me highlight a trend that has been too prominent in the nonprofit sector: taking the same mistaken approach to “branding” that we’ve seen in the business world.
It would be unfair to single out and scapegoat Susan G. Komen For the Cure—this sort of mindset is found to varying degrees throughout the sector. But this case is instructive and should be highlighted as an example of what not to do.
The foundation feels that it owns the symbol of the pink ribbon, that particular shade of pink, and the words “for the cure.” I wonder if their supporters would see it that way? Was it that particular hue of pink that made them donate? Maybe for some, but I’d bet most became supporters because breast cancer had made a very personal impact on their lives.
For them, the issue is bigger than Susan G. Komen Foundation. It is about preventing the suffering of our sisters and mothers and daughters and friends at the hands of this disease.
A pink ribbon or t-shirt is a very personal expression to honor loved ones and demonstrate our shared support for finding a cure. It is not about displaying loyalty to a particular organization.
This distinction is important. The pink ribbon should be about giving people a common voice, empowering them to share their personal stories of survival or loss with each other and to rally our communities. When the foundation shifts its focus to aggressively “protecting its assets,” it has already put itself out of touch with that purpose.
Would supporters be happy that lawyers are being hired instead of researchers? Do they care which particular organization funds the research “for the cure?”
There is legitimacy in preventing outright impersonation by other organizations to avoid mistaken donations, but Komen is going beyond that. Is anyone going to mistakenly donate to a lung cancer organization simply because they saw the words “for the cure?”
Komen’s actions could lead one to ask who they are really acting on behalf of here: the mission of their supporters, or their own ability to cause market for corporations with pink products?
There may be some cost in lost donations to these other groups, but what will be the cost when supporters see Komen starting petty fights over a color or a phrase?
This kind of thinking will eventually lead nonprofits to the same hollow mass marketing practices that irked the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto. In same way that corporate branding makes us passive consumers, cause branding prevents participation in real conversations about critical social issues.1 comment
One of the reasons I was hesitant to switch from film to digital photography was the fun of experimenting with different films and the joy of finding one that really seemed to give incredible results (I always loved playing with Kodak T-max for example)
Tonight I’ve been trying to fill that void by experimenting with B&W conversion using GIMP. I’ve found it much more effective to shoot in color and convert during post production to really get the best tones. Unfortunately, GIMP out-of-the-box does not handle this work flow as well as Photoshop, in my opinion.
After some searching though, I found a great script that both automates the process and gives some really great tone control. The technique uses Channel Mixer presets to simulate tonal response of various black and white films. You can apply various filters to the film as well. By choosing Filter option you can apply yellow, orange, red, and green filters to the film. It can even generate the results as a new layer and automatically rename it using the settings you choose—very useful for making tweaks and comparing.
The original script however, does not work with GIMP 2.4.5, so I’ve updated it and am distributing it here under the GNU-GPL.
I’ve been trying to use Twitter more frequently lately, but it is hard without a good client at home on my Linux machine. I’ve tried several native linux clients, including gtwitter, which is so feature lacking as to be almost pointless, and Twittux, which is better, but still leaves much to be desired—you can’t even click on URLs in people’s tweets. You have to open up twitter in the browser, and then follow the link. I even resorted to setting up a Prism app on my desktop, but none of these prevented my account from fading into total disuse.
Fortunately, however, I was able to install Thwirl on the Linux alpha version of Adobe Air. I’ve been waiting several months now for the day it would work, and it actually turned out to be mostly pretty painless to install.
chmod +x adobeair_linux_a1_033108.bin
Then you follow the GUI installer to finish installing Air. When that is done, go back to the command line:
/opt/Adobe\ AIR/Versions/1.0/airappinstaller ~/Desktop/twhirl-0.8.2air
Voilla, now there should be a link in your applications menu.
I’m about halfway through Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota by Chuck Klosterman, and I have to say, it is surprisingly good.
One highlight so far is the chapter analyzing early heavy metal music videos. The discussion made me nostalgic enough to go look up these videos on YouTube, which was REALLY entertaining, mostly because they are so utterly ridiculous. There was one exception that I had forgotten about though, and that was the video for One by Metallica.
Anyway, here is a collection of most of the music videos mentioned in the book, if you’re interested.No comments
Apple has become quite fashionable lately. I’ve been openly talking about ditching Microsoft Windows for some time now, and several of my friends keep trying to convert me to a Mac. Fortunately, however, I’ve found a much better alternative to Microsoft: I switched to Ubuntu about 2 months ago.
I won’t deny that I’ve been tempted once or twice to buy a Mac; their products, of late, have a lot of great features and pretty good design. There are some major deal breakers for me though.
- Chiefly, proprietary lock-in.
Open source matters. As does freedom from DRM. These are more than just personal preferences for me; they are basically moral issues. In this sense, buying a Mac would be a deal with the devil. Microsoft is certainly a wretched sinner in this department, but Apple is Satan. To have the privilege of running their software, I am forced to buy their computer with their peripherals, to buy music on their store to play only on their music player, and only after it calls home to check in with their DRM system. (oh and I get to give them more money to be locked in to all of their products) Only recently did they deign to allow us to run another operating system on their machine.
Ok, I can grant that Apple makes pretty good products now (and admittedly, partly because of this tight integration) but they haven’t always. What happens if/when they start to suck again? What if more products go the way of their single-button mouse??? Are you telling me that the company that introduced this revolutionary device can’t see fit to add one more frickin button?
I choose Ubuntu because not only is it a GREAT operating system, but it gives me the freedom to use my system the way I want. I would pay more for that, but the kicker is, it’s free!
Oh, and I know this might be knit-picky, but for all of the reading I do on my computer screen, I don’t think I could deal with Mac’s inferior font rendering.
And finally, I would eventually be driven to madness by the never ending slew of products with names consisting of a generic word preceded by a lower-case i.2 comments
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about international development. A couple of things have crystallized my thought specifically; one being Bono’s celebrity activism at the recent G8 summit; the other being a recent article in the newest issue of Foreign Policy.
I was asked about my earlier anti-Bono post: “isn’t it a good thing that he is raising awareness about Africa and taking western leaders to task for their unfulfilled promises of aid?” My answer is unequivocally, no. I want to be clear, I do not bash Bono simply to bash Bono, but to argue that he and others like him are part of the problem.
Firstly, it is hard to see how the “awareness” he is raising is a positive. Bono’s message only feeds the image that most people already have of Africa the poor, starving, violent, corrupt, destitute, basket case. An image that hinders real progress. In the words of blogger Ethan Zuckerman:
Africa’s not an issue. It’s not a cause or a problem. It’s a continent – a complicated, confusing, beautiful continent, with wealth and poverty, peace and strife, success and tragedy. When Africa becomes a cause, we tend to see only one side of the continent – a helpless, dependent, starving side that “needs our help”.
Second, Bono is not simply talking about problems, he is pushing solutions. His solution–large infusions of foreign aid–did not come from a representative body of African political leaders, or some other democratic process. It is the ideology of the high church of development, which happens to be the subject of the article by William Easterly in Foreign Policy that I mentioned above.
Easterly’s Article The Ideology of Development echoed a lot of sentiments I already held, but got me thinking a lot about the significance of Bono beyond just the issue of celebrity cause-crusading. In it, Easterly describes the new ideology that has taken hold since the demise of communism and facism, what he calls “developmentalism.”
Like all ideologies, Development promises a comprehensive final answer to all of society’s problems, from poverty and illiteracy to violence and despotic rulers. It shares the common ideological characteristic of suggesting there is only one correct answer, and it tolerates little dissent. It deduces this unique answer for everyone from a general theory that purports to apply to everyone, everywhere. There’s no need to involve local actors who reap its costs and benefits. Development even has its own intelligentsia, made up of experts at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and United Nations
This ideology takes it for granted that every nation can rapidly catch up to the prosperity levels of modern western nations, solving all of their social problems with a combination of large sums of aid and modern technology. For fifty years, however, these approaches have failed. The few nations that were able to achieve rapid growth and modernization were the ones that most completely disregarded the policies of western lenders, donors and Developmentalists. All the aid, debt forgiveness, technology, anti-corruption measures and “structural adjustments” have not raised the per capita GDP in “developing” countries, and have been accompanied by decreases in some. A new round of massive infusions of western aid into these countries is unlikely to solve anything, and is likely to only exacerbate existing social, political and economic problems. Even debt forgiveness may be unhelpful, as many African governments are simply turning to China for new, no-strings-attached loans to replace the ones that have been forgiven.
Sam Rich, in a recent issue of Wilson Quarterly gives a critical analysis of Jeffery Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project, which injects massive amounts of aid into small villages such as Sauri, Kenya. While he does note some successes of the project, he notes that few of the core problems have been solved, and that permanent change will be stymied by the dependency created by large infusions of foreign aid.
Sauri has achieved more than such projects could ever reasonably hope to, but it’s not yet a model village. Instead, Sauri remains Africa in microcosm. All the fundamental problems that exist in Africa still exist in Sauri; in some cases, these problems are magnified.
The ideology being spread by celebrity figures such Bono and Jeffrey Sachs may have altruistic motivations, but is really just another method of western nations running their former colonies. Socialist ideology sought to empower people but ended up leading to massive oppression; a developmentalist ideology may also have unintended but tragic outcomes.
People must be free to find and build their own solutions. If Bono succeeds, he will have heckled western governments into a program that will further entrap millions of people in poverty by denying their freedom to find their own way.
- Please Bono, Stop Heckling and Just Listen
- Africa and the New Cult of Celebrity
- G8: who’s pulling Africa’s purse strings?
- Judging a magazine by its cover
- Africa: through the lens of Western bourgeois mythology
- Africa at the G8 summit: déjà vu?
- The aid evasion: raising the “bottom billion”
- Investing in Africa
- Aid workers lament rise of ‘development pornography’
Brendan O’Neill wrote a great column last week about Bono’s antics at the G8 Summit and the harm that he is actually doing. I won’t rant here about the subject; the article pretty well captures how I feel, but I will share my favorite bits:
“Bono has become a one-man state; more than that, he’s a one-man cross-border supranational institution. He presumes to speak for millions, not on the basis of a democratic mandate but on the basis that he – mystically, magically, and because Africans are apparently too poor and destitute to speak for themselves – really, really knows what Africans want. Thus we have the utterly bizarre spectacle of a rock star putting pressure on leaders who were elected by millions of people to do what ‘I WANT’ in Africa.
“They used to call it colonialism when a white man from over here decided that he represented the interests of the black hordes over there. Now they call it ‘passionate and serious crusading’