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The Denunciad

May 21, 2009

Rich, restful slumber last night – wow, I slept till 5 am!  Yeah, I’m going to end up like my mom soon, sleeping 4 hours a night and being glad of it.  So a day off from Lessig, just catching up on links I’ve collected and haven’t written up.

I noted a couple weeks ago that Amazon had recommended Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots to me based on my Wired for War purchase.  The book is in the news, having made (via, link is to the original), and there are links to the author’s articles page at Georgia Tech, for those like myself who are too recession-strapped for a $40 book right now – sounds like some of the PDFs may cover the same ground.

On the same topic as Lessig, a book review in the New York Times a couple days ago of two books on copyright/IP.  Greg Kot’s Ripped sounds, well, a lot like a remix of Remix

In “Ripped” Greg Kot — a music critic at The Chicago Tribune since 1990 — contends that peer-to-peer file sharing and CD burning has empowered music consumers, while providing musicians with more “opportunities to be heard”: “In this world, the fringe players could more easily find and build a dedicated audience, and a musical ecosystem encompassing thousands of microcultures began to emerge.”

…Mr. Kot, who writes in an engaging but highly anecdotal style, does a nimble job of showing how the Internet has lifted the careers of particular musicians, and tries to make the case that “music history is one of creative ‘borrowing,’ ” and that requiring “every piece of copyrighted music, no matter how small or how artfully recontextualized” be licensed before it can be sampled has affected the way hip-hop music is made.

Reviewer Michiko Kakutani, one of the Times’ Senior Serious Persons, does take him to task for being “nonchalant” about how the change in financial models will affect the bands he writes about:

He does not really explore how artists who do not want to tour continuously are supposed to pay for sound engineers, back-up singers and production costs when royalties and advances dry up. Nor does he examine the aesthetic consequences of forcing musicians to rely increasingly on subsidiary payments like licensing for ring tones and movie sales.

It sounds like creative endeavors other than music are out of scope of his argument, whereas Lessig encompasses all media.

Meanwhile, we also have novelist Mark Helprin’s take on those damn kids on his lawn in the unsubtly titled Digital Barbarism, the best thing about which may be the clever cover art (hope he doesn’t sue me for reproducing it):

From the sound of the review, Helprin is woefully off base in his premises.

As for Mr. Helprin, he makes some persuasive arguments about the importance — indeed necessity — of copyright protections for writers: how intellectual property, like more tangible assets of real estate or money, should be protected from theft; how presumptuous it is of the “creative commons” movement to expect that “the fruit of other people’s labor” should be free; how arguments about communal authorship and collaborative “wikis” lead (much like the literary school of deconstruction) down a slippery slope not only to the Death of the Author, but also to the diminution of individual responsibility.

Mr. Helprin shrewdly notes that the Möbius strip of misinformation on the Web can produce a “high-speed game of telephone among thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands) of people, in which responsibility to the truth is considered met if one has read something somewhere that says something close to what one will now further distort.” And he points out that “much of the agitation against” copyright comes from the “backflow of objections that the copyrighting of software stifles innovation,” when in fact software, unlike literary works, “is closer in every aspect to that which would require a patent” rather than a copyright.

First off, the Creative Commons has nothing to do with appropriating the “fruit of other people’s labor” – a Creative Commons license means that you, the Creator (and when we are dealing with the Great Man viewpoint it’s best to use Caps), decide which of your rights you grant to the public – it’s the opposite of piracy. 

Secondly, while collaborative wikis may lead to the Death of the Author as we know Him in certain forms, i.e., there will never again be a sole-sourced encyclopedia or dictionary, if only because there is too much general knowledge now for any one man to master it, it’s not the road to the “diminution of personal responsibility” that results from collaboration but rather the opposite.  Each member of the collaborative effort has the responsibility to quickly fix the damage incurred by vandals or trolls and take steps to kickban said trolls for good.  Just because there’s no Editor of Genius imposing his personal tastes and eccentricities on the content doesn’t mean there’s nobody piloting the ship.

Moreover, the irony is that the place where most often the “responsibility to the truth is considered met if one has read something somewhere that says something close to what one will now further distort” is not the blogosphere but the MSM – see under Dowd, Maureen or Jarre, Maurice RIP.

Finally, he states that software “is closer in every aspect to that which would require a patent” than a copyright, probably blithely unaware of the legal and technical debate over patent vs. copyright in the field. (A search of Slashdot stories on “software patents” would have given him an earful.)

Most harmful to his arguments, Kakutani documents, are his spluttering rantings against Those Damn Kids:

His attacks on digital piracy and intellectual laziness, for instance, repeatedly devolve into ill-tempered diatribes against virtually every aspect of youth culture and the Internet age. He asserts that “the abandonment of grammar, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, et cetera, and the substitution for these things of either nothing or of idiotic and inexpressive pictograms, jargon and expletives, is often not a choice but an artifact of a decadent and dysfunctional educational system.”

In another chapter Mr. Helprin rails against “mouth-breathing morons in backwards baseball caps and pants that fall down; Slurpee-sucking geeks who seldom see daylight; pretentious and earnest hipsters who want you to wear bamboo socks so the world won’t end; women who have lizard tattoos winding from the navel to the nape of the neck; beer-drinking dufuses who pay to watch noisy cars driving around in a circle for eight hours at a stretch; and an entire race of females, now entering middle age, that speaks in North American Chipmunk and seldom makes a statement without, like, a question mark at the end?”

For shame, Mr. Helprin – you misspelled doofuses.

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