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Monday, January 19, 2004

a quest: take the ip alternatives to the stage

having stuck my nose in just a bit too far, i (the collective i) have been charged to “see if we can find it.”

it, in this case, is a way to take the alternatives to life+ copyrights (and, more generally, other Bad Ideas in intellectual property, such as software patents) “to the stage” – to find a way to engage the public, and through the public, the policy-makers, in a legitimate debate on the subject.

i’m not talking about bumperstickers and 30-second responses, but real, in-depth debates.

it is not enough to throw these things into blogs; it’s not enough to use the net. this must engage people where they think – at home, at work, at school. and it must be completely legitimate. we’ve been preaching to the choir long enough, it’s time to take it to the streets.

so jack valenti and even the riaa must be invited to make their case. and the case against these intellectual property laws must stand up to their assaults.

that said, this isn’t about picking fights or tearing down the existing regimes, it’s about establishing the positive case for alternatives. creative commons and other concepts have been around for a while now – there should be some data available to make the case.

can it be done? how can it be done? how do you change the questions?

after some reflection, i’ve decided to take this quest to the loyal (and transient) readers here, just in case there is a spark of inspiration somewhere.

it all started long ago (jan 16, 2003), before i embraced this happy little forum to spew random thoughts into the ether, i engaged one professor lessig via email with a missive – one which i hoped would lend a different perspective on the eldred decision, and offer a potential path through the traditional dead-end of a supreme court decision… i copy it here as background (for anyone who has attention to spend on reading 🙂 )

I have given some additional thought to your question (generally, that of educating the masses), and the repercussions of the Eldred decision. I have not read the decisions yet; I wanted to write this without drawing particulars from the case.

I began looking at this issue, shortly after the “creative commons” license was available for review – with the intent that I would review it “from the outside” with a clear perspective. At first blush, I decided it was likely a good fit for most of my work, and would probably pursue “re-licensing” of some sort in the new year. I have not, to date, been active “in the battle of the copyright,” but it does provide some interesting intellectual territory. I say that as a means of professing ignorance if I’m restating the obvious or otherwise covering someone else’s tracks. I do have some vested interest in the field of intellectual property, with one patent pending, and having run the paperwork of registering copyrights on book-sized materials. I also have some interest from a more artistic and creative side (photography as a hobby). Perhaps this is more than you need to know, but it may lend some perspective on my comments.

It occurs to me that there may be a precedent (in an historical sense, not a legal one, although there is a legal component) for the situation you find yourself in regarding copyright in particular and intellectual property in general.

This is a dangerous time in America; we have concrete reminders of our vulnerability, the news drives a constant barage of threats and warnings. You are, apparently, working on a book on the subject. This book will, presumably, fly in the face of convention, tradition, commerce, The American Way, big business, Mickey Mouse, and probably, in some sense, perhaps Apple Pie itself, at least as far as the current generation tends to believe. The late 1850’s were a dangerous time in America too. Within a few years, the Civil war would create personal, tangible crisis for individual Americans. At about this time, another book was published that also assaulted convention and tradition, albeit in the form of religion. This book was penned by Charles Darwin. Darwin’s theories took hold and grabbed mindshare in Europe while America went to war with itself. The mechanism is something of interest. Debates. Public, open debates on the subject. I hope your work has done something to create and promote such debates.

If I may assume some leeway in drawing this analogy, I realize that Darwin proposed an entirely new world view, while you seem to be pressing an old, but forgotten, world view. That said, in both cases, the general public is very much of a common mind, and very unprepared to consider the questions and implications raised. We have grown up in America more and more indoctrinated into the religion of commerce and business, and you are calling that religion to the table. You may not be the Darwin of your issue; there was a complicated series of events and men that led to the Darwin “event.” You may be analogous to Linnaeus (who codifed the naming of species), or to Louis (who applied rules and categories to the lists of species), or to one of the many geologists that recognized strata in the earth and fossils in the strata, or to Cuvier (who created comparative anatomy), or Buckland, or Hutton, or Scrope, or Smith, or Lyell, or Perthes, or Henslow, or Malthus, or Gray, or Wallace, or anyone else that had a causal impact leading to that moment of publication.

That said, I feel there is a strong parallel between that time and this time. If I am correct, there is much to learn from that slice of history. I don’t want to get too involved in this analogy – It’s not my intent to draw point-by-point comparisons, but rather to suggest a period in history that reflects, in some ways, the times in which we live, and the issues with which you wrestle. If you find the analogy valid, perhaps a future expansion is warranted.

Darwin did not write his material to “pick a fight with the church.” He wrote what he believed, in terms couched, perhaps a bit too carefully, to avoid overtly offense. Darwin wrote of the animal kingdom, of differentiation of species, of natural processes he observed or inferred.

When Darwin published, at the end of the 1850s, American society was ill-prepared to respond to the gross paradigm shift, even generations later, in the mid 1920s, when John Scopes found himself in court. After the trial, it’s interesting to note that evolution crept into the Catholic realm of debate (as in, it’s ok to talk about evolution without getting the boot), before the law of the Scopes trial was repealed.

Belief, I think is an important issue. Your opponents are asking different questions, based on different beliefs. They have much success with American people asking “Would you take from a person the potential fruits of their labor?” “Who are you to interfere with the voice of the people as spoken through their representatives?”

Repercussions from Darwin lasted [at least] the rest of the century, manifesting in eugenics movements, racial purification efforts, social darwinism, and even in the class struggle of Marxism. Darwin [unwittingly] provided a unifying basis for ideological and political movements. Today, the Darwin “turtle” still competes with the Jesus “fish” for attention on car bumpers; the debate is not settled. Darwin changed what people believed. More than providing answers or solutions, Darwin changed the questions.


I began writing this before I read your latest blog entry. You mention the teacher-priest and their role in the system. Now that I’ve read your comments, and your new questions, I have decided to send my original thoughts in their original form. Darwin, I believe, briefly studied to be a priest, and commented (though I can’t find the quote at the moment) on the irony that he once pursued a role in the institution that ultimately gave him so much trouble. I will add only that it is the rebel priests that move the church.

Do get some sleep,


posted by roj at 9:15 am