The Information Society for None

Free the Mind has blogged about the report Cultural industries in the context of the Lisbon strategy [PDF] being discussed in the European Parliaments Committee on Culture and Education.

Article 9 in the report attempts to address online piracy and should be seen as a step in the right direction. The authors have reached the understanding that …criminalising consumers so as to combat digital piracy is not the right solution.

However the committee members did not agree with this and several of them have submitted proposals for changes [PDF]. The most serious is the proposal from Christopher Hilton-Hearris. His proposal will force Internet providers into action and to close the accounts of those caught violating others copyright:

This cooperation of Internet service providers should include the use of filtering technologies to prevent their networks being used to infringe intellectual property, the removal from the networks or the blocking of content that infringes intellectual property, and the enforcement of their contractual terms and conditions, which permit them to suspend or terminate their contracts with those subscribers who repeatedly or on a wide scale infringe intellectual property

He even proposes that the EU-Commission launch pro intellectual property campaigns to the general public and as a subject in schools. He is not alone in his suggestion to cut off Internet supply to those involved in copyright violations. The Committee on Industry, Research and Energy has recommended the Committee for Culture and Education to:

Calls on the internet service providers to cooperate in the fight against internet piracy and enforce their contractual terms and conditions or terminate contracts with subscribers who infringe intellectual property rights. Internet service providers should apply filtering measures to prevent copyright and stop existing infringements

Photo hear hear by massdistraction

This is an extremely simplistic and naive approach to the problem of copyright violation in digital environments.

Now that politicians are actively attempting to shut down connections the dream of creating an inclusive society based upon a technological infrastructure (for example Information Society for All) seems to be on its way out.

Why is banning people from the Internet a bad idea?

The Internet has been promoted and become our most basic communications infrastructure (obviously my focus here is Europe since this is where the proposal is being discussed).

1. The punishment does not fit the crime: We have changed the way Banks, Post Offices, ticket sales, hotel booking, insurance (etc, etc) work and banning someone from the Internet will be tantamount to branding a symbol of guilt onto the person. Not to mention the increased costs involved in time and money. Indeed why should copyright violation prevent me from online banking?

2. Group punishment: If an Internet connection is involved in copyright violation this does not mean that all those dependent upon that connection should be punished. The actual violator may be underage or the network may be open to others.

3. Privatizing the law: The ability to punish copyright violators should not be delegated to private bodies. Internet providers are not equipped to mete out legal punishments.

The proposals seen above are simplistic, naive and dangerous they show a fundamental lack of understanding not only of technology or its role in society but also a lack of understanding of the role of communication in a democratic society. The actions of the politicians proposing such measures show that they are not acting in the interests of the individuals they are there to serve.

Steal This Film II

Copyright never was what it used to be and the struggle to define the purpose and limits over the protection of intellectual property (or indeed the idea of intellectual property) continues daily.

One example of the ongoing debate is an op-ed in the Swedish paper Expressen a group of Swedish politicians called for the legalization of file sharing. One of the politicians was a police officer. But this is more an example of the exception than the rule.

The real attempt to draw the lines that may limit copyright occur every day and are defined in the way in which we all collectively use our technology. The act of file sharing by an individual is, in of itself, an unimportant act. Taken collectively file sharing is a massive active form of resistance and a re-interpretation of the the general consciousness of justice, right, wrong & morality.

Another important position is taken by those who actively comment and interpret the acts of all those involved in the re-definition of copyright. An important contribution to this is the film Steal this Film II. It features scholars such as Yochai Benkler, Felix Stalder, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Howard Rheingold and portrays file sharing and the copyright debate as a historical development in the urge to regulate the spread of information.

Over at the Industrial IT Group blog Jonny has written a very good analysis of the importance of the film. Watch the movie, read the analysis and get involved in the most interesting re-defition of law in our time. 

Bad Internet, Good Internet

Andres over at Technollama is reading “The Cult of the Amateur”, by Andrew Keen, the Internet critic. I have been avoiding commenting on this book and on the author. Lots of other have been there already. Actually I will probably eventually get around to reading the book. Anyway, Andres notes that Keen has a bone to pick with the web and provides this Keen quotation which I could help but comment upon:

“When I look at today’s Internet, I mostly see cultural and ethical chaos. I see the eruption of rampant intellectual property theft, extreme pornography, sexual promiscuity, plagiarism, gambling, contempt for order, intellectual inanity, crime, a culture of anonymity, hatred toward authority, incessant spam, and a trash heap of user-generated-content. I see a chaotic humans arrangement with few, if any, formal social pacts.”

Well of course. I agree totally with Keen. Thats the beauty of the Internet – you get what you look for. Keen went looking for garbage and appears shocked when he found it. Big deal. I can do the same in any city in the world from Bombay to Boston from Seoul to Stockholm. What he then does is attempts to explain the world from the empirical garbage he picks up. This is not a reflection of the Internet but only an expression of Keen’s Internet related interests.

Books as marketing channels

A pet hate of mine is people who make notes in library books. I just cannot understand the arrogance of some people who are prepared to borrow a book and then mess it up. It’s not about cost it’s about a lack of interest in other peoples property and a lack of consideration for the next reader.

But now it’s not only the lenders doing it. The Guardian reports that public libraries in the UK will be using books as a direct marketing channel. The project will insert advertising into library books and provide libraries with much needed extra funding.

Up to 500,000 inserts a month are due to be handed out by libraries in Essex, Somerset, Bromley, Leeds and Southend.

The plan is being run by the direct marketing company Howse Jackson, whose business development director Mark Jackson said the company was “very proud” of what he described as “a brand new channel” for direct marketing.

Obviously Mark Jackson is more of a marketer than a reader. Guy Daines (director of policy at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) was dismayed by the scheme.

(via Lex Ferenda)

Magna Carta for sale

The Magna Carta (Great Charter) is one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy. It is one of the earliest documents granting rights to citizens. It is a predecessor for the development of the rule of constitutional law, it provided inspiration to many of the later rights documents such as the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. The document contained provisions such as:


  • The right of the church to be free from governmental interference,
  • The rights of all free citizens to own and inherit property and be free from excessive taxes.
  • Right of widows to choose not to remarry.
  • Due process and equality before the law.
  • Provisions against bribery and official misconduct.


The Magna Carta was originally written because of disagreements between King John and the English barons. After King John had violated a number of ancient laws and customs by which England had been governed, his subjects (the Barons) forced him to sign the Magna Carta. King John needed to placate the barons and therefore signed the document granting them several rights. The Magna Carta may not have been seen as such a big deal at


the time and nor is it obvious that King John expected to respect it but his weak position ensured the documents survival and growth into prominence.



According to the New York Times article there are 17 known copies surviving this one will be auctioned by Sothebys in New York in mid-December, estimates that the document will sell for $20 million to $30 million.

The other lives of Copyright

Copyright is an exciting subject that over the last couple of years has received a great deal of attention. Unfortunately most of this attention has been a discussion on the uses and abuses of copyright in the copying of music and films of the Internet. This has had the effect of very much excluded a large part of the interesting social aspects of copyright.

The other life of copyright go beyond the questions of economics and power positions. While the latter are important they are not the only game in town. Beyond the strutting and blustering pirates and anti-pirates (please interpret these terms kindly) there are several examples of people attempting (successfully and unsuccessfully) to use copyright to protect values and positions. Some of these are attempts to control as in the more traditional form but other examples seem driven more from a need to maintain an “artistic” integrity.

The purpose of this post is to present some of the odder examples in the copyright discussion. This is not solely for shock value – even if this is worthwhile in of itself. The purpose is to promote a larger copyright discussion in order to develop a better understanding of the purpose and method of copyright.

Graffiti copyright (see Morgan 2006)

No matter if you like of dislike graffiti it is a form of artistic expression and it is protected from the moment of production. The owner of the wall owns the physical copy of the graffiti but intellectual property rights, the copyright, remains with the graffiti writers and artists.

An interesting problem to deal with is the issue of popular stencil graffiti (see for example Banksy). In part stencil graffiti is popular since it is a fast way in which to create graffiti while minimizing the risk of being caught (Banksy Wall and Piece 2005). However the question of stencil graffiti is whether or not it is copyrightable. If you ask any Banksy fan they will say that without a doubt that the work is art and naturally subject to copyright.

This means that the artist has the exclusive right of reproduction. Taking photographs of graffiti and placing them on the web (as I often do), on t-shirts, in photographic books etc is not permissible without the permission of the artist.

The moral rights of the artist (in some jurisdictions) contain the right to be associated with the work (droit à la paternité) and the right not to have the work displayed in a manner that disrespects the work or the artist (droit au respect). These latter rights ensure that the work is not reproduced anonymously or in a disrespectful way they cannot be used to protect the physical work. The owner of the wall can deface or erase the physical copy without fear of violating the moral rights of the artist.

Bodies of expression: Tattoos (Hatcher 2007)

Graffiti is, in reality, relatively easy. The only problem is that many people associate it with vandalism. But this is not a problem for copyright law. Many pieces of “bad” art are widely accepted and integral parts of our cultural heritage. Bad art is not a limitation for copyright – just look at Madonna.

A much more exciting area of copyright is tattoos. The cast of characters and the social implications of tattoos is much wider and provides for an exciting range of questions ranging from copyright to human rights.
The first question is naturally – who owns the copyrighted image?

  • The person wearing the tattoo (the client)
  • The tattoo artist
  • The tattoo studio
  • Someone else

Hatcher (2007) has an excellent slide presentation on this very topic. The claim of the client is naturally that she/he has created a work of art that is a combination of the human body and the tattoo. If this line of argument were to be drawn out fully then bodybuilders would have copyright in the bodies too? The counter-argument is that the client has done nothing other than paid (in cash and pain).

This is fascinating problem that goes to the core of the copyright question – who is the artist? Is the artist the person who physically creates or is it enough to have a conceptual model and then let someone else create? This is a fascinating question that will require more work later.

The tattoo artist has a good claim to the copyright. In much the same way as the graffiti example above the client would then own the physical copy on the body while the artist owns the intellectual rights to the image. This model would prevent copying and photography without permission. But then we may argue that the artist does nothing more than copy a stencil onto the body. If this is true then either the work is too simple to have protection under copyright or the copyright holder is someone else.

If we chose to see the artist as hired laborer then this someone else may be the owner of the tattoo studio. The work may also be the property of a third party – for example if you tattoo Pondus onto yourself the intellectual property rights still belong to Frode Øverli.

So what happens when celebrities appear in advertising campaigns prominently showing their tattoos? Is this a permissible reproduction? (Vukelj 2005) And if not would this mean that the client is not allowed to display photographs of herself/himself without the permission of the copyright holder? How can we relate this to human rights law? (see for example Ramachandran 2006)

Another question is what are the limits of tattooing? Are there tattoos that would be illegal? For example gang symbols or maybe blasphemy? This is another off-topic question that could be explored.

Another exciting thing about tattoos is that they are culturally sensitive. Is the craze for tribal tattoos a violation of the rights of the tribes or tribal artists they originate from?

Food for thought (excuse the pun)

So we have copyright in skin and wall art. Where else? Several chefs have been attempting to use IP law to protect their intellectual innovations in the kitchen. But thus far they have been unsuccessful.

Chefs have traditionally worked on an open-source model, freely borrowing and expanding on each other’s ideas and, yes, sometimes even stealing them outright. But some influential people are now talking about changing the copyright law so that chefs own their recipes the same way composers own their songs. Under this plan, anyone who wanted to borrow someone else’s recipe would have to pay a licensing fee. (Pete Wells)

Magical methods
The magician on stage presents the audience with an illusion. Once the audience knows how the magic is carried out they will no longer pay to see it. Therefore the skill and ingenuity of the magician needs to be protected from copycats (Wikipedia). Loshin (2007) argues that the community’s efforts to safeguard their IP is based upon a balance of protecting and sharing. In the case of magic the law is inadequate and the community of magicians are better served by using the internal norms that pre-exist in the community.


This was supposed to be a much shorter post but as with all things of interest it grew as exciting questions reveal themselves. The use of copyright in untraditional forms has sometimes been granted as an obvious way to go and in other cases been prevented.

Which acts are protected by copyright and which are not is based more on historical and traditional arguments and their interpretation rather than a coherent systematic development. These “fringe” areas of copyright are important and need to be developed further in order for us to more fully understand the social purpose of maintaining and developing the copyright system.

On the fringes of copyright

The New York Times has an article about a chef who has tried to sue a competitor for infringement of intellectual property.

The suit…charges that Edâ??s Lobster Bar copies â??each and every elementâ?? of Pearl Oyster Bar, including the white marble bar, the gray paint on the wainscoting, the chairs and bar stools with their wheat-straw backs, the packets of oyster crackers placed at each table setting and the dressing on the Caesar salad.

There has been a growth in restaurants and chefs attempting to use of intellectual property arguments (copyright trademarks, patents and trade dress) to protect their businesses. As far as I have seen they have had little success.

Copying someone else’s bar or restaurant idea or menu may be a bit tacky and sad but this cannot be used to create intellectual property rights in these areas. If we were to begin protecting restaurants in this way then why not all parts of the service industry? Why stop there when we could begin using intellectual property to prevent our peers from dressing or behaving in the same way as we do?

Restaurants, food manufacturers, wine makers etc etc regularly explore, reverse engineer and learn from their competitors. There is no intellectual property limiting their ability to conduct these activities. Despite this lack of property protection there seems to be no limit to the amounts of human ingenuity and creativeness in relation to food and drink.

Maybe intellectual property should consider limiting the scope of protection and return to free market systems as opposed to creating false monopolies.

Millenium Mouse & Copyright

The attempts Disney goes to maintain copyright over their intellectual property are legendary. Copyright term extention acts have ensured that Mickey Mouse is saved from the public domain and continues to generate income for Disney.

But what would happen if Mickey was shown to be older than we thought? An artefact at Lund Historical Museum dated to 900 A.D. was excavated at a site called Uppåkra in southern Sweden.

Surprise, surprise its Mickey!! This means that Mickey is over 1000 years old – let Mickey enter the public domain – he deserves it…

Don’t be surprised if Disney uses this as an excuse to extend copyright terms to 1000 years!

Although made of bronze, the brooch ornament likely adorned the clothing of an Iron Age woman. Excavations at nearby sites, such as at Järrestad, have yielded other unusual pieces of jewelry, such as a necklace with a pail fob at the end and another necklace strung with 262 pieces of amber. (Discovery Channel)

(via Boing Boing)

Change of State

Do you read First Monday? Well to be honest I don’t usually have the time to read through every issue but I get the email alert for every new issue – its out on the first Monday of every month – and I tend to browse through the titles and find something interesting to read each month.

First Monday is one of the first openly accessible, peerâ??reviewed journals on the Internet, solely devoted to the Internet. Since its start in May 1996, First Monday has published 795 papers in 132 issues; these papers were written by 951 different authors. In addition, eight special issues have appeared.

This month has a focus on Wikipedia which is naturally interesting but what really caught my eye was a chapter from Sandra Braman’s book Change of State: Information, Policy and Power.

Thanks to MIT Press and Sandra Braman, First Monday is pleased to present an excerpt from Sandraâ??s latest book Change of State: Information, Policy, and Power. This book examines the implications of the change of the governments from welfare states to informational states. Sandra describes how information policy in areas as diverse as intellectual property, border protection, privacy, and research funding affect issues such as identity, the nature of technological systems, and organizational structures.

The table of contents for Change of State follows with a link to chapter 9, â??Information, Policy, and Power in the Informational State.â??

The book is naturally amerocentric but promises some interesting ideas. It looks like another book to add to the reading list – check it out.

A European Spine?

“The British Government has issued a response to a recent petition calling for ‘the Prime Minister to make software patents clearly unenforcible’. The answer is reassuring but perhaps doesn’t go far enough, and gives no specific promises to bring into line a patent office that grants software patents (according to the petition) ‘against the letter and the spirit of the law’. The Gowers Review that it references gives detailed insight into the current British position on this debate, most interestingly recommending a policy of ‘not extending patent rights beyond their present limits within the areas of software, business methods and genes.'” (via Slashdot)

OMG! Does this mean that there are European countries, part of the EU which actually may have a spine? That they are prepared not to toe the EU competition of who can sellout their values the fastest in order to please the US?

Originally I thought that European Unity was a good idea since it would enable Europeans to take a stand against the cultural and economic superiority of the States – but we haven’t seen much of that yet…