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CPSR Journal Vol 19, No 4
Volume 19, Number 4 The CPSR Journal Fall 2001

Neo Capitalism and the Hive Mind by Steve Teicher

Notes from a talk by Jessica Litman

[ Read the program notes ]

Copy protection is in the news again. Isn’t this just a worry of big time lawyers? There are the lawyers who are for it and the lawyers who are against it and the lobbyist on each side. Why do I care? No matter what, not much will change. Jessica Litman says I am wrong.

The various copy protection and patent laws were created to spur invention by insuring that the most clever of our citizens had time to profit from their work. But do these laws as implemented or proposed actually increase or decrease innovation and invention? Listen to Jessica as she says:

There is someone who knows what I want to know. There is someone out there who knows the answer to what I want to know. Which came first, the TV or the cable network?

On my bookshelf I have two different versions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. I no longer look at either of them very often. In a Jewel case near my computer I have a copy of the encyclopedia that I never look at.

Searches on line are easier and more accurate. The WEB beats all else as a general reference. Even if you want to know the name of the song that is going thru your head, if you type the lyrics into Google’s Search engine, you will quickly find the title.

This all works because amateurs have entered it into the computer and made it available on the WEB. It is plausible that the information in books might be more accurate than the info on the WEB. However, this is not true. There are many lousy WEB sites, but there are even more lousy books.

If you publish something that is wrong in a book it takes a long time to get read and to get the errors corrected. This is not true on line. There are many folks will give feedback.

I published a book a few years ago, and there are a bunch of errors in them. I know them, but no one has ever written me about the errors. On the other hand, when I make a mistake in a WEB page, I get feedback even from strangers.

Jessica noted that there are forces such as DMCA that seek to stop information sharing and these will stop creativity and drive away venture capital.

Jessica then went on to describe the hive of information that has grown up around us. Someone else knows what we want to know, and all that information is combined in ways that we could not have predicted. This information world that speeds up the functioning of the hive mind is the most incredible thing she can conceive. This amazing information space is not well understood to copyright lawyers.

The US Constitution says that the purpose of copyright law is to promote the progress of science and invention. This does not often seem to be the case.

We want a copyright law that enables creators to be paid. We want a system that encourages people to share. Suppose we lived in a world in which information could only be shared if the owner provided permission. We would find that much of the information on which we count would just no longer be available. Often the issue will be that we just can’t find the owner to get permission.

The record companies that sued the MP3 folks also wanted to put information on line and they lost the case from the performing artists. We should want the copyright system to help authors get paid but should want not to require express permission for each use. Unfortunately our law is going in the opposite direction.

Copyright law gives the authors a lot of control. However, if the purpose of the law is to help authors or creators get paid, it has been an abysmal failure. If this is what the law is for, then we should replace it with some law that works.

It appears that the authors want control for control’s sake. The current law going thru the halls of Congress gives a lot of control, but does not help authors get paid. The law requires new PC’s to have parts that require each of them to have government approved algorithms that prevent the display or copying of copyrighted material.

The folks who want to strengthen copyright laws have managed to stay on the agenda even now that the Congress is focused on terrorism. Jessica is more pessimistic that the new law will get enacted now than when this law was at the top of the agenda. It will just slip through while the attention is on terrorism.

There appears to be a lack of understanding of neo-capitalism and this is the root of why the new laws that propose to protect and to enhance the creation of science and technology do the opposite.

She had mentioned the error correcting properties of the WEB. There was a question by Roger Muldavin on this topic. She said without getting into the complex theory that the error correcting properties arose from the volunteer “army” on the WEB.

One of the issues that causes bad law is that there are major campaign contributions from companies that are driving the bad law, even though the law may in fact in the long range be not in the interests of the sponsors. The sponsors don’t understand the issues of Neo-Capitalism.

When asked about finding things on the WEB, Jessica noted that since she makes her living teaching Internet Law, she is quite confident of finding accurate information when she needs it.

Paul Hyland noted that Jessica sounded very pessimistic. Paul wanted to know if there is anything we can do. Jessica noted that the Digital Coalition ran out of money. The ACLU is ineffective in this space. Journalist do get it according to Jessica, but they have difficulty getting thru to their editor. Jessica said that Napster was the best thing that happened to copywrite lawyers. Suddenly 70 million people knew that they had a copyright problem. Jessica said that the best thing that can happen is to shed some light on the topic. Once the elected representatives know that people care they have a higher probability of paying attention.

Jean Camp said that we have to go beyond the activist. If Senator Hollings got 50 letters he would be shocked.

Jean noted that once bills get out of committee to the floor it is a lot harder to influence them.

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