No porn for you. Come back one year!

Good and Evil are in battle over our internet. Good, in this case, will be represented by freedom of information. This leaves Evil with the difficult job of censorship. During the last years, it seemed as if Evil is fighting a losing battle. Last time, I’ve mentioned how the media moguls are losing grip over the media channels, and how we are now exposed to more sources of information than ever before. This means freedom is increasing.

However, I neglected to mention a danger brewing on the infrastructure of the Internet. As more and more of our information is moving onto the net, we are losing other ways of communication. There are no substitutes to the Internet. As distributed as the content on the Internet is, the gateways into it are few and well controlled, and the few that once controlled news channels are replaced by a few who control the Internet.

I’m talking about Internet censorship. The most famous operation of this kind is the Great Firewall of China, playfully named after the great wall, is, in fact, no laughing matter. Google took a relatively bad hit for complying to the demands of the People republic of China. The company’s mantra of Don’t be Evil has been tarnished so badly, that it is no longer recognized with the company any more. Google is now a little bit evil.

Censorship is a slippery slope. Censoring illegal activity, for example, sounds like a good idea, when “illegal” refers to pedophilia. It sounds terrible when it is “illegal” to disagree with the government. Where do we draw the line?

Big brother is always watching

Technology is not on the side of good. Technology is impartial. That is why I love computers so much. They’ll never hate me for who I am (even though some people will feel otherwise). The same technology that powers our search engines and the plethora of new semantic ad placement algorithms, is now creeping into internet blockers. As technology gets better, more and more countries will be able to deploy their own net over the net, and filter out any “bad influence”. There will be no need for the army of cheep labor that China can command, and we’ll see it more often. Heck, even Australia has a system in place to automatically flag websites.

In some countries there is a desperate need for a way to bypass these filters. During the Iranian election, the only means of communication between people had been sites like Twitter and YouTube. You’ve seen how well the news reported the issues.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Irandecision 2009 – CNN’s Unverified Material
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Healthcare Protests

Real-time is faster, for now

For now, the manual filters are slow. No matter how many people you can put on the filtering side, there will be more people on the information broadcasting side. So, in the mean time, the real-time media is faster than the governmental firewall. This is why real-time media is so important. For a long time I’ve been looking at Facebook, Twitter, etc. as places to go to when I’m bored. But where speech is NOT free, Twitter and FriendFeed are the only way to get around censorship. That is why China turned off Twitter, completely.

We need a way to bypass the Internet. Only by doing to the Internet gateways what blogs did to news sites, we will ensure the victory of Good.

Copyleft (Copyright FAIL)

There has been a transformation in the way we consume culture. Let’s take the news for example. A decade ago, the only way we could get our news was by buying a newspaper at the news stand, or opening CNN. The issues of state were decided by a small select, namely the editors of these papers or news channels. Watching just a few hours on Fox News, CNN or even The Daily Show can show you how much power these editors have in enforcing an agenda, a political wold view.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
CNN’s Just Sayin’
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Healthcare Protests

This news by broadcasting, news from few to many, has been coined by Larry Lessig as Read-only-culture. Larry Lessig, the coolest lawyer on earth, specializes in copyright laws, specifically dealing with what is considered fair use, public domain, creative commons, etc. If you haven’t heard of him yet, you must see his TED lecture.

Lately, we see a paradigm shift created by the rise of social media. Blogs, and now Twitter, become sources of real time news, commentary and opinions. These are gathering places for us to discuss what is happening in the world. The proverbial water cooler, if you wish. And it is working great. In any given subject I can find a blog that covers the field with greater depth and accuracy than the news. Some reporters have blogs to discuss things that their editors block, which is even better, because good reporters are better at reporting news than unprofessional bloggers. During the time following Iran Election, Twitter was the only source of information. This is what Larry Lessig calls Read-write-culture.

New industries are coming

Talking about the world is our way to feel part of it. It’s deeper than the news. We do it by posting videos on YouTube. We do it by pointing out to music that we love. We do it by editing, and re-editing the media around us. After the news, crowd-sourcing will transform more and more industries.

One of the strongest opponents to the new world order is the music industry. The music industry is governed by a small group of people, that can’t create music, and hold the copyright to most of today’s music. These people have everything to lose by the changes in the economy. The artists can survive without them, by selling direct-to-consumer. In the new world, these people have no added value to the market. FAIL.

That is why the music industry is so against change. They oppose (somewhat legitimately) the unauthorized download of music from peer-to-peer networks (such as Napster, Torrent, etc.), though they act like total sticklers about it, suing their customers left and right. They also oppose mixing and mashing of old music into new music.

Mix & Match and the fair use

Copyright laws protect the owner of rights from blatant copying of the material. The only clause under which public display or performance of copyrighted art is allowed is fair use:

Fair use is a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as use for scholarship or review. It provides for the legal, non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author’s work under a four-factor balancing test:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

An example of what I understand to be fair use are the marvelous mash-ups created by Kutiman, which mixes pieces of YouTube clips to create new music.

RIP: A remix manifesto

Saving best for last, I recently saw a movie called RIP: A remix manifesto, which beautifully demonstrates the problems in today’s music industry, and the deep contrast between how the public understands copyright and how the music industry (and the law) understand it.

This is a MUST SEE, and it is all available here, to watch and to remix.

BTW, the media archives of RIP, are hosted by the very awesome Kaltura, which I’ll write about some other time.