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Archive for August, 2011

Vinay Gupta is a researcher and engineer specialising in infrastructure failure, crisis management and resilient systems, whilst being a public thinker on a wide variety of topics. In this manifesto from 2009, Gupta outlines a general platform for the Pirate movement that goes beyond the usual questions of copyright and patents. He also does well to theoretically differentiate the movement from libertarianism.

“1> Our goal is freedom, particularly creative and expressive freedom, for all.

2> We are not aligned with traditional left/right politics, and are substantially not a form of Libertarian because of our emphasis on the social construction of property.

3> All rights arise from within individuals. The machinery which implements or denies rights is socially constructed in some cases.

4> The right to property arises from within individuals, but the machinery which creates property is a social construction. Throughout time new forms of property have been developed, starting with nomads settling on land and continuing through shares in limited liability corporations, copyright and patents. Not one of these forms of property was an inherent right before the form of property was created: rather they are socially constructed expressions of a fundamental right to property, in the same way that a newspaper is a socially constructed expression of the right to free speech.

5> We do not know the perfect forms of property, if such things even exist. There are substantial reasons to believe that good property laws vary depending on culture and technology, among many other factors.

6> The Libertarian ethos of self-ownership as the foundation for all property rights does not adequately address the role of the State in creating many of the forms of property in society. Although anarchocapitalism attempts to address the role of the State in creating property there is a substantial lack of clear consensus of the role of “might makes right” in the implementation of rights in an Stateless ancap society. These are examples of systems which are clearly reasoned from strongly stated axioms, but which demonstrate the potential for severe problems in practice. This is not our way because it is biased too much towards theory.

7> The Pirate ethos is not one of reasoning from fundamental axioms and damn the torpedos. Nor is it purely utilitarian, arguing for the greatest good for the greatest number. Rather, it is scientific, evolutionary, experiential and experimental. Pirate politics are learning politics. If we succeed in one nation in implementing radically sane laws around property, and the result is cultural disaster because the laws inhibit creativity rather than freeing it, we will change our minds. However, we will not abandon principles based on failed experiments, seeking always to find the correct social machinery to express our inherent individual rights.

8> In the long run, no form of property or rights is beyond our ambition. Copyright and patent are relatively young laws, in a state of flux because of new technology, and therefore are our first targets for radical sanity. However, it is not beyond imagination that Pirate policy may extend to all fundamental human rights and the environment given time. A learning approach to politics gives us time to work on what we are sure of now and develop a wider mandate in time.

9> Electoral politics is only one part of a broad-based effort to encourage dialogue and creative engagement at a cultural level, including discussing the role of law in freeing us from various forms of inconvenience, oppression and danger. Where individuals and society require no assistance from the State, no law should exist. A strong practice of individual and social self reliance can reduce the scope of State power.

10> The international export of European and American property rights norms does not constitute sustainable development, particularly in the areas of patenting lifeforms and denying access to life-saving drugs based on patents. International organizations like WIPO need coordinated international response to combat, not just from nation states, but also from individuals and society. They are our most dangerous foes and need to be engaged accordingly.

11> The privatization of knowledge by copyright and patent denies the fundamental openness of the human quest for understanding in general, and the scientific method in general. Knowledge is a fundamental commons, in the same general manner as air is, and while there may be temporary practical exceptions for social utility (like patent) the enclosure of knowledge as property is fundamentally in error. We must align with what is good for science, and for the open spread of knowledge. Education may be a natural area to make allies.

12> We are making policy for a future which likely includes technologies like gene therapies and elective genetic modifications, nanotechnology, self-replicating machines and artificial intelligence. Substantial progress in at least some of these fields, of a kind which creates a strong need for updating laws, is certain within a generation or less. Correct understanding of individual rights and the social mechanisms to implement them will require substantial technological competence and sophistication among policy makers. We can provide that understanding and competence.

13> The Green movement has failed to take effective action on the substantial issue of its day. We must learn from the failures of previous parties with a narrow focus particularly when it comes to linking effective action in our main area of interest to broader social agendas. Many are for copyright reform who are against, for example, drug reform. We must remain true to our goals above all subsidiary agendas.

14> We need to identify and respect historical figures and contemporary heros who support our cause. This is made more difficult by the role of the media, a copyright-centric enterprise, in shaping culture. Many who might support us privately, as they bittorrent their favorite British TV shows, would never personally admit that our positions make sense. I personally start the heroes list with Richard Stallman and Trent Reznor.”

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Stephen Downes is a Canadian researcher of online learning. Here he points out well how the copyright industry is in face of the Internet Threat trying to redefine our very notions of right and wrong, and how it’s in fact the freely file-sharing youth who are the upholders of our traditional values today. The excerpt is from Downes’ book Free Learning: Essays on Open Educational Resources and Copyright (2011) which you can download in pdf-format from here.

“I think you may also want to examine how publishers and their supporters are changing (or trying to change) the concept of ‘morality’. Let me highlight some areas:

– the ‘doctrine of first sale’ is in the process of being repealed. What this doctrine states is that, if you buy something, you own it outright. You can, in turn, lend it, sell it, use it as a doorstop, whatever you want. Increasingly, manufacturers are retaining rights – not just regarding copying, but where something is used, how it is used, for what purpose it is used, and more. It’s fair enough for them to try, but how does it become *immoral* for people to defend their rights under the doctrine of first sale?

– the doctrine of ‘fair use’ or ‘fair dealing’. It has long been understood that a creator’s rights under copyright are not absolute. In particular, under ‘fair use’ (or ‘fair dealing’ in Canada) we have historically had the right to copy a small portion of the work to use when citing, referencing, criticizing, parodying, or teaching. Publishers simply refuse to respect this doctrine – try publishing work with citations allowed under fair use but explicitly cleared by the other publisher. Or try showing a logo in a video without blurring it our. Meanwhile, DRM and similar technology makes fair use impossible. And such use, we are told, is immoral. How so now?

– the distinction between personal use and commercial use – we have had a longstanding understanding that restrictions on certain commercial activities – making copies onto blank media, for example – are perfectly legal in the non-commercial domain. That sharing copies among friends is a fundamentally different type of activity. In Canada, moreover, the government collects royalties on blank media, distributed to content providers, in explicit recognition of such activities. How, then, do they become immoral?

– the idea of ‘free access’ – from time immemorial, we have grown up believing that performances of various media are free to the viewer or listener. From listening to musicians play on the street or in bars, to watching TV or listening to the radio, to reading books in the library or billboards on the wall, if the media was available, then we could access it for free. There was never a *way* to act immorally in this regard. But now we are required to ‘avert our eyes’ – to not view, to not listen, to not download – in certain cases (and somehow, to magically know what those cases are). Why is this? Why is it OK to listen to a song for free on the radio but not listen to the very same song on the internet? How does the one behaviour remain moral but the other, somehow, become immoral?

– the doctrine of ‘sharing’ – as children we were told that sharing is good. And that when there are things that everybody can use – parks, roads, museums, culture – these are good as well. But more and more, we are being told that sharing is bad, and that everything must be owned by some person, who in turn has a ‘right’ to be compensated. How so? What gave *this* person, rather than the thousands of generations before him that nurtured the concept or the idea, ownership? How did sharing, always a virtue, become *bad*?

You get the idea. Children do not have some fundamentally different morality. Rather, they see – while adults, for some reason, are blind – that the game is shifting, that some very self-centered and greedy people are trying to change the rules. The children – who have no stake in this sudden ‘ownership society’ – are not fooled. We shouldn’t be either.”

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This is a documentary about the beginnings of the 15M movement in Spain. It follows the life of the indignants at the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid for the month after the initial protests on May 15. If you want to know more about the movement, this is a good introduction. The film was directed by Adriano Morán. English subtitles are provided.

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This appeal was originated by the French online journal Mediapart. You can read the original text and sign the appeal here. The English translation is by Yours Truly, so if there are any misunderstandings in it, you’ll know who to blame.

“A European appeal against financial dictatorship

An unprecedented crisis exacerbates social inequalities and poverty and leads Europe to an imminent disaster.

We, the citizens of Europe, declare that this crisis is not inevitable as some would have us believe: there are solutions and they must now be imposed by the people. In face of the irresponsibility of the many governments that make their citizens pay for the madness of those truly responsible for the debt crisis, namely the Financial Markets, we appeal for a refusal of the dictatorship of financial speculation and its terrible consequences on our lives.

Current policies lead to an economic impasse.

On pretext of the debt crisis, governments impose everywhere plans to reduce public spending that destroy the institutions that are vital for the common good: schools, hospitals, Justice, Research, Social Security …

After the 2008 crisis, our national and European leaders were strongly committed to limiting the devastating effects of financial speculation: these commitments were not kept! Worse still, the most unbridled speculation was unleashed with impunity, undermining any chance of economic recovery and reducement of unemployment.

We reject finance as a weapon that crushes people to benefit the richest.

Financial institutions must be at the service of the society and the economy, not vice versa. Therefore, we affirm that we must now change politics and the economic model.

We call upon the citizens of European countries to use all democratic and peaceful means at their disposal to impose the following five initiative measures on their governments and European institutions:

  • cancellation of austerity measures;
  • the prohibition of all financial speculation in commercial banks;
  • a substantial tax on financial transactions harmonized at the European level;
  • independent auditing of public debt with a view to their reduction or cancellation;
  • tax reforms to redistribute wealth equitably.

We express our solidarity with all indignants and call for the support, development and bringing together of all the protests at the European level.

To this end, we call to occupy every Sunday, massively and peacefully, the squares of major cities. These gatherings will be repeated weekly as long as the will of the people has not been heard and respected. They are destined to become true citizens’ forums for the recovery of the sovereignty of peoples. Let us take our destiny into our own hands and fight as a common front against the financial dictatorship!

A thousand popular assemblies for a Europe of citizens!

A thousand citizens’ forums against financial dictatorship!”

On a related note, there’s an international “anti-banks” day planned for September 17 with actions being prepared in several cities in the US, Spain and France. And then there’s of course  the “world revolution” day looming on October 15. It looks like the European plazas are going to be busy in the coming months.

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Rick Falkvinge is an Internet activist and the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party. This quote is from a recent post in his infopolicy blog:

“The reason for my asking is that I’ve been trying to identify one word, just one word, that lies at the core of the pirate ideology. One word that can be used as a positive insert-word-here to indicate adherence to pirate ideology.

[…]

What I come back to all the time is that monopolies have been broken. Both legal and formal monopolies (think the copyright monopoly, patent monopolies, design patent monopolies) and informal monopolies (notably the monopoly on truth, news reporting, and what culture we are exposed to). Monopolies that have previously been reserved for the elite of society have been totally shattered — the citizens have become empowered.

The key phrase here is that nobody needs to ask permission anymore to make their opinion heard, to partake in society, or to create culture. This, I feel, is at the root of the conflict, and what causes the old elite — the ancien regime – to come down so hard on the new technologies. It used to be, that if you were part of the unwashed masses, you needed to filter everything through society’s elite in order to reach the rest of the masses.

That way, this elite held an effective griplock on what the masses knew — what they were allowed to know — and therefore on what they could say, play, perform, build, and do.

No longer.

That’s the key thing that has changed. Communication is no longer one-to-many, with the “one” being part of society’s elite, but many-to-many. Or, if you like to phrase it that way, all-to-all. This is something we cherish in the pirate community, that nobody asks permission any longer, and that people stand up for one another’s right to not have to ask permission to broadcast.

So I’m moving towards rephrasing the core principle to empowerment. We want an empowered society. In the balance between individual and government, we stand firmly on the side of the individual, with government’s role being one of allowing individual fulfillment and always assuming good faith. Governing, not ruling.

Nobody should need permission to observe, report, partake, communicate, create, share, or build.

This extends further and fits well in with the tangential thoughts that many pirate parties have been moving towards on education, on jobs, on economy – it fits extraordinary well with the thought of empowerment, of empowering everybody to take charge of their own lives without having to ask anybody’s permission.”

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Mark Pesce is an author, software engineer, researcher and a lecturer at the University of Sydney. He has written extensively on the subjects of virtual reality and social media. This quote comes from his column published today by ABC News Online:

“For you see, the network isn’t the wires, the towers, or the mobiles. The network is people. And people don’t like being spied upon. People will grow increasingly frustrated with the restrictions you place upon their activities, and from those frustrations will come a search for solutions.

As someone works something out – finds a hole in the filters, or a place outside the state’s surveillance – that knowledge will be passed around, at the speed of light, through the network. People now move as one – as if coordinated, but without any coordinator – and within minutes, a hole becomes the tunnel through which everyone makes their escape.

[…]

People are no longer subject to the control of the state. People can move faster than the state, people can out-think the state, people can be everywhere the state is not. 2011 is the year that we figured this out, and even if you took every mobile in Britain and threw them into the English Channel, this would not change.

This is not a technology moment. This is a moment of sociology, of anthropology. We have learned a new way of sharing, which has given us new capabilities, and although technology helps us share, we would share even if we had nothing but our voices.

We will not unlearn this. We have learned it by watching one another. Parents learn it from their children. Children learn it from older children. Everyone learns it from the television. It’s pervasive, it’s perfectly natural, and it cannot be stopped.

So please, grab a stick, and stir the hornet’s nest. I dare you. More than anything else I want to see a ‘democratic’ government bloody itself against a process that is far more democratic than anything that it has ever had the capability to be.

Yes, it is chaotic and ugly and threatening. But it is also wonderful and smart and capable. You get both, and you can’t just do away with either one. This is who we are. It’s unclear if your government – or any government – can make its peace with that.  But I think it’s time we tried.

So please, go out there, guns blazing, and wage war. The more you try to shut things down, the smarter people will become. You are evolution’s goad, Mr Cameron. Without you, we’d probably just sit around all day, watching videos on YouTube. You give us a reason. You make us want to be better.

Unless you completely crush it, disrupting a network tends to make it more resilient. Yes, the network might go down for a while, but when it comes back, it’s stronger than before.

That’s what you have to look forward to, Mr Cameron – you, and your successors at Number 10. You’re breeding a nation which can resist any coercion.  Well done.”

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In the aftermath of the UK riots, the political elite has reacted just as we’ve come to expect: with moral outrage, demands for more police aggression and censorship, and threats of evictions and harsh punishments for even the most minor misdemeanors. Prime Minister David Cameron took the opportunity to climb on his high horse to play the part of the stern but just moral majority leader. The rioters have been unanimously labeled by the elite as immoral lowlifes which are a threat to all the “decent, law-abiding citizens” and should be chased out of the communities, preferably in tar and feathers. This is nothing new, of course. We all remember how Nicolas Sarkozy designated rioting youths as “scum” during the 2005 unrest in France.

Regardless of what the elite and their dogsbodies in the media would like us to believe, these riots do not represent isolated outbursts of mindless violence, but are very much a part of the larger crisis of the representative political system in Europe. An increasing number of Europeans no longer believe that the political elite, regardless of party orientation, is speaking on behalf of the people (if they ever did). The sentiment is that the problems we face in the society today cannot be solved by the representative system since the system itself is a part of the problem. The rampant corruption of the political elite, the winding down of public services and the looting of taxpayers’ money to profit the private sector make such a sentiment well founded. The scheme concocted by the European banks in cooperation with the EU, ECB and IMF to atrophy the European civil society with ever-growing mountains of debt exposes the true loyalties of the elite. In this light their moralism in condemning the rioters starts to look tragicomic. To paraphrase Brecht, “what is the burgling of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?”

The political elite has grown so alienated from the grassroots level of the society that the only thing they can think of when faced with unrest on the streets is to crush it with anti-riot weapons and mass arrests. We’ve seen the same thing happen recently in Greece and Spain where the police has resorted to excess violence against predominantly pacific protests. A lot of people in Europe have been following the government brutality against the uprising in Syria with horror, but they don’t realise that the same thing is happening in our own streets at this very moment, the only difference being that here in the “civilised West” we don’t send tanks to the streets (not yet, anyway…).

As I see it, the problem here is not that the political elite would be consciously trying to annihilate any dissident political action. The problem is rather the ingrained culture of elitism they’ve been brought up in. When faced with real opposition from the people, instead of the pseudo-opposition in the parliament, their natural reaction is that of self-defense, that is to say political oppression. The elite is frightened by any political movement that doesn’t follow the unwritten rules of the representative system and which can’t be dealt with by the usual political wheelin ‘n’ dealin. This can be characterised as a kind of “political xenophobia” where those coming from outside of the political elite are seen as “alien” and potentially dangerous.

There’s a very real sense in which the elite is quite right in its fears. There is a new political consciousness brewing in the streets and in this consciousness there is no place for elitism. This consciousness has a lot to do with the Internet generation and the corrosion of the traditional centralized media. Now I’m no techno-utopist, and I don’t believe that social networks will automatically lead to emancipation, but what has emerged on the Internet is a new culture where people turn more and more to their peers, instead of traditional authorities, for support, information and political legitimisation. This new culture is democratic in the full sense of the word, not just for-the-people but also by-the-people. It’s no surprise, then, that the British government is now looking into the possibility to shut down social network services during unrest, following the example of the Iranese government during the 2009 election protests. In their desperation, the European governments are starting to resemble the archaic regimes that have been recently overthrown in the Arab countries.

We live in interesting times.

(Nathaniel Tapley has written an excellent satirical piece on the riots which is well worth a read)

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