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Speaking of public education, undoubtedly one of the most significant steps in democratising educational resources in history has been the establishment of the public library system. Unlike schools, libraries promote self-directed learning and are thus less susceptible to authoritarian control. Like mentioned in the above video, file-sharing networks can be seen as a continuation of the idea behind public libraries. They take the idea one step further, though: on the file-sharing networks the available content is not limited by the budget constraints and possible ideological inclinations of bureaucrats.

This video is a recording of a speaker’s corner session at the 2012 World Library and Information Congress in Helsinki on August 15, 2012. Guest speakers include Hanna Nikkanen, a Finnish journalist who’s written extensively on issues around freedom of information, and Anna Troberg, president of the Swedish Pirate Party.

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Here is an excerpt from a 1995 essay by the author and theorist Kathy Acker. Her thoughts on the way the Internet could potentially change the role of writing and copyright in society are certainly interesting in view of the more recent rise of the blogosphere and citizen media. The essay originally appeared in The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association and is collected in Acker’s book Bodies of Work: Essays (1997). Read the whole essay here.

“If we look at the literary industry today, writing is in trouble. Very few writers who spend most of their time writing and those who want to spend most of their time writing, can make a living by doing what they do most the time and by what they love to do most. Those who can and do support themselves writing do so, on the whole, by virtue of something called copyright. Copyright’s existence, I believe, is based on the following assumptions or sentences: An author is the only person who has written her or his own work; an author owns her or his own work.

Now in the first sentence—an author is the only person who has written his or her own work—the assumed definition of identity is questionable. For instance, I do not write out of nothing, or from nothing, for I must write with the help of other texts, be these texts written ones, oral ones, those of memory, those of dream, etc. In the second sentence, an author owns her or his own work, the verb to own must be questioned.

In other words, as writers we depend economically on copyright, its existence, because we are living and working, whether we like it or not, in a bourgeois-industrialist, in a capitalist society, a society based on ownership. One needs to own in order to survive, in fact, in order to be.

Our society, however, is in the process of, or has already changed into, a postindustrial ex-national economic beast. I hope that I am saying this correctly. As economic grounds change, so do all others. Both language and communications and the place of language and of communications in our society are rapidly changing.

For instance: I teach writing courses at the San Francisco Art Institute. Each year, fewer and fewer of my students read books. I don’t mean that they don’t read. They do, though they might not admit it. They read magazines, ‘zines, they go to art performances, to spoken word events; they eagerly participate in such events; they buy CDs in which rock starts and poets perform. More and more students and, I might add, my friends, and myself are using the Internet as a location where we can place our work. For the moment, the Net is a free zone… for those who can afford or access the necessary equipment. Whether it will remain free or whether our government will be able to enact strict controls, or whether various multinational corporations will be able to turn the Net into a cross between TV media land and a shopping mall, an elephantine version of America Online, this no one knows. Certainly, there are those who think that the Net cannot be controlled. Now, I have no ideas whether or not it will be, that is, whether or not it can be. But either way, there is one thing I suspect. I suspect that copyright as we now define it will become a thing of the past.

I have taken a long-winded route to make one simple point, something that I think most writers now know: if it is at this historical moment difficult for a writer to make a living by depending on copyright, in the future it may prove impossible for all but the very, very few.

It is not the case that the Net is providing an alternative method of book publishing and distribution. Not at the moment, as the technology stands. No one is going to download a whole book, for it’s far easier to run to the nearest bookstore. The existence of the Net is threatening the literary industry in another way: my students, people who work, which probably means that they work more than eight hours a day and have little time to read, many, many of the people in this society are preferring to engage in writing and in writerly activities outside the realm of books. And so to a large extent, outside the realm of copyright as copyright now exists.

[…]

If we get rid of copyright as it now exists, do we have to throw writing away? In order to answer this question, I think that it’s necessary to try to see clearly, to see the society in which we’re living. I should say societies, for sometimes the only entities that make our societies single seem to be McDonald’s hamburgers and Madonna. We need to see how we as writers fit into our societies as and while these societies are changing. How can we, as Hannah Arendt says, even in worlds that seem to have become inhuman, remain obligated to these worlds? Obligated, for being writers, our job is to hear and put together narrations and so to give meaning even to what seems to be or is inhuman. How can I, as a writer, be of use to and in my societies? That is the question that underlies the one of copyright.

I think that it is hard to understand what writing is in our society because writing has become so entangled with the literary industry. Entangled to the point that there no longer seems to be any difference between the two. For instance, if a writer is not big business, she or he is not a good, that is, finally, not a publishable writer.

Let me paraphrase and so repeat Hannah Arendt’s question: To what extent do we remain obligated to a world even when our presence is no longer desired in that world? Are we, writers, obligated to the literary industry and to the society behind that industry? Here is Hannah Arendt’s answer: “Flight from the world in dark times of impotence can always be justified as long as reality is not ignored.” Flight does not mean abandonment.

As it now stands, the literary industry depends upon copyright. But not literature. Euripedes, for instance, wrote his version of Electra while Sophocles’s “copyright” was still active. Not to mention Shakespeare’s, Marlowe’s, and Ford’s use of each other’s texts. My worries with copyright, however, are not so academic. My worries concern the increasing marginalization of writers and of their writings in this society. Whenever writers are considered marginal to a society, something is deeply wrong, wrong in that society and wrong with the relations between writing and the society. For to write should be to write the world and, simultaneously, to engage in the world. But the literary industry as it now exists seems to be obfuscating relations between this society’s writers and this society.

Once more we need to see what writing is. We need to step away from all the business. We need to step to the personal. This is that I mean by flight. Business has become too heavy, too dominant. We need to remember friends, that we write deeply out of friendship, that we write to friends. We need to regain some of the energy, as writers and as readers, that people have on the Internet when for the first time they e-mail, when they discover that they can write anything, even to a stranger, even the most personal of matters. When they discover that strangers can communicate to each other.

The bestowing of meaning and, thus, the making of the world, the word as world: this is what writing is about.

[…]

Back to Hannah Arendt’s words. You see, my lazy mind never goes anywhere: it only returns. Writing, as defined by the literary industry, is all about individuals. I own my writing; that is copyright. “Power arises,” Arendt writes, “only where people act together, not where people grow stronger as individuals.”

To write is to do other than announce oneself as an enclosed individual. Even the most narcissist of texts, say Nabokov’s Lolita, reaches out to, in Lolita’s case grabs at, its reader. To write is to write to another. Not for another, as if one could take away that other’s otherness, but to another. To write, as Gertrude Stein and Maurice Blanchot both have said, is to write to a stranger, to a friend. As we go forward, say on the Net, perhaps we are also going back, and I am not a great believer in linear models of time, to times when literature and economics met each other in the region of friendship. “The ancients,” comments Arendt, “thought friends indispensable to human life, indeed that a life without friends was not really worth living.”

Friendship is always a political act, for it unites citizens into a polis, a (political) community. And it is this friendship that the existence of copyright (as it is now defined) has obfuscated.

The loss of friendship, the giving over of friendship to business based on individualism, has caused loss of energy in the literary world. Think, for a moment, with how much more energy one does something for a lover or for a close friend than when one acts only in the service of oneself.

In his remarkable essay about the writings of his friend Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot opposes two kinds of relationships, that of friendship and that of totalitarianism. Both Blanchot and Bataille lived through Nazism and Stalinism. A totalitarian relationship, Blanchot states, is one in which the subject denies the otherness, therefore the very existence of the other person, the person to whom he or she is talking. Thus, the totalitarian relationship is built upon individualism as closure. Individualism as the closing down of energy, of meaning. Whereas, when I talk to my friend, when I write to her, I am writing to someone whose otherness I accept. It is the difference between me and my friend that allows meaning; meaning begins in this difference. And it is meaning, the meaningfulness of the world, that is consciousness. You see, I am finally talking about my writing.”

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Wael Ghonim is an Egyptian computer engineer currently working as the head of marketing in Middle East and North Africa for Google. During the Egyptian revolution he played a central role within the Egyptian Internet community as the administrator of Mohamed ElBaradei‘s semi-official Facebook page and also the highly popular Kullena Khaled Said (We Are All Khaled Said) Facebook page, named in honour of a young Egyptian beaten to death by the police in June 2010. The Time magazine named Ghonim one of the 100 most influential people of 2011. Revolution 2.0, subtitled The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power (2012) is Ghonim’s first person account of the revolution as it unfolded between early 2010 and the fall of Mubarak on February 14, 2011.

The first half of the book concentrates on Ghonim’s Facebook activism, in particular the Kullena Khaled Said page which he used to instigate non-violent protests to highlight the Mubarak regime’s crimes against the Egyptian people. Ghonim was living at the time in Dubai (which he took great pains to conceal from the visitors of the pages he administered), so his actual connection with the conditions on the ground in Egypt was rather thin. Therefore, he has to resort to third-party descriptions of the actual events, quoting extensively from messages sent by readers to the Kullena Khaled Said page. Even more than this, however, he dwells on the intricacies of organising a large-scale Internet campaign and keeping in contact with various opposition leaders in Egypt whilst remaining anonymous.

The book gets more engaging when Ghonim moves on to describe the events leading up to and following the paramount Day of Anger protests on January 25, 2011. A few days before the event, Ghonim flew into Egypt to actually take part in the protests in person for the first time. However, on January 27, he gets stopped on the street by the State Security and taken to a secret detention centre where he ends up spending 11 days, blindfolded at all times. Ghonim recounts in detail the interrogations and the psychological coercion he was subjected to by the security officers. Here, the story gets much more up-close and personal than in the rest of the book.

During his detention, Ghonim’s identity as the administrator of the Kullena Khaled Said gets revealed and he becomes something of a national celebrity in Egypt. After his release, Ghonim is whisked around Cairo for TV interviews and meetings with government officials. Again, he ends up more on the sidelines as the growing pressure from the streets finally forces Mubarak to resign.

The Western media has often portrayed the Egyptian revolution as a “Facebook revolution”, grossly overplaying the role of the Internet in the uprising in an attempt to, perhaps, credit Western technology companies as something of agents of freedom in the world. Ghonim’s book may end up contributing to this tendency, even though it clearly states that the Kullena Khaled Said page even at its best only reached about one million readers, a large number for an Internet campaign no doubt, but only a small minority in a nation of 81 million people. Ghonim makes scant any reference to, for example, the wave of strikes that begun in Mahalla in late 2006 and which played a major role in mobilising people against the Mubarak regime. Thus, this book represents a rather narrow view of the Egyptian revolution, something Ghonim also asserts himself.

Having said that, though, it’s of course important that the online side of the revolution also gets documented, especially as it is documented here by someone who was at the very centre of that online campaign. The book provides one piece of the puzzle in a series of events not yet very well understood in the West. Certainly, it also presents an interesting case study for anyone involved in political activism on the Internet.

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I promised to write a quick review of this book, so here goes.

The Debt Generation (2010) is based on commentary written on the financial pages of The Guardian during the period from July 2008 to May 2010. The postings have been somewhat edited for a better flow of the text, but the basic diary type structure has been preserved, so what the book provides is a real-time account of the debt crisis as it unfolded during that period with fresh reactions to whatever news happened to be current at any particular time.

The writer of the commentary, David Malone, is not an economist, but a film maker, so what you get is a layman’s perspective, although informed by contacts in the world of finance. I consider this a positive thing, since economists in general tend to have an amazing capability of disregarding any facts that don’t fit into their preconceived idea of how the world works. This probably has something to do with the fact that mainstream economics as a field of inquiry is much more about pure ideology than empirical science.

Partly because of that, the discourse on economy that we get in the media is chock-full smoke and mirrors and is designed to mislead rather than inform the general public. The media and the politicians deliberately paint a picture of the economy as an esoteric sphere of near magic that only “experts” can master. This is, of course, precisely what these self-proclaimed experts want: it gives them free rein to steal and plunder as much as they want behind the facades of the Potemkin village.

I’m sure most of us common people are able to intuitively sense the vast gulf that exists between what the pundits in the financial press are saying and how the everyday reality in which we live appears to us. But what we’re lacking are the tools to actually call the pundits on their bullshit. And that’s what this book offers. Malone has a talent of explaining even the most arcane workings of the financial system with all its fancy derivative products and risk dispersion schemes in terms that everyone can understand, whilst exposing the lies and half-truths our political leaders fed us at the time, and still keep feeding us. Piece by piece, you can get a fairly complete picture of how the system is rigged against us. And that is the first step on the way of changing it.

Despite its slightly awkward form, the book is also an entertaining read with an abundance of English wit included (just consider this entry from the index: politicians; arse-licking, 201, burbling, 131, craven, 144, idiotic, 130, 106, impotent, 133, lick-spittle, 106, lost, 96, mewling, 133, slavering, 222, supine, 231, tame, 2, wheezing, 52, whimpering, 217). We definitely need more books like this; books that cut through the rhetoric and offer a common sense view of the society we live in.

I’ve posted excerpts of this book on this blog before (here and here), and will probably post some more in the near future, but I really recommend you get the book itself. I also recommend Malone’s blog for an ongoing commentary of the ever-deepening crisis.

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This howto shows how to download eBooks using Adobe’s ADEPT DRM (Digital Rights Management) scheme on Linux and how to decrypt those books so that you can use your eBook viewer of choice to read them and copy them to any device you wish.

  1. To download content protected with ADEPT, we need the Adobe Digital Editions eBook viewer. Sadly there is no Linux version, so we need to run the Windows version with Wine. Get the Windows installer from here.
  2. Go to the folder where you downloaded the installer and run it with the command
    wine setup.exe
    After the installation, run Adobe Digital Editions straight from the installer or with the command
    wine ~/.wine/drive_c/"Program Files/Adobe/Adobe Digital Editions/digitaleditions.exe"
  3. In order to access DRM-protected content, you need to “authorize” your computer using the Adobe ID. You can get the ID by creating an account at the Adobe website here. Then in Adobe Digital Editions select “Authorize computer…” from the Library-menu and enter the ID and password.
  4. Now we can actually download the book. For this we need a file with the .acsm-extension. This file contains the necessary information for Adobe Digital Editions to locate and download the book. You’ll probably get this file by clicking on the download link your eBook vendor provided. Save the file to disk. Now load the file by dragging its icon on the Adobe Digital Editions window. Adobe Digital Editions should now start downloading the book. After the download has finished, quit Adobe Digital Editions.
  5. The DRM-protected pdf- or ePub-file should now be located in the folder ~/My Digital Editions. Next, we decrypt the DRM scheme. For this, we’ll use two Python-scripts: the key retrieval script ineptkey.pyw and the decryption script ineptpdf.pyw or ineptepub.pyw (depending on the file format). Copy the scripts into the same folder with the book. Unfortunately, as these scripts are for Windows and OSX only, we’ll again have to use Wine. To run the scripts, we need the Windows version of Python (get it from here) and the cryptography package PyCrypto (from here). The Python version should be at least 2.6 (I use 2.7 here, newer versions might work as well). Make sure that the PyCrypto version matches the Python one. Run the installers with the commands
    wine msiexec /i python-2.7.2.msi
    and
    wine msiexec /i pycrypto-2.3.win32-py2.7.msi
    Now, go to the folder with the book and the scripts and run the first script with the command
    wine ~/.wine/drive_c/Python27/python.exe ineptkey.pyw
    This will create the file adeptkey.der in the same folder. Now, run the second script with
    wine ~/.wine/drive_c/Python27/python.exe ineptpdf.pyw
    or
    wine ~/.wine/drive_c/Python27/python.exe ineptepub.pyw
    In the dialogue select the book as input file and name the output file what you like. Click on “Decrypt.”
  6. Voila! You should now have the decrypted pdf- or ePub-file in the ~/My Digital Editions folder.

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The Public Domain cover

 

In his book The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (2008) professor of law James Boyle discusses the concept and history of intellectual property and why it is of particular importance in today’s information society. Boyle argues that the current intellectual property policies are eating away our common cultural heritage. He claims that we are in a middle of a second enclosure movement (the first enclosure movement being the enclosure of common grazing lands in England from the 16th century onwards) which is extending intellectual property rights to areas heretofore considered common property.

Boyle discusses a prevailing way of thinking in the culture industry that he calls the “Internet Threat.” According to this way of thinking, the easy copying on the Internet presents a dangerous threat to culture production that needs to be answered by longer and more extensive intellectual property rights, harsher penalties for infringing those rights and more protective measures to stop such infringements. As the cost of copying approaches zero, intellectual property rights protection must approach the state of perfect control. This means we must regulate technology that could be used for copying, we must outlaw tools that could be used to break copy protection, we must abolish anonymity on the Internet, we must get rid of exceptions to the intellectual property rights such as fair use and we must extend those rights to include things like databases and gene sequences. This means we need laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the No Electronic Theft Act (NET Act) and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), also known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. These are, of course, US laws, but similar legislation is being implemented in the EU countries as well.

Boyle laments how intellectual property laws have been extended time and again even in face of empirical evidence that has showed such extension would actually have negative economic and cultural effects. Never mind the cheaper copying actually benefits the culture industry and never mind that less control can oftentimes mean more profit, protection must still be tightened. Obviously, the process that has multiplied the scope and the length of copyright protection in just a few decades has been purely ideological in nature and has had nothing to do with rational legislation that would consider advantages and disadvantages to the society as a whole.

Boyle argues that we are suffering from a kind of cultural agoraphobia where we tend to undervalue open technologies and nonproprietary modes of production even though there is plenty of evidence that such modes of production work extremely well. To combat this agoraphobia he suggests the idea of a cultural environmentalism where, like with the concept of “protecting the environment” in the case of ecological issues, disparate interests to limit the scope of intellectual property would be brough together under the notion of protecting the public domain. This would make the interests more visible to the legislators and could lead to more balanced laws.

Boyle also makes one important point that is often ignored when discussing copyright. He outlines the 1984 legal case of Sony v. Universal City Studios where Universal tried to find Sony liable for contributory copyright infringement because their Betamax VCRs could be used for copying copyrighted material. The judges in this case dismissed Universal’s claims, pointing out significantly that such a finding would have effectively granted the copyright holders a monopoly to control and suppress any new technology that could conceivably be used for copyright infringement. Boyle formulates this into a “Sony Axiom” where new technologies that enable easier copying of copyrighted material make the limitations to the copyright law especially important.

The Sony Axiom is today more current than ever as the copyright holders have repeatedly sued or threatened to sue developers of p2p software for copyright infringements committed by their users, often managing to shut down their services. The judges in the Napster and Grokster court cases found the defendants liable mainly on the basis that they knew about the infringements and had not taken steps to prevent them. Similar logic has been used to shut down BitTorrent trackers. I would argue that the real motive of these cases has not been to make the infringements stop or to receive compensation, but to gain control over these distribution channels. Thus, the Sony Axiom would apply here. I claim that these cases represent a misuse of copyright legislation to stifle competition rather than to protect any legal rights.

You can download Boyle’s book from below (in pdf format):

[MegaUpload]

[Mediafire]

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Pirate Party logo

In his book Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes (1995) Peter Lamborn Wilson presents the history of the Republic of Salé, a city-state in Morocco that flourished in the early 17th century. Salé was a cosmopolitan city inhabited by Moorish refugees from Spain, Sufi and Marabout jihadists, Jewish traders and other exiles from different parts of Europe fleeing from religious or political persecution. It served as the last refuge of the Iberian Moorish culture against the expanding imperialism of Spain and Portugal.

A large part of the city’s population was engaged in piracy, and many of these were so-called Renegadoes, Europeans that had converted to Islam. The pirate captains were high in the political hierarchy of the city, and piracy was its main source of wealth. Pirate expeditions from Salé extended as far as Iceland and the New World. The city was a safe haven for pirates coming from all over Europe, Maghreb and the Levant.

During its brief period of independence Salé developed a unique political system based on popular elections of the administrative bodies, their terms limited to one year. The distribution of wealth was relatively egalitarian with the crew on a pirate ship receiving almost half of the booty (compare this with, for example, the British Navy of the time where the conscripts were treated basically as slaves). The class structure of the city allowed for more fluidity than contemporary European kingdoms and the inhabitants enjoyed a higher level of laxity in sexual and religious matters as well.

Lamborn Wilson exhibits the Salé Renegadoes as sort of freedom fighters, suggesting even that they may have served as an example for the English revolution of the 1640s. The pirates were of course mainly interested in personal liberation, but to ensure this, they had to engage in collective action to establish an enclave outside the rule of the European kingdoms and the Ottoman empire. Only in such an enclave were they protected from persecution and slavery, and could enjoy their personal freedom. In this sense, the pirates were true utopians.

Today’s Internet pirates can also be seen as kind of freedom fighters. These pirates are also carving enclaves within the cyberspace in the shape of the various file-sharing networks where they can experience a freedom to exchange information and cultural goods outside the jurisdiction of the copyright empire. Internet pirates are utopians too. They share a dream of a world where information and culture flow freely and can be enjoyed and created by everyone equally, regardless of nationality, status or wealth.

Utopians are always dangerous from the perspective of the ruling classes. The Renegadoes certainly knew this, and so do the Internet pirates whose enclaves are under constant attack from the warships of the copyright empire. But as long as the desire for freedom exists in the hearts of the oppressed, new enclaves will rise to replace the fallen ones and the war will continue until the empire is eventually forced to concede defeat.

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