sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘intellectual property’ Category

MIT quits open-source Kuali project

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 18, 2010

What happened: Recently, MIT announced it would discontinue partnership with the Kuali foundation on an open-source project called Kuali Student. This came, according to an official press release, after extensive discussions with board members and people and groups directly involved in developing this student-administration software.

What the press release didn’t say is why MIT made this decision. It seems likely that the decision was financial. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article, MIT is the second higher education institution in the last several months to pull out of Kuali Student; Florida State University withdrew in February due to budget cuts.

Why it matters: MIT has been a strong and vocal supporter of openness in higher education and research. During my employ at the Institute, administrators officially adopted an open access policy which was designed to support the widest possible circulation of ideas, projects, and research generated by MIT-affiliated researchers. MIT has embraced the open education movement, investing copious time, energy, and dollars into its OpenCourseWare project.

If MIT’s decision to withdraw from Kuali Student is primarily a cost-cutting measure–and again, we don’t know for sure if this is the rationale–this does not bode well for open education. It’s all too easy to treat the idea of openness as a luxury worth pursuing during times of plenty and simple to abandon during times of famine. But the openness movement, in all its iterations (software, hardware, education, access, and so on), is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. Transparency problems are part of what got us into this mess in the first place, especially in higher education where access to high-quality learning is still sequestered off behind a series of wrought-iron gates that cost too much–too much time, too much money, too much sacrifice–for many of our learners to be willing or able to gain entry.

We are no longer in an era where we can afford to make powerful, empowering education available only to the few. Indeed, one can easily argue that it’s not openness but opacity that is the luxury.

Posted in academia, education, intellectual property, MIT, open education, open source | 1 Comment »

Lawrence Lessig’s Educause 2009 keynote

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on November 12, 2009

If you are an educator, new media activitist, or copyright law hobbyist and you plan to watch only one video this month, I’ve found the video for you. This is video from Lawrence Lessig’s keynote presentation at the Educause conference this month.

Lessig, a Harvard law professor and a founder of the Creative Commons Project, wonders why citizens treat the law with such reverence when even lawyers approach the law with deep skepticism. He argues that it’s time for citizens–especially citizens working in education and science–to approach copyright law with skepticism. He does acknowledge that for much of our cultural history copyright law was a “necessary evil,” but that:

The thing to remember about necessary evils? They’re still evil.

Here’s Lessig’s talk. You’re going to love it. (If you want to watch a version that lines up, across multiple panels, footage of Lessig giving the talk alongside the slides he’s showing the audience, you can click here [requires Silverlight download].

Posted in copyright, culture, education, hacking, intellectual property, law | 1 Comment »

how to grow your community: Creative Commons FTW

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 6, 2009

I recently published two posts about Creative Commons, the first explaining that I don’t understand it and the second explaining that I admire it even though I don’t understand it.

If you’re a grassroots organization focused on working toward social change, here’s how to grow your community: Once somebody has self-identified as ideologically aligned with your purposes, do what you can to show them that you’re interested in getting and keeping them involved. That’s what Eric Steuer, the Creative Director of Creative Commons, did in response to an email I submitted to him through the site.

My email suggested he build on his series of “we like to share” posts at Good Magazine to include a post about sharing in academia, and I linked him to my own recent post about this very issue. Okay, okay, AND I suggested he interview me for the sharing in academia piece.

He responded within hours with this:

Glad you’re enjoying the interview series. Actually, all of the interviews were done last December, even though they’re just going online now. We’re not planning to do any more in the short term, but after these 15 go up, it’s possible we’ll end up doing more. If that’s the case, I’ll likely reach out to you about the project you’re working on and see if there’s something we can do.

I see from a previous blog post of yours that you feel like you don’t fully understand Creative Commons. If you have particular questions about what we do and how our tools work, let me know and I will answer them as best I can.

Hope you’re well,
Eric

If you’re me and you receive the above email from somebody as fascinating as Eric Steuer, you’re at least twice as likely to try again with Creative Commons. Almost immediately after receiving this email, I went to the creative commons site and started poking around. I left a comment on a blogpost about a recent court case involving J.D. Salinger and copyright law, clicked on a feature piece about Wikipedia’s official adoption of a Creative Commons license for its content, and then I headed over to my blog to write about how energized I am about the prospect of digging in to the Creative Commons movement. I am, after all, now a valued potential member of the CC community.

Well played, Creative Commons. You win this round.

Posted in awesome, Creative Commons, creativity, intellectual property | Leave a Comment »

opening up scholarship: generosity among grinches

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 5, 2009

why academic research and open exchange of ideas are like that bottle of raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing you’ve had in the back of your fridge since last summer

The folks over at Good Magazine are tossing up a series of blogposts under the heading “We Like to Share.”

The articles are actually a series of interviews with creative types in a variety of fields who share one characteristic: they believe that sharing of ideas and content is valuable and important. The edited interviews are being posted by Eric Steuer, the Creative Director of Creative Commons–a project which, though I admittedly don’t fully understand it, I find deeply ethical and innovative with respect to offering new approaches to sharing and community.

So far, two posts have gone up, the first with Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and the former online strategist for the Obama presidential campaign, and the second with Flickr founder Caterina Fake. Talking about how much we’ve changed in our attitudes toward sharing, Fake explains that

[i]f you go online today you will see stories about Obama sharing his private Flickr photos. So this is how far the world has come: our president is sharing photos of his life and experiences with the rest of the world, online. Our acceptance of public sharing has evolved a lot over the course of the past 15 years. And as people became increasingly comfortable sharing with each other—and the world—that lead to things that we didn’t even anticipate: the smart mob phenomenon, people cracking crimes, participatory media, subverting oppressive governments. We didn’t know these things were going to happen when we created the website, but that one decision—to make things public and sharable—had significant consequences.

Hughes’ interview is less overtly about sharing as we typically think of the term, but he points out that the Obama campaign was successful because it focused on offering useful communications tools that lowered barriers to access and then

getting out of the way of the grassroots supporters and organizers who were already out there making technology the most efficient vehicle possible for them to be able to organize. That was a huge emphasis of our program: with people all over the place online—Facebook, MySpace, and a lot of other different networks—we worked hard to make sure anyone who was energized by the campaign and inspired by Barack Obama could share that enthusiasm with their friends, get involved, and do tangible things to help us get closer to victory. The Obama campaign was in many ways a good end to the grassroots energy that was out there.

Both interviews, for as far as they go, offer interesting insights into how sharing is approached by innovators within their respective spheres. But though these posts present their subjects as bold in their embrace of sharing and community, their ideas about what sharing means and how it matters are woefully…limited. Fake uses the Obama example to point out how far we’ve come; but really, does Obama’s decision to make public photos of his adorable family mean much more than that he knows how to maintain his image as the handsome, open President who loves his family almost to a fault? I don’t imagine we’d be very surprised to learn that Obama’s advisors counseled him to make these photos widely available.

Indeed, the Flickr approach, in general, is this: These photos are mine and I will let you see them, but you have to give them back when you’re done. It’s a version of sharing, yes, but only along the lines of the sharing we learned to do as children.

The same is true of the picture Hughes paints of a campaign that successfully leveraged social networking technologies. The Obama campaign’s decision to use participatory technologies was a calculated move: Everybody knows that a.) More young, wired and tech-savvy people supported Obama than McCain; and b.) those supporters required a little extra outreach in order to line up at the polls on election day. You can bet that if Republicans outnumbered Democrats on Facebook, you can bet Obama’s managers would have been a little less quick to embrace these barrier-dropping communication tools.

What we’re not seeing so far among these innovators is an innovative approach to sharing–one that opens up copyright-able and patent-able and, therefore, economically valuable ideas and content to the larger community.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because of my obsession with open education and open access. In particular, educational researchers–even those who embrace open educational resources–struggle with the prospect of making their work available to other interested researchers.

This makes sense to anyone who’s undertaken ed research–prestige, funding, and plum faculty positions (what little there is of any of these things) are secured through the generation of innovative, unique scholarship and ideas, and ideas made readily available are ideas made readily stealable. As a fairly new addition to the field, even I have been a victim of intellectual property theft. It’s enough to give a person pause, even if, like me, you’re on open education like Joss Whedon on strong, feminist-type leading ladies.

But, come on, we all know there’s no point to hiding good research from the public. As Kevin Smith writes in a recent blogpost on a San Jose State University professor who accused a student of copyright violation for posting assigned work online,

[t]here are many reasons to share scholarship, and very few reasons to keep it secret. Scholarship that is not shared has very little value, and the default position for scholars at all levels ought to be as much openness as is possible. There are a few situations in which it is appropriate to withhold scholarship from public view, but they should be carefully defined and circumscribed. After all, the point of our institutions is to increase public knowledge and to put learning at the service of society. And there are several ways in which scholars benefit personally by sharing their work widely.

Smith is right, of course, and the only real issue is figuring out strategies for getting everybody on board with the pro-sharing approach to scholarship. The “I made this and you can see it but you have to give it back when you’re done” model is nice in theory but, in practice, limits innovation and progress in educational research. A more useful approach might be along the lines of: “I made this and you can feel free to appropriate the parts that are valuable to you, but please make sure you credit my work as your source material.” This is a key principle at the core of the open education approach and of what media scholar Henry Jenkins calls “spreadability.”

The problem is that there are enough academics who subscribe to the “share your toys but take them back when you’re done playing” approach to research that anybody who embraces the free-appropriation model of scholarship ends up getting every toy stolen and has to go home with an empty bag. This is why the open education movement holds so much promise for all of academia: Adherents to the core values of open education agree that while we may not have a common vocabulary for the practice of sharing scholarship, we absolutely need to work to develop one. For all my criticisms of the OpenCourseWare projects at MIT and elsewhere, one essential aspect of this work is that it opens up a space to talk about how to share materials, and why, and when, and in what context. The content of these projects may be conservative, but the approach is wildly radical.

Posted in academia, academics, collective intelligence, Henry Jenkins, intellectual property, MIT, open education, open source, President Obama, spreadability | 2 Comments »

confession: I don’t understand Creative Commons

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 1, 2009

I mean, I get the basic idea: that instead of thinking about individual ownership rights to content, we can and need to start thinking about how to participate in collaborative communities. Creative Commons is a set of copyright categories intended to say to other people: I abide by copyright law and want you to know that I’m making my work freely available for repurposing, remixing, and sharing.

What I don’t get is…well, okay, I guess I don’t understand copyright law very well at all. I’m among the countless hordes who shamelessly rip songs, videos, and images and repurpose them without regard to copyright or fair use issues. (Interestingly, though, and in what I can only assume is a holdover to the antiquated notion of genius residing in a single individual, who is solely responsible for the content that erupts from his or her brilliant brain, I do my very best to respect authorship and ownership rights over print texts.) I mean, is it legal for me to copy an image from a google search and embed it in a blogpost? Is it ethical (never mind legal) for me to pwn a YouTube video and toss it into a Keynote presentation? It’s not true, right, that illegally downloading a movie is like stealing a handbag? Right?

I’m unbelievably lame. So lame that there are heatwaves of lameness issuing from all around my person.

Still, this is perhaps a call to action for the kind folks at Creative Commons. I’m pretty much on board with the CC mission, and I’ve even engaged to an extent with Creative Commons licensing in my (now former) position at Project New Media Literacies. Yet here I am, eager but clueless when it comes to copyright.

May I suggest a guerrilla marketing campaign that’s riveting enough to keep viewers’ eyes drawn to the product and clear enough to offer a laundry list of the product’s most appealing features?

Posted in convergence culture, creativity, intellectual property, law | Leave a Comment »

Let’s rethink OpenCourseWare

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 29, 2009

You can’t knock down the gates around higher education by putting up virtual borders instead.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’m on the open source movement like Daniel Tosh on videos of people puking.

Which is why I engage with MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative as if I were trying to embody the very definition of insanity itself. This time, I’ve gotten my dander up over the promise and disappointment of an awesomely titled course, Research Topics in Architecture: Citizen-Centered Design of Open Governance Systems. Here’s the description from the course’s syllabus:

Imagine if networked computers and other devices could unleash full democratic real-time participation in official decisions by all stakeholders. To date, member-led debate and decision-making has always been subject to physical limits in space, time and numbers of participants. Current technologies and business practices can allow architects and planners to break through the traditional constraints to member involvement in the agoras of our public and private institutions. The implications for corporate transparency and accountability, as well as for more responsive government are provocative.

In this seminar, students will design and perfect a digital environment to house the activities of large-scale organizations of people making bottom-up decisions, such as with citizen-government affairs, voting corporate shareholders or voting members of global non-profits and labor unions. A working Open Source prototype created last semester will be used as the starting point, featuring collaborative filtering and electronic agent technology pioneered at the Media Lab. This course focuses on development of online spaces as part of an interdependent human environment, including physical architectures, mapped work processes and social/political dimensions.

Perfect, right? And not only that, but I keep going back to the noble origins of OCW and wanting the tool to live up to its promise. As the site proclaims,

In 1999, MIT Faculty considered how to use the Internet in pursuit of MIT’s mission—to advance knowledge and educate students—and in 2000 proposed OCW. MIT published the first proof-of-concept site in 2002, containing 50 courses. By November 2007, MIT completed the initial publication of virtually the entire curriculum, over 1,800 courses in 33 academic disciplines. Going forward, the OCW team is updating existing courses and adding new content and services to the site.

It’s an expensive–according to the site, it costs between $10,000 and $15,000 to upload materials from a single course–but laudable effort, ideally suited to highly resourceful learners looking for ways to supplement their formal or informal learning.

Again and again I return to OCW. Again and again I’m disappointed by how hostile OCW materials are to even the most dedicated, passionate learner. The materials are easy to download and unzip but difficult to unpack: They’re so dense, and so decontextualized in their current format, that they’re nearly nonsensical.

The architecture course is a case in point. While I’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect class for the likes of me, the materials, though organized according to the course schedule and packaged with lecture notes, handouts, and supplemental readings, are simply too much to make head or tail of. Here, for example, are the class notes from week 1, “slashdot as example”:

Class Notes

  1. Slashdot.org – Karma – six levels – terrible, bad, neutral, positive, good, excellent
  2. Self-Organizing
  3. Fiction (Jeremy) – similar point system
  4. Pathfinder (Stylianos)
  5. Shock Experiment – Anonymity
  6. Slackdot – takes time to penetrate – no ‘design’ (‘blurb’ upon ‘blurb’)
  7. Legibility should be more important
  8. Hard to read – squint eyes
  9. Only get ‘tip of the iceberg’
  10. Graphic way of searching for info – rhizome.org (starry night)
  11. The Brain EKP – Enterprise Knowledge Platform
  12. Spider Map – Irish PM interface – drag and drop
  13. How things get ‘about the iceberg’ – organized on screen – very different
  14. Slashdot – every user is not equal – ‘superusers’ have more input – antidemocratic
  15. Mediation – 3rd party neutral – resolution among themselves.
  16. Arbitration – 3rd party neutral – arbitrator rules based on evidence.
  17. EBay- used same technology to resolve dispute
  18. High reputation, good feedback – typically did nothing wrong – past performance
  19. Filters – like minded people (ie ACLU) or only hi-karma people
  20. Maybe have user-defined (voted for things you also want)
  21. To what extent are user comments and actions transparent?
  22. Is real identity necessary?

Next Week:

How to preserve minority rights – mediation – therapeutic circles!

Debate Notes:
#2
What do you mean by project based experience?
Really there is 2 proposals – eliminate GRE, use project-based evaluation
Other criteria still valid.

I’m sure this makes perfect sense to the student who was able to sit in on that week’s lecture, but it’s all but useless without that guidance. Though I’m sure the readings and other assignments clarify nicely, it’s up to me to locate the texts, read them alone, and figure out the link to the key ideas of the course. This is only slightly better, and perhaps a good deal more time-consuming, than if I were to simply email the instructor with a request for reading recommendations.

The resources aren’t completely useless, of course; the reading list saves me the time and energy of having to locate, contact, and wait to hear back from the instructor. I imagine, too, that OCW is an invaluable resource for higher ed faculty and administrators as they approach course planning. Used right, this kind of resource could help us make enormous strides toward leveling the higher education playing field.

But I’m not sure what using it right might look like. Should all universities compare their course offerings and reading materials to that offered by MIT faculty? Should all students pick an accompanying OCW course to complement their chosen field of study? Or should we ignore the content and emulate the approach: Making all course materials at all universities available to anybody who wants to access them?

Perhaps, as a colleague pointed out, it’s not fair to use a course from 2002 as proof of OCW’s failings. After all, as she explained, 2002 was too early to judge anything by today’s criteria: “In 2002,” she said, “the New York Times was still charging for content.”

Fair enough. But more recent courses appear similarly information-dense and context-sparse. All I’m saying (and I’ve said it before, here on this blog) is that while the impetus behind OCW is grand and noble, it doesn’t seem like anybody’s getting their $10,000 to $15,000 worth. It seems much more valuable–not to mention cheaper and more readily accessible–to capture one or two key lectures per semester, surround those lectures with related readings designed by the lecturer for the OCW context, and link learners to a cluster of resources available through other open educational resources, online networks, and offline texts. This seems much more closely aligned to the spirit of the open educational movement, an effort that hopes to break down archaic and arbitrary geological, achievement-oriented, and class-defined gaps in participation.

Okay, now I’m just repeating myself.

Posted in academia, academics, distributed cognition, education, intellectual property, MIT, open education, open source | 7 Comments »

open source, open access, open education: some definitions

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 18, 2009

For my upcoming study at Indiana University, I’m working on a position paper on the Free / Open Source / Libre movement, the open source ethos, and open education. It’s kind of weird having to draft a position paper when I kind of feel like I’ve done that, over here at sleeping alone and starting out early.

In fact, a position paper focusing only on the F/OSS movement and open education seems to somehow miss the point, since the spirit of these movements embraces an open-source approach to culture at large. In this way, this blog feels more appropriate as a position statement than any short paper ever could.

Still, academia is academia, and I can’t just turn in a one-liner (http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com) as a position paper. The paper I’m drafting, though, belongs to and informs this blog as much as this blog informs it. For that reason, I’ll be posting my work here as I go.

Today, I’ll start with some definitions.

Open Source:
Open source is an approach to the design, development, and distribution of software, offering practical accessibility to a software’s source code. Some consider open source as one of various possible design approaches, while others consider it a critical strategic element of their operations. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet, which provided access to diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source)

Open Source Software (OSS): computer software for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that meets the Open Source Definition or that is in the public domain. This permits users to use, change, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified forms. It is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner. Open source software is the most prominent example of open source development and often compared to user-generated content. The term open source software originated as part of a marketing campaign for free software.

Free Software (vs. Open Source Software): The term “free software” was coined by Richard Stallman, who explains that

When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects the users’ essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.” (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html)

Briefly, the difference in the terms highlights different ethical approaches to software development. In general, the OSS movement emphasizes the collective engagement with source code in order to develop, and sometimes to market, powerful and efficient software. The free software movement identifies as a social movement. Stallman explains:

Nearly all open source software is free software; the two terms describe almost the same category of software. But they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement. For the free software movement, free software is an ethical imperative, because only free software respects the users’ freedom. By contrast, the philosophy of open source considers issues in terms of how to make software “better”—in a practical sense only. It says that non-free software is a suboptimal solution. For the free software movement, however, non-free software is a social problem, and moving to free software is the solution.

Many adherents to these movements, to avoid this issue, simply refer to the Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) Movement.

Community Source Software (CSS): Community Source Software differs from OSS in that institutions devote paid employees to the project, with the intention of collaboratively developing a product that embraces the open source ethos. From the Wikipedia article on Community source,

An important distinctive characteristic of community source as opposed to plain open source is that the community includes some organizations or institutions that are committing their resources to the community, in the form of human resources or other financial elements. In this way, the open source project will have both more solid support, rather than purely volunteer efforts as found in other open source communities, and will possibly be shaped by the strategic requirements of the institution committing the resource.

Examples of CSS include: the Sakai Project, Kuali Foundation, and Open Source Portfolio.

Open Access (OA):
From http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm, “open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. The goal of adopting OA policies is to remove barriers to information. Many higher education institutions have adopted an open access policy, as for example the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which explains that it adopted an OA policy because “The Faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible.”

Open Education Movement and Open Educational Resources (OERs): From Opening Up Education, a key tenet of this movement is that education can be improved by making educational assets visible and accessible and by harnessing the collective wisdom of a community of practice and reflection. The open education movement embraces a shift away from a scarcity-based model of higher education, which bases its value on limiting access. As Batson, Paharia, and Kumar explain (in chapter 6, “A Harvest Too Large? A Framework for Educational Abundance”), open education works within a “knowledge ecology characterized by unfettered access to educational resources, choice, and change in the context and clientele of higher education.” In the open, “abundance-based” learning framework, we see the following shifts, with the “trend indicators” column showing features of higher education that point to the shift.

Recursive Publics: This term was coined by Christopher Kelty, who describes it at length in Two Bits (available for download, online browsing, and modulation for free online):

A recursive public is a public that is vitally concerned with the material and practical maintenance and modification of the technical, legal, practical, and conceptual means of its own existence as a public; it is a collective independent of other forms of constituted power and is capable of speaking to existing forms of power through the production of actually existing alternatives.

More to the point, a recursive public is a group of people who exist outside of traditional institutions (governments, churches, schools, corporations) and, when necessary, use this outsider status to hold these entities in check. The engagement of these publics goes far beyond simply protesting decisions or stating their opinions. Kelty, writing about geek culture as a recursive public, explains it thus:

Recursive publics seek to create what might be understood, enigmatically, as a constantly “self-leveling” level playing field. And it is in the attempt to make the playing field self-leveling that they confront and resist forms of power and control that seek to level it to the advantage of one or another large constituency: state, government, corporation, profession. It is important to understand that geeks do not simply want to level the playing field to their advantage—they have no affinity or identity as such. Instead, they wish to devise ways to give the playing field a certain kind of agency, effected through the agency of many different humans, but checked by its technical and legal structure and openness. Geeks do not wish to compete qua capitalists or entrepreneurs unless they can assure themselves that (qua public actors) that they can compete fairly. It is an ethic of justice shot through with an aesthetic of technical elegance and legal cleverness.

Posted in academia, Dan Hickey, graduate school, intellectual property, MIT, open education, open source, social revolution | Leave a Comment »

Breaking: Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton "cannot subscribe to the views of those online critics who insist that I ‘just don’t get it’ "

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 31, 2009

Subhead: Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton just doesn’t get it.

Michael Lynton wants guardrails for the internet in the name of preserving creativity. At least, that’s what he says he wants. If you read his recent piece in the Huffington Post, you quickly understand that what he really wants is to preserve his company’s ability to profit from the creativity of others.

Lynton went viral after making the following assertion: “I’m a guy who sees nothing good having come from the Internet. Period.” And in the HuffPost piece, he explains that he welcomes the “Sturm und Drang” that resulted from that statement, because it allows him to make the following point:

the major content businesses of the world and the most talented creators of that content — music, newspapers, movies and books — have all been seriously harmed by the Internet.

He’s right, of course. But any attempt to roll back the appropriation, remix, and–sometimes–piracy practices enabled by new media will fail, and one big reason for this is that people like Lynton can’t see that the internet simply cannot be regulated the way we’ve traditionally approached culturally transformative inventions.

Lynton compares the Internet to the national highway system developed under the Eisenhower administration. He explains the comparison thus:

Contrast the expansion of the Internet with what happened a half century ago. In the 1950’s, the Eisenhower Administration undertook one of the most massive infrastructure projects in our nation’s history — the creation of the Interstate Highway System. It completely transformed how we did business, traveled, and conducted our daily lives. But unlike the Internet, the highways were built and operated with a set of rational guidelines. Guard rails went along dangerous sections of the road. Speed and weight limits saved lives and maintenance costs. And officers of the law made sure that these rules were obeyed. As a result, as interstates flourished, so did the economy. According to one study, over the course of its first four decades of existence, the Interstate Highway System was responsible for fully one-quarter of America’s productivity growth.

We can replicate that kind of success with the Internet more easily if we do more to encourage the productivity of the creative engines of our society — the artists, actors, writers, directors, singers and other holders of intellectual property rights — yes, including the movie studios, which help produce and distribute entertainment to billions of people worldwide.

It makes sense for someone like Lynton to compare the internet to a literal highway–he, and many of his ilk, continue to think of the internet as an “information superhighway” that can be maintained and paid for via a simple system of tolls, speed limits, and regulations on what kinds of vehicles will be allowed to operate, and when, and by whom. This is precisely why the information superhighway metaphor has fallen into disuse by the majority of internet users: It simply does not apply to a system that is far more complex, and far less regulated and regulatable, than the metaphor suggests.

Mind-bogglingly, Lynton believes that “without standards of commerce and more action against piracy, the intellectual property of humankind will be subject to infinite exploitation on the Internet.” He wonders:

How many people will be as motivated to write a book or a song, or make a movie if they know it is going to be immediately stolen from them and offered to the world with no compensation whatsoever? And how many people whose work is connected with those creative industries — the carpenters, drivers, food service workers, and thousands of others — will lose their jobs as piracy robs their business of resources?

Seriously? The head of one of the most new media-reliant entertainment companies in the world is so oblivious to the creativity that is enabled by social media that he really, honestly believes that the social practices that are emerging around these technologies are going to destroy humanity’s creative impulse?

On the other hand, this is perhaps an apt approach for the head of a company that makes its bones on defining creativity as “stuff that can make money for whoever owns the rights to it (e.g., Sony Entertainment).”

Lynton would have us believe that he’s in this fight for the good of mankind, that he and others like him are humanitarians along the lines of this cartoon I pirated from the internet:

Alternately, we might view his motives as more closely aligned with this cartoon I pirated from the internet:

Lynton wants us to know that he is not a Luddite, not “an analogue guy living in a digital world.” I am fully convinced of that. I also believe that his impulse to set up internet guardrails is not quite as humanitarian as even he himself might think. He seems to be confusing the notions of “creative impulse” with “the drive to make money off of creativity.” As anybody who’s been paying attention for the last couple of decades knows, in the internet era, these aren’t the same thing. They aren’t even in the same category. If that makes it harder for behemoths like Sony to survive by standing on the shoulders of the creative types it exploits, then so be it.

Posted in convergence culture, creativity, crime, culture, intellectual property, lame, law, new media, obnoxious, participatory culture, social media, social revolution | 1 Comment »