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news and thoughts on and around the development of the iCite net
by Jay Fienberg

PlaNetwork conference, Digital Bill of Rights

posted: Jun 8, 2003 4:00:53 PM

Blogging the PlaNetwork conference in San Francisco.

My computer seems to be not crashing now. I switched to using a text editor for my blog entries, as I think my HTML editor got messed up was causing the crashes: so no spell check. Fingers crossed.

This panel presentation has: John Perry Barlow, Brewster Kahle, and Jake Bowman.

Thanks to Brewster for letting us run this event on his bandwidth!

Brewseter is talkikng now about accessing all information online, info from all time. Darkness: DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is causing a problem, especially with software.

So, because of DCMA, we are not allowed to break the access protection on old software to preserve information in old formats, e.g., from the 1970s - 1990s. Software companies don't want people to use old software and are fighting against opening up access. They just got 10,000 CD-ROMs that they can't preserve.

Major manufactures are destroying their old CD-ROMs rather than donate them to libraries.

Points of light: list of rock bands that allow their concerts to be recorded and shared for free. Along the lines of the Grateful Dead. Now, they are storing most of digital versions of these recordings on the Internet Archive (the list is here). 1-2 new bands per day are being added. 40-50 concerts in CD quality are being uploaded.

SFLan. This is an example of free wireless. Working with people covering the whole of San Francisco with free wireless.

FreeCache: free storage and bandwidth. A democratized Akamai type service. Specifcally for large files.

Bookmobile: Allow communities to have libraries of one million books. It costs $1 per book to print. About $5,000 to start up, $15k to make it mobile. People are starting to scan themselves to add to the collection. The scanner is what is proving important: people are bringing the books they want to share.

These are examples of people gearing down from copyright restrictions, and moving towards universal access.

Tim O'reilly has talked about Open Source media. Take open source and combine it with video / TV. For example, the 2004 presidential elections. Proposal: have volunteers at all campaign appearances, and capture all press releases and TV ads. Digitize them all, and upload them (Internet Archive is volunteering to host it).

Give people access to this collection. Allow people to do deep linking into it. Compare what candidates say at different times. Use web tools to make your own videos by weaving together different pieces.

Proposal: with this kind of group, we can pull this off. Creating tools for deep linking. If things are good, will get it back out on cable and sattelite. Applauding!

John Perry Barlow is up now. He is talking about Teilhard de Chardin. Inspired John of idea of global intelligence. He still believes in this and it is a driving mission in his life to connect everything to everything else. So, that the material reflects the immaterial.

There is no difference between an ecosystem and an organization. The planet is an organism the same way the human body is. So, the more ways to make that earth organism conscious and connected, the better it will be.

Need to acknowledge some rights. This is around the freedom of exchange of ideas. The right to speak. But, also the right to know. The right to know is what Brewster is talking about. This is not an impossible dream.

Unfortunately, there are strong vested interests, both commerical and governmental, that are trying to deny us these rights. Exhibit A: the (Mickey) Mouse, which seems to be able to prolong its copyright indefinitely. Every time Mickey's copyright was about to expire, the copyright law was change. Bono act allowed institutions to extend copyright to 150 years. Lawrence Lessig fought this to the Supreme Court, but shockingly, lost.

People are working on taking things that have been out of use for five years, and allowing it to be treated as if in the public domain for non-commerical uses, unless that is being actively objected to.

We need to take into account, in everything we build and do, how we can ensure the rights to know.

Jake is mentioning Lessig's petition about copyrights into the public domain. Jake is up now.

Got into this area, because he created a tool that allowed people to chat. He needed to give this away, and it turned out to be very difficult to give it away. He met Lawrence Lessig at that time. Lessig understood law as code. Richard Stallman created a bug-fix to the copyright law, which allowed him to give away the rights to copy, redistribute, etc.

This was a paradigm shift. Like machine code, you could change things. Lessig was the first understand Stallman, and apply it from the point of view of a legal scholar. Lessig was working with media companies originally.

The U.S. Constitution is code, that created an entity, that took on a life of its own. It tends to exert its own self-preservation (which Jake studied in the form of artifical rights). At the beginning of the U.S., it was so powerful and scary that James Madison created a bug-fix called the Bill of Rights (or, as Microsoft would call it, a security patch).

So, this kind of thinking is how they got into hacking legal code. Jake suggests looking at Creative Commons. Rights are nice, but they aren't given. You have to take your rights. We can write these rights not only to be human readable, but also machine readable.

Q & A

Question from Ken Jordan: what does it mean to have a right of assembly online? John answers: the right to know includes the right to know one and other. The Bill of Rights states first the freedom to assemble. The problem with rights in the digital domain is that they require rights extending insitutions. An institution to do that doesn't exist, and if it did, it would be scary (laughs).

Question: (stuff about CIA and truth about 9/11). She is not technological, so how do we get the information out when it is being supressed. Answer from Brewster: the tool of the net is more powerful than people think. We haven't even realized it. But, it is also fragile. People are being made afraid to connect. SPAM is a serious problem. He is spending his life building the net into the world we live in.

John says: consider joining the EFF and Creative Commons (appologizes for shameless plug). It takes people supporting an alternative to these terrible government acts. For example, Patriot Act which forces librarians to turn over patron info. We need to assemble resources that can take this to the Supreme Court to fight to get this ruled unconstitutional.

Question about rights guaranteeing code being built into the software. Questioner concerned about ManyOne. Answer from John: ManyOne looks like it will be open to support things, and having open systems really changes the potential.

Question: strongly recommends Lessig's book, The Future of Ideas (which Jake had mentioned). Questioner mentions advising the EU to read this book, as a way to compete with the US. John: unfortunately, they adopted a copy of the US version.

Same questioner conintinuing: we have to concentrate on the problem of information addressing. Need to protect addressing expressions from loss value (i.e., URIs going out of date). Wants structures of information. Questioner is creator of ISO 10744, aka HyTime, which is a standard for addressing. Information is eternal and software is ephemeral. This is important for deep linking. Linking in terms of structure of information itself, not in terms of servers. He created GoveMinder, but no one knows what to do with it. (Says his name is Steve Newcome.)

Same questioner: problem of information glut. Internet doesn't make things more findable, just more accessible. Also developed standard called TopicMaps. Want to recycle the finding of information that other people have found. Create way for interchange of information that people have found. [Note: I think the iCite net can be compatible with TopicMaps.]

New question from man who created Form of censorship through slap suits, which sounds like suing people in different states to disable their efforts. John answers: have you talked to EFF? They are hooking up so the EFF can help.

New questioner: worried about information glut. Most people here have alternative points of view. Official reality is maintained by official media, but it is tiny fraction of information out there. There is a lot of noise. The important stories don't have legs. Censorship by overwhelm.

John: cyberspace works too well at giving everyone a voice. He wants that to keep going on. Unlimited street corners with their own prophets preeching to themselves. But, then is there the horizontal bottom-up connections.

Question: what about major media companies that own the Intenret backbone. Do we have any legal position that would prevent these carriers from supressing the propogation of websites. Answer from Brewster: serious problem. John: no legal recourse at this time. Brewster: this is happening, in terms of consoldiation through single ISPs. Local wireless networks can be uncontrolled and uncontrollable.

Problem of moving things around town and cities. Need to build alternatives. Then, the backhaul. People haven't figured out how to create these as alternatives. Idea of infoducts. There is plenty of fiber already. We need to find ways to create altnerate routes. John: also encrypting packets.

Question: people who live here who are no longer U.S. citizens and who no longer pay taxes. Figuring out how to use the system to get out of the system. Can be done.

Question: about education. Not everyone feels the value of the Internet. How can you defend the digital rights of people, say the PTA in Omaha, when they don't get it or know appreciate the significance of decisions being made in congress. John: this is a difficult problem. Reason they created the EFF. Realized that these problems would not be comprehensible to the non-technically literate. Have to move forward without a broad consituency. Congresspeople don't get these issues either.

For a while, deposit a lot of faith in the courts. But the judges are less educable, as they become more and more Bush appointees. We are entering into a time where a lot of people do understand the Internet. His kids do. Lots of ordinary people do. This is the hope.

Also, if people just registered to vote and voted, it would make a difference.

Question: seems a major piece of the issue is corporate personhood, that corporations can claim the rights of persons. Jake: this is law / code that gives corporations these rights. These are very aggressive about self-preservation. They aren't limited to one human body, and they don't have to age. People can flow through the virtual bodies of these non-human organisms. John: this ruling that conveyed this was relatively recent, and obscure. It became a generally accepted doctrine of law without a lot of consitutional basis. Wonders why it hasn't been challenged. Of course, every corporation in the world is fighting against it.

Question: it wasn't the ruling, it was the secretary who notated the ruling who added this corporate personhood idea into the summary. John: any time you want to take on global corporatism, let him know!

Question: what about state governements? They are the ones who empower the corporations. States like Deleware that make it easy to create corporations. In Pennsylvania, they can revoke corporate charters. So, this may be a better focus for activism. Is it not the attorney general whom we should target. And, in terms of education, it is their handlers. Hershey case, Pennsylvania Attorney General wouldn't let them sell to Nestle.

Question from founder of Media Alliance in San Francisco. Challenging Clear Channel and media ownership. They are looking for a corporate charter challenge. Comment about the ownership of the Internet backbone. Making a plug for organizing. Suggests it happens at the local level, around cable franchises. 80% of people in US get TV through cable. Pushing to get same people on Internet through cable.

Comcast has to now come to the table in San Francisco, and in cities and towns all around the country. They need to negotiate the terms of the contracts, including around privacy, prices for non-profits. This is an opportunity to engage local groups. This is a strategic opportunity.

Jake: only thing with taking on evil corporation. These are entities that have the choice to be good or evil. Trying to affect behavior by threatening to killing it stimulates their self-preservation. Not cooperative way to approach it.

The charter that creates a nation-state, the rules of the organization's behavior, is a form of incorporation. Same is true for corporations. These are virutal entities that are mothers for many daughter virtual entities. These are all self-interested beings.

Question: is there a parallel to the EFF in the biological world, with regards to genetic patents and such? Jake: the presidents council on bioethics is a snake pit of creationists. The most liberal one is a class at Stanford. Worries about neuroethics: mind drugs being created as weapons. Recommends

John: agrees that this bioethics area is important, and an EFF-like organization is needed.

Question: creating an alternative set of talking heads to give news. Talking about simultanoues broadcast of alternative news. Mentions Indy Media (which was mentioned a bunch by John and other questioners). We can rent council meeting halls that are already wired for broadcasting. Need to help organize public access stations.

End of presentation. Applauding.

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