Sunday, May 29, 2011


The Protect IP Act (full text) enables the government and copyright holders to compel DNS providers, ISPs, search engines and advertisers to censor sites hosting copyright or trademark infringements. They're going to make linking to pirated material a crime.

Media companies want this because it's easier to go after the intermediaries, rather than the infringers, especially those outside the US. It's not that different from the Great Firewall of China.

This is the second attempt, the previous incarnation COICA having been introduced in September of last year. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), held up that legislation and is trying to do the same again. Cheers to Ron Wyden.

Larry Downes provides an excellent summary of the "full-scale war between content distributors and everyone else" in his Law of Disruption blog, including the property seizure tactics of the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customers Enforcement division, a name straight out of Orwell.

The media industries, everyone agrees, are in the fight of their lives. These businesses rely for profitability on the controlled distribution of information goods whose individual copies have a marginal cost that keeps getting closer to zero.

The EFF has a couple articles on the PROTECT IP act and a petition.

One commenter asked, "Why is the attorney general wasting precious tax dollars enforcing corporate plutocracy?"

The real question

A lot changes when the costs of production and distribution are approaching zero. The question we should be asking is this: What still has value?

  • The creation itself - the skill, insight and artistic judgement necessary to make movies, music, or writing that doesn't suck.
  • The ability to sift through mountains of dreck to find the good stuff. The value of the filter goes way up in the new environment.
  • The community? A viable place to discuss. I'm pretty sure that the difference between Quora and You-Tube comments has value.

Legislating without a clear idea of what's valuable in the new environment will lead to useless and harmful laws that burden legitimate service providers while only slightly inconveniencing pirates - something like requiring every new car to come with a trunk full of horseshoes to protect the blacksmiths.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Humans are a tribal animal

It's amazing how much of human nature can be explained by the fact that we're a tribal animal. I'm not sure if we're more like a herd or a pack, or exactly what's the difference anyway. Street gangs, nationalism, sports fan mania, racism, cults, even religion to some extent can be all be explained by a group membership instinct. How supportive people are towards the welfare state is proportional to racial homogeneity. Tribal identity shows up everywhere from music and fashion to the followers of certain programming languages. The structure of governments and corporations mimic the alpha male social dynamic of the apes.

The countervailing force is individualism. And, somehow, technology plays a role in freeing us from our local community, separating us from those directly around us, even while connecting us to those farther away.

A political economy

A recent piece in the Economist ( A new anthology of essays reconsiders Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” , May 20, 2107) ends with these words: &q...