Friday, March 24, 2006

Losing the rhetorical battle

Now, may I say something about Lessig on DRM? I haven't even fully digested Sun's announcement and neither have I fully digested the literate discussion (with some flaming) going on at his blog. But I think something like this is inevitable when people start thinking of open source i.e., a development methodology alone, as opposed to free software i.e., a particular take on what rights users of software deserve. My suspicion is that Lessig has somehow conflated the quality of the development methodology with the latter, and gone ahead and endorsed SUN's move. But even worse, he has offered an endorsement without thinking too hard, it seems, without what effect this could have on the rhetorical landscape surrounding this debate. Lessig is now an "endorser" and will be used in this capacity (quoted endlessly) by SUN (and other DRM proponents). Its not too hard to imagine SONY saying "Look, even the foremost free culture exponent, the man who fought the Eldred v. Ashcroft appeal, is endorsing DRM". Yes, yes, I know, he's endorsed a certain kind of DRM, but do you think that will really matter to SONY? Or BMG?


Anonymous Tom said...

I don't know that he has necessarily lost sight of the orientation of free software (freedom!) for that of open source (good software), though that analysis of the two positions might help explain his recent endorsements of SUN and Microsoft announcements.

Rather I think that we, by which I mean myself and others who are confused by his endorsement of SUN's DRM system, might have misjudged him all along. That or he is shifting his position. It's telling that he lauds the DRM because it allows "fair use". Is this all he is interested in? Lessig used the metaphor of public parks to explain why a certain amount of public domain information is good -- it benefits the private domain. So long as DRM doesn't get in the way of a healthy creative ecology it's OK, he says.

He's not so concerned with creative freedom as he is with an apparently healthy creative industry, seen from the perspective of a lawyer rather than a practitioner. He doesn't seem to care about artists finding they cannot create, use, share and remix without restriction. So long as the "creative ecology" (a neat way of abusing a term and squashing individuals into the interest of a non-existant whole) continues to pump out content it's all good, just as it would be fine to chop down a few trees if the forest persisted.

We need, more than ever, a strong articulation of a free culture ethic, one that isn't bound to controversial projects such as radical democracy (a-la David Berry). Or is that even possible? :o)

5:22 PM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

Yeah, spot on, Tom. In fact, the first time that Scott and I read his stuff, our first reaction was something along the lines of "thats all he wants? just some kind of temporal limitation on copyright?" I think that in this era, with the number of clampdowns coming down on our heads, we're grateful for some endorsement of free-culture, free-science, free-what-have-you principles, and are only too keen to appoint (annoint?) leaders and spokesmen. Our disappointment at stuff like this would perhaps be tempered if we had fully understood their original position to begin with.

5:52 PM  
Blogger David M said...

I loved the comment from Tom asking for a 'strong' articulation of Free Culture that wasn't linked to 'radical democracy'.

So to decode, you want a strong articulation of Free Culture that is not linked to a concept of democracy that highlights the importance of people taking part in, discussing and making decisions based on free and open discussion (i.e. radical democracy)?

I wonder what then that 'strong' articulation will be and where it might come from? A strong leader? An oligarchy? A few chosen intellectuals? The vanguard of the party?

Certainly from what you say, Tom, you wish to avoid a democratic moment in Free Culture... but what, alternatively, is the source of this articulation?

5:57 AM  

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