Saving the Net

How to get past the intellectual and political logjams that threaten Linux and the Net.

At the same time that media concentration restrictions are being removed, such that three companies will own everything, so too are neutrality restrictions for the network being eliminated, so that those same three companies--who also will control broadband access--are totally free to architect broadband however they wish. "The Internet that is to be the savior is a dying breed. The end-to-end architecture that gave us its power will, in effect, be inverted. And so the games networks play to benefit their own will bleed to this space too."

And then Dr. Pangloss says, "but what about spectrum. Won't unlicensed spectrum guarantee our freedom?" And it is true: Here at least there was some hope from this FCC. But the latest from DC is that a tiny chunk of new unlicensed spectrum will be released. And then after that, no more. Spectrum too will be sold--to the same companies, no doubt.

So then, Dr. Pangloss: "When the content layer, the logical layer, and the physical layer are all effectively owned by a handful of companies, free of any requirements of neutrality or openness, what will you ask then?"

--"But Where's the Internet?" by Lawrence Lessig, MediaCon.

"I think that I could turn and live with the animals... Not one of them is demented with the mania of owning things." --Walt Whitman

Who Owns What?

That's the fundamental question, and it's going to get more fundamental as we roll toward the next presidential election here in the US. Much is at stake, including Linux and its natural habitat: the Net. Both have been extraordinarily good for business. Its perceived "threat" to Microsoft and the dot-com crash are both red herrings. Take away Linux and the Net, and both technology and the economy would be a whole lot worse.

Both the Net and Linux were created, grew and flourished almost entirely outside the regulatory sphere. They are, in a literal sense, what free markets have done with their freedoms.

Yet, there are some who do not care. Unfortunately, they're driving the conversation right now. Hollywood has lawmakers and news organizations convinced that file sharing is "piracy" and "theft". Apple, Intel and Microsoft are quietly doing their deals with the Hollywood devil, crippling (or contemplating the crippling of) PC functionalities, to protect the intellectual property of "content producers".

As I write this, SCO claims to own whatever remains of AT&T's original UNIX. They're suing IBM and spreading FUD by the trainload all over Linux, which they claim is derivative. I'm getting e-mails from technologists at big companies telling me that Linux use is now a Big Issue for their corporate legal departments. I also heard recently from a former Novell employee who says Novell intentionally held onto their UNIX patents (acquired from AT&T) so SCO wouldn't have full claims to "owning" whatever it was that Novell sold them (after buying UNIX, renamed UnixWare, from AT&T).

And I'm hearing from people who insist that Linux is not exactly ownerless, either. "Linux is a registered Trademark of Linus Torvalds" appears on 268,000 Web documents, Google tells me. In at least one sense, these folks say, Linus owns Linux. That means it is, in a limited sense, proprietary.

The Internet has been blessedly free of regulation for most of its short life. But the companies that provide most Internet service--telcos and cable companies--are highly regulated. They are creatures that live in a regulatory environment that bears little resemblance to a real marketplace. As natives of regulatory habitats, they see nothing but Good Sense in regulating the Net. After all, any regulation will help assert their ownership over the sections of the Net they control and legitimize the limitations they place on what their customers can do with, and on, the Net.

These companies have deep alliances with the big "content": industries (in the case of cable, they are one and the same) that want to see control extended beyond the Net, into the devices that connect to the Net, including PCs, which have also been blessedly free from regulation. Intellectual property protections have been built into consumer electronics devices for a long time. These guys see no reason why PCs, as a breed of consumer electronic device, shouldn't be subject to the same restrictions, in the form of digital rights management (DRM), run by content providers and burned into hardware at the factory. In fact, they're counting on the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to prevent any hacks around those DRM systems. Once those cripples (for which there is zero demand on the customers' side) are in place, you can count on Dell, HP and Gateway PCs and laptops that are much less ready to run Linux.

Two oddly allied mentalities provide intellectual air cover for these threats to the marketplace. One is the extreme comfort certain industries feel inside their regulatory environments. The other is the high regard political conservatives hold for successful enterprises. Combine the two, and you get conservatives eagerly rewarding companies whose primary achievements consist of successful long-term adaptation to highly regulated environments.

That's what's happened with broadcasting and telecom.

There are barely more than 100 channels apiece on the AM and FM bands. No region can allow more than a couple dozen local signals at most or the signals step on each other--which they do anyway, as the FCC has generally relaxed interference protections over the years to allow more stations on the air. The carrying capacities of satellites and cable systems also limit the number of available channels. If you want to operate a new station of any kind on licensed broadcast spectrum, your chances of finding an opening are approximately zero. It's a closed club.

There's also a problem with conceiving broadcast service--especially the commercial variety--as a "marketplace." Its customers and consumers are different populations. The customers of commercial broadcasting are advertisers, not viewers and listeners. In fact, commercial broadcasting mostly is an advertising business. The "content" it distributes is merely bait; the goods sold are the ears and eyeballs of "consumers". That means commercial broadcasting's real marketplace is Madison Avenue, not radio and TV dials. As a consumer of commercial broadcast programming, your direct influence is zero because that's exactly what you pay. (Paying for cable or satellite service doesn't count, because that payment is for access, not for the content itself.)

The notable exceptions are "premium" channels like HBO and public broadcasting. The reason why programming on both is relatively higher in quality is a simple one: there's little or no split in their markets between customers and consumers. As a viewer or listener, you get what you pay for.

All of which is why this talk about the "media marketplace" is highly screwed up. Relaxing broadcast property ownership rules, in the absence of making larger chunks of available spectrum for everybody, is hardly deregulation. It is a highly selective change in existing regulation that opens opportunities only to the most successful players in a completely closed marketplace.

This is all fine if you don't care about television and radio. But what if you care about the Net and Linux? What does broadcast deregulation have to do with those?

Plenty. The local ISPs that pioneered Net delivery were born under a transient regulatory protection that largely has been sacrificed to give regulatory advantage to cable and telecom industries. Ironically, both industries are in deep trouble, mostly because they have no idea how to deal with the Internet. The Net wasn't born inside their regulated environments, yet they find themselves obliged to carry it anyway because customers want it.

The Net's problem, from telco and cable industries' perspective, is it was born without a business model. Its standards and protocols imagine no coercive regime to require payment--no metering, no service levels, no charges for levels of bandwidth. Worse, it was designed as an end-to-end system, where all the power to create, distribute and consume are located at the ends of the system and not in the middle. In the words of David Eisenberg the Internet's innards purposefully were kept "stupid". All the intelligence properly belonged at the ends. As a pure end-to-end system, the Net also was made to be symmetrical. It wasn't supposed to be like TV, with fat content flowing in only one direction.

The Net's end-to-end nature is so severely anathema to cable and telco companies that they have done everything they can to make the Net as controlled and asymmetrical as possible. They want the Net to be more like television, and to a significant degree, they've succeeded. Most DSL and cable broadband customers take it for granted that downstream speeds are faster than upstream speeds, that they can't operate servers out of their houses and that the only e-mail addresses they can use are ones that end with the name of their telephone or cable company.

And why not? These companies "own" the Net, don't they? Well, no, they don't. They only "provide" it--critical difference.

The gradual destruction of the Net is getting political protection by two strong conservative value systems. One values success, and the other values property. Let's look at success first.

Liberals often are flummoxed by the way conservatives seem to love big business (including, of course, big media). Yet the reason is simple: they love winners, literally. They like to reward strength and achievement. They hate rewarding weakness for the same reason a parent hates rewarding kids' poor grades. This, more than anything else, is what makes conservatives so radically different from liberals. It's why favorite liberal buzzwords like "fairness" and "opportunity" are fingernails on the chalkboards of conservative minds. To conservatives, those words are code-talk for punishing the strong and rewarding the weak.

As George Lakoff explained in Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know that Liberals Don't (University of Chicago, 1995), conservatives consider strength a "moral value". Strong is good. Weak is bad.

In street basketball there's a rule called "make it, take it". If you score a basket, you get to keep the ball. Three-on-three basketball works the same way. So do volleyball and other sports with rules that favor achievement over fairness.

Relaxing media ownership rules is all about "make it, take it". Clear Channel and Viacom have made it. Why not let them take more? It's simply the marketplace at work, right? Again, only in a highly regulated context.

We can't change conservative value systems. But we can change the emphasis on what we conserve and why. That's why we need to figure a way around the Property Problem too.

We met that problem head-on and lost, with Eldred v. Ashcroft, a case that challenged the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. Eldred made it to the Supreme Court last year, shepherded from start to finish by Lawrence Lessig, Stanford law professor, author, constitutional scholar and former clerk for archconservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Oral arguments were heard in October. On January 15, 2003, the justices struck down the challenge by a vote of 7-2. Justice Ginsberg wrote the majority opinion. Justices Stevens and Breyer wrote dissents.

A loud hubbub followed. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I did my own thinking out loud on the American Open Technology Consortium (AOTC) site, suggesting the reasons for Eldred's failure had more to do with language than with politics and law:

I believe Hollywood won because they have successfully repositioned copyright as a property issue. In other words, they successfully urged the world to understand copyright in terms of property. Copyright = property may not be accurate in a strict legal sense, but it still makes common sense, even to the Supreme Court...

Watch the language. While the one side talks about "licenses" with verbs like copy, distribute, play, share and perform, the other side talks about "rights" with verbs like own, protect, safeguard, protect, secure, authorize, buy, sell, infringe, pirate, infringe and steal. This isn't just a battle of words. It's a battle of understandings.

To my surprise, Professor Lessig found my idea convincing. In Doc's Diagnosis, Lessig wrote:

Doc has a brilliant and absolutely correct diagnosis at the American Open Technology Consortium web site about how we lost in Eldred. Copyright is understood to be a form of simple property. The battle in Eldred thus sounded like a battle for and against property. On such a simple scale, it was clear how the majority of the Court would vote. Not because they are conservative, but because they are Americans. We have a (generally sensible) pro-property bias in this culture that makes it extremely hard for people to think critically about the most complicated form of property out there--what most call "intellectual property." To question property of any form makes you a communist. Yet this is precisely our problem: To make it clear that we are pro-copyright without being extremists either way.

So deep is this confusion that even a smart, and traditionally leftist, social commentator like Edward Rothstein makes the same fundamental mistake in a piece published Saturday. He describes the movement, of which I am part, as "countercultural," "radical," and anti-corporate. Now no doubt there are some for whom those terms are true descriptors. But I for one would be ecstatic if we could just have the same copyright law that existed under Richard Nixon...

How to change the debate is the hardest thing. But rather than philosophy, perspective and pragmatics seems the best way. Build a public domain (which Creative Commons will help to do), and show people and companies how the public domain helps them. Indeed, of all the companies out there, this is the one point Disney should certainly understand: Now that they have won the Eldred case, they should be racing to embrace the Eldred Act. No company has depended more upon the public domain. The Eldred Act would give them much more to build upon.

I agree about perspective and pragmatics, and I think Creative Commons is a brilliant institution that will change the game in the long run. But, I still think we lose in the short run as long as copyright (and, for that matter, patents) are perceived as simple property. Our challenge is to change that.

So, how do we out-simple "simple"? It helps to revisit our original concepts of property -- concepts conservatives can espouse and promote.

Duhaime's Law Dictionary defines property this way:

Property is commonly thought of as a thing which belongs to someone and over which a person has total control. But, legally, it is more properly defined as "a collection of legal rights over a thing". These rights are usually total and fully enforceable by the state or the owner against others. It has been said that "property and law were born and die together. Before laws were made there was no property. Take away laws and property ceases." Before laws were written and enforced, property had no relevance. Possession was all that mattered. There are many classifications of property, the most common being between real property or immovable property (real estate, such as land or buildings) and "chattel", or movable property (things which are not attached to the land such as a bicycle, a car or a hammer) and between public (property belonging to everybody or to the state) and private property.

In National Review, John Bloom puts the same idea this way:

Whoever turned "copy right" into one word had to be a lawyer. We don't say "freespeechright" or "gunright" or "assemblyright" or "religionright."

As a result, 99 percent of the public thinks that a copyright is some kind of formal legal document. They think you have to go get it, or protect it, or defend it, or preserve it, or buy it, or hire a lawyer to make sure you have it.

On the contrary, it's simply a right, like all our other rights, and it goes like this: Whoever creates something that has never been created before has the exclusive right to copy it.

It's not the person who registers it with the Library of Congress. It's the person who does it first. Just the act of creation makes the right kick in.

Unlike other rights, though, this one is transferable. You can sell your copyright, license your copyright, or give your copyright away. What's most often done is that you let a big company--say, a book publisher--use the copyright for a specific period of time, in return for money, and at the end of that period the right reverts back to you.

One other difference: This is a right with a specific term.

The Founding Fathers wanted that term to be 14 years, with an additional 14 years if the author [was] still alive. After 28 years, they figured you'd had your chance to exploit your creation, and now it belonged to the nation at large. That way we would never end up with a system of hereditary privilege, similar to the printers guilds of Renaissance England, who tied up rights to dead authors and tightly controlled what could or could not be printed and who could or could not use literary material.

In America, land of free ideas as well as free people, this would never happen, they said.

Well, it's happened. It's happened because for years now Congress has allowed it to happen. We now have an exact replica of the medieval Stationers' Company, which controlled the English copyrights, only its names today are Disney, Bertelsmann, and AOL Time Warner. The big media companies, holding the copyrights of dead authors, have said, in effect, that Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton were wrong and that we should go back to the aristocratic system of hereditary ownership, granting copyrights in perpetuity. To effect this result, they've liberally greased the palms of Congressmen in the form of campaign contributions--and it's worked...

National Review is a conservative magazine. John Bloom is a conservative columnist. This is significant.

What will it take to revitalize this understanding of property and to cause outrage against the damage done to it by Congress?

I think we need a galvanizing issue. I suggest Saving the Net. To do that, we need to treat the Net as two things:

  1. a public domain, and therefore

  2. a natural habitat for markets

In other words, we need to see the Net as a marketplace that has done enormous good, is under extreme threat and needs to be saved.

The Internet has proven to be a fine marketplace for all kinds of stuff. Look up any product on a search engine, and you'll see free markets at work all over the place, with power growing on both the supply and the demand sides o every category you can name.

Markets flourish on the Net or with the help of the Net because the Net is free. That's free as in beer, speech, liberty and enterprise. That freedom is guaranteed by the end-to-end nature of the Net, and the NEA principles it engenders: "Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it and Anybody can improve it."

This may sound a bit like communism to conservative sensibilities, unless it is made clear that the Net belongs to that class of things (gravity, the core of the Earth, the stars, atmosphere, ideas) that cannot be owned and even thinking about owning it is ludicrous.

Now, to the elections. Look at the two big political parties; both have existed largely as funding mechanisms. For proof, ask yourself, "When was the last time I went to a party meeting?" Whatever other functions they serve, the parties are fundamentally about The Money.

At least until the Net came along.

As I write this, Democratic candidate Howard Dean just gathered his party's largest campaign fund for the most recent quarter. The mainstream press has acknowledged that most of this money came from fund-raising on the Internet. But they avoid visiting a fact that should be deeply troubling to every candidate running (and then governing) for money rather than for voters: Dean's lead is owed to a huge number of small donations, not to a small number of large special interests. If he's being bought, it's by his voters. This is a New Thing. It's also been made possible by the Net.

I am not endorsing Howard Dean here (for the record, I'm a registered independent who mostly has voted Libertarian in recent state and federal elections). But I am endorsing a new kind of politics based on the presence in the world of a free marketplace for ideas as well as for products and services. We get to protect that free marketplace by exercising our freedom to use it.

Saving the Net and the NEA goods that thrive on the Net should be a paramount concern for technologists everywhere. Those goods include Linux and every idea that's good enough to grow when it passes from one brain to another, gaining value along the way.

Our work is cut out for us. Let's do it.


Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Because you can't fight business with a guerrilla war. Business isn't like an invading army that can be killed effectively in small doses until it dies on its own. It's a force of society and of human nature. Like an iceberg, you don't 'beat it' by chipping away at it or pushing until it gets tired, you only 'win' by changing its state. I say, melt it and survive the flood. We really need that more profitable alternative use that will keep big-media from being able to buy the say on how users use the net....

Sooooo, anybody got an engineering degree and a wad to blow?

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

There are no engineers with "Wads to blow". Ask professional athletes instead.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

That's because we're all so busy selling our idle cycles!

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

This is interesting , but, comme toujours, Americans think that because America is broken, The World is broken. This is incorrect. The American system is collapsing in so many ways... and this is just another symptom. The Net will go on, in other more intelligent jurisdictions.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

America is in a perpetual state of "broken". It's called democracy and freedom and we insist on taking it to its logical conclusion: something this side of anarchy.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Well, how would YOU lessen social entropy to a bearable degree for the longest possible period of time?

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Good question! Besides putting me in place as a benevolent monarch, I think of Americans as needing to pull in a team effort for something. In lieu of that, we spend our work "ethic" on gratification of personal goals, which usually devolve to accumulation of goods.
To somewhat answer the question, we will, one way or the other, rally behind a leader and/or a cause. Currently, our "leadership" has been picked by the 40% ? of eligible voters that actually perform the one essential requirement of a democracy.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

These are just words, but it's not surprising. America is always "reading it's own press releases", while it's ignorance kills and maims millions. Doc is right, but I don't hold much hope; too much greedy pride in the "marketplace", too little time, not enough real skill.

Liberals and Conservatives are equally Menacing

Anonymous's picture

This is a great article. One thing to realize is that when it comes to saving the net Conservatism vs. Liberalism doesn't matter. The points about conservatives valuing success and rewarding large successful corporations is true. But, those special interest groups that are the most interested in controlling content and how it can be distributed are overwhelmingly liberal (i.e. Hollywood, RIAA, media corporations). This is not a right wing vs. left wing issue. Both sides of the isle are just as much to blame on this one. I think it would be wise for everyone, when considering who to vote look at their voting record on issues such as this, or any issue. You will be surprised what you find. Don't just tow the party line becuase you are liberal/conservative.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

I'm not a lawyer but here is my take on why the entertainment companies won.
If you read the decision in Eldred v. Ashcroft very carefully one of the reasons. The entertainment companies won was because copyrights are not property but a right.
Because the US constitution bars the taking of property of lawabiding citizens without compensation.
With the sony bonno copyright extension act congress took away the copyrights the public had to all those works that would have otherwise lapsed into the public domain and allowed the rights holders to keep them. (Mainly entertainment co.'s)
On the otherside of the coin is that Congress would also beable to do an about face and shorten all copyright terms to few months and still be in compliance with the US constitution

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

There are barely more than 100 channels apiece on the AM and FM bands. No region can allow more than a couple dozen local signals at most or the signals step on each other--which they do anyway, as the FCC has generally relaxed interference protections over the years to allow more stations on the air. The carrying capacities of satellites and cable systems also limit the number of available channels. If you want to operate a new station of any kind on licensed broadcast spectrum, your chances of finding an opening are approximately zero. It's a closed club.

actually, of the 100 channels in the FM broadcast band, 80 for commercial use, i was instrumental in preparing literally over 7,500 applications for FM translators. and that's just channels 221 - 300. we filed 4,220 applications total, including those of our clients, 1,208 of which are non-MXed, it was very much an open club until we came along. :)NOW it's a closed club. and you can blame me. an anonymous coward.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Target aquired!

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

You give yourself way too much credit.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

hey, i wrote key parts of the software that created the applications. i don't give myself too much credit. i just simpley have that credit. :)

Overall, some very good points... but some nitpicky complaints..

Anonymous's picture

Doc needs to take a harder look at the actual political landscape. I am staunchly conservative (not Republican, but conservative ) and completely against craziness like the DMCA, as is everyone else I know who is conservative. Look at the actual votes on such issues, and you will find that they are not divided along party lines at all. There are just as many Democrats voting for this crap as there are Republicans.

Is the Hollywood Elite a conservative bastion? I don't think so.

Are the lawers who further and thrive off this legislation conservative? Not likely.

Side Note: HBO and PBS have higher quality programming???? Get real.

The most fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives, is that conservatives try to guarantee opportunity, while liberals try to guarantee outcomes. Note that I said conservatives, not Republicans. The mainstream GOP lost touch with what it means to be conservative long ago. The Libertarian party is actually much closer to the classic definition of conservative than the GOP; less government, less regulation, less restriction, lower taxes, lower spending, etc. In fact, the only real divide between classic conservatives and Libertarians is in foreign policy matters. Most conservatives could probably even live with legalized drugs. ;)

Lastly, Doc's problem with the Telcos et al seems to be the issue of deregulation, not regulation. It is deregulation that will make it possible for them to take more control than they previously had. It was regulations that forced them to resell DSL lines at regulated price levels to competitors. So was it regulations that said media companies could not own two TV stations in the same town, or two radio stations in the same market. So what Doc really means is that He wants to see more regulation, not less!

I know most Open Sourcers see themselves as liberal, so I'll watch for the flames... but there ARE quite a few of us conservatives out here pushing for more freedom as well.

Re: Overall, some very good points... but some nitpicky complain

Anonymous's picture


Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Linux is not owned by Linus in any legal way: its licenced under the GPL. Linus's ownership of the linux source copyright means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, due to the waiving of rights set forth in said license.

The important sense in which Linus owns the kernel is that he maintains a very popular version of it.

Sorry, but i am just ever so slightly pedantic

Media Consolidation

Anonymous's picture

George Bush, or more accurately, the United States lost the propaganda war preceding the Iraqi war. Most of the world was against the war and have since been proven correct because no WMD have been found. In order to prevent another propaganda defeat they are considating the media empires so they can control the messages they wish to send and not have to worry about descent.

Re: Conspiracy theories give way too much credit to the conspira

Anonymous's picture

Yep that is why Bush sealed the files on his papa's behind the curtain dealings in the last Gulf war. I guess is best not to leave it to chance. Bring in an inside expert to revisionize the whole thing while the truth is skimmed of the sour milk hummm.
That is all we have left you know. Front page one day a small retraction decades later. It didn't work then and it shouldn't be happening now. A lot of facts are buried in human excremt.

Re: Media Consolidation

Anonymous's picture

At the start of the war, the US had 44 countries allied with it. That's more than WWII, Desert Storm, most any war. By the end of the war several more had signed on. Only three countries were openly opposed to the timing (not necessarily the method) of the war; France, Russia, and Germany. Read UN Resolution 1441. There is no abiguity and no doubt as to who was on the right side of the fence. After finding out what was going on in Iraq, I suppose you would like to maintain that the people of Iraq were better off with Sadam? Good luck selling that proposition to the Iraqs!

Re: Media Consolidation

Anonymous's picture

I would simply like to point out that the UN - and the governments of those countries that allied with the US - are a miniscule fraction of the world. Just because the governing body of a country makes a decision doesn't mean that any of that country's citzens agree with it, or think it right.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

" The big media companies, holding the copyrights of dead authors, have said, in effect, that Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton were wrong and that we should go back to the aristocratic system of hereditary ownership, granting copyrights in perpetuity. To effect this result, they've liberally greased the palms of Congressmen in the form of campaign contributions--and it's worked...

National Review is a conservative magazine. John Bloom is a conservative columnist. This is significant. "

Going through this article I could not help but notice the comments about liberals and conservatives and assumptions about both types of people.

Liberals: Lover of freedom and free thought
Conservatives: Lovers of strength

To bottom line it:

There are many social and economic liberals that are pro-RIAA style copyrights. I guess in your speak that is pro-conservative copyrights, but you see in this context that doesn't blend with their other views.

Just like you quoted John Bloom, there are many social and economic conservatives that are pro-reduction in copyright power.

Then there are others that or either social liberal/fiscal conservative or vice versa, and people in both groups line up on both sides of the copyright issue.

There is just no way to say Liberals or Conservatives fall on a particular side of the copyright issue.

Honestly the terms Liberal and Conservative are awful, precisely for the various liberal/conservative combinations there are. If you say you are liberal or conservative, what do I know about you? Not much, unless you tell me what particular issue you are liberal or conservative about.

While I'm talking terminology. Let me complain further about the terms:

Liberal: a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.

A person claiming to be liberal usually does want to change the status quo, but given their venemous verbal attacks on people that disagree I wouldn't exactly call them "tolerant of the ideas of others"

Socially liberal is probably to broad too. That combination of words implies you think anything goes, do what you like, which is not the case. Social liberals tend to be pro-choice abortion, pro-right gay, and pro-social program, but are also anti-gun, anti-smoking. So the term social liberal doesn't quite seem to accurately describe these views, something more descriptive would be helpful.

Conservative: a. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.
b. Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit.

Probably more accurate, as yes, basically a conservative favors traditional values. Probably the only point of confusion I see here, is I (personally) don't know any conservatives that want to go back to the 50's or earlier. In other words, they take the opposite view from my social liberal list above, but also don't want to see things go back to the "old days".

From the article I will try to make a wild ass guess about you. You generall consider youself a Liberal. Both socially and fiscally. You are however pro-reduction in copyright. You generally find yourself disagreeing with conservatives on most other issues, so when John Bloom shared your opinion on this subject you were surprised. Good. Now you know that people are more complicated than that.

And me? I think of myself based on what I vote on:
Gay-rights: neutral

Abortion-rights: pro-life, but weighed against other issues

social-programs: prefer limited assistance

guns: like extremes. Ban them all together or let everyone have them all the time. Its the only way to make it fair on the street. The current system of partially banning them, makes them easy for the criminals to get, regardless of what the good guy is doing.

smoking: I do like smoke free restaurants, not sure I'm ready to force them to prohibit smoking though. I'm really against the tobacco law-suits.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Okay, I enjoyed your post, but I would like to continue in the vein you began: I have qualms with how the abortion argument is being framed and sustained. It's ludicrous to label one side of the argument "Pro-life," as its opposition would be "anti-life" or "pro-death" or "pro-abortion." No sane person would identify with that: We are all pro-life (I'm sure there are a few unfortunate exceptions out there...). This means the argument boils down to how much freedom the individual thinks other individuals should have over this choice: Anti-choice or pro-choice is where the real argument lies.

I'm somewhere in the middle, because I vehemently oppose otherwise unnecessary abortion, but, being a man, and a mere human, I personally have NO right to tell people I know better than they do in this area. There are too many extenuating circumstances (rape, medical conditions). Thus, I am pro-life (personal conviction which most everyone has) AND pro-choice (social conviction). I believe the solutions lies not with restricting freedoms, but in education about prevention, alternatives, options and the outcomes/repercussions of choices in the area of sex and reproduction.

You should have written this editorial

Anonymous's picture

I love your clear definition of terms and debunking these divisive stereotypes.

Now define Public Good. Why should my rights to someting I created ever be terminated?

You didn't mention your position on copyright reduction.


Conservative and liberal are meaningless

Anonymous's picture

The property-rightists in our government are not "conservative". They are essentially libertarian, which Doc Searls endorses. The "liberal" Democrats have come around to the same libertarian, pro-business position. There have been a couple of neologisms coined recently to describe this process on each side: neocons and the "third way". They bear little resemblance to what is understood as liberal or conservative, and our government should be understood in these new terms to realize the threat we face. Intellectual property rights are strongly protected by both halves of the new regime, regardless of the party, and it's traditional liberals and conservatives that raise objections, either from an individual rights or collective commons position.

Until people like Doc Searls realize that the libertarian ideology of the 90s is the birthplace of the neocons and the thrid way, we're not going to get anywhere. Regulation and deregulation are not the problem. The problem is that big business can buy exactly the amount of regulation and type of government that suits it best. It has already purchased two branches of government, and it is winning the approval of the judicial branch even now.

I'm a Howard Dean supporter, and I've seen him speak in person, but I don't hold out any hope for him to make any meaningful changes in these areas. I'm hoping for a national healthcare system at most, and that's about all he's promising. Until the American public turns openly atagonistic to big business in this country, we're going to have business as usual.

As for the "moral" cause of this, it's not that we don't have a friend named Jesus. It's that America values people and their well being substantially less than the interests of money. The more money you have, the more rights, freedoms, and liberties you enjoy. To say that conservatives and liberals have the same agenda is meaningless, since there are scant few of either left in power.

For the record, I voted Green in the last election, and for the record, it did not help anything. Voting does not help, whether you back the winner, the up-and-comer, or the outsider.

Re: Conservative and liberal are meaningless

Anonymous's picture

Calling neoconservatism an outgrowth of libertarianism is the most prominent absurdity in this chain of absurdities. Neocons & libertoids have about as much in common (and get along as well) as cats & dogs. Hell, it's the neocons who are busy declaring libertarianism dead. If you think libertarians are behind the DMCA you should wander over to & read up.
You downplay the importance of regulation then state that the purchase of said regulation is the problem. Huh!?!
It's always amazed me that the lefts solution to the abuse of government power is to further empower government. This is like saying the way to get rid of moths is to purchase a brighter porch light.
If, as those of us in the libertarian camp have been harping, congress didn't have power to enact stupidities like the DMCA then we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Re: Conservative and liberal are meaningless

Anonymous's picture

You, my misguided and cynical friend, are a modern-day liberal in the truest sense of the term. :)

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Just a note: You lost Eldred because you should have. The courts have no say when the Constitution allows the Congress to set the duration of a copyright. If the founding fathers believed strongly that 14/28 years was sufficient, they would have put it into the Constitution. They didn't; they instead allowed the Congress to set the duration.

It is truly amazing that the Supreme Court actually made a Constitutional decision in Eldred, but I'm glad they did. It puts the issue where it belongs: in the ballot box, not in the courts.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

It is up to the court to determine if the legislators are following the spirit of the constitution. One hundred million years is also a limited time so technically that is following the letter of the constitution, but it certainly wouldn't be in keeping with the spirit.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

If the founding fathers believed strongly that 14/28 years was sufficient, they would have put it into the Constitution. They didn't; they instead allowed the Congress to set the duration.

No. They never dreamed that anyone would ever try to pass off life+70 years as meeting their "limited times" restriction. If you read their other writings you'll see that they clearly understood it to mean a MAXIMUM of a generation, 20-odd years. With todays longer lifespans you might interpret it as 30-odd years. Read Jefferson, he explained exactly how he came up with the limit.

Most of them were violently opposed to copyright monopolies being passed down over generations. And when I say "violently opposed" I mean that litterally. If someone had suggested that "limited times" might be stretched to cover life+70 they would have been appalled and written in a strict limit.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture


and if the founding father would ahve thought that 128Bit encryption is to be deemed free speech, they would have explicitly put in into the constitution as well.

how about the teleportation device which will be invented in 2246. should they have also put a fair use clause in the constitution???

we have to refrain from the "letters" and the "intent" in the consitution. IF they knew about the internet, they would have done everything to keep it the way it's supposed to be: FREE

- christian

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

And the Constitution specified "For Limited Times"

Nothing has fallen out of copyright in my lifetime (I'm 31). How is that limited from a human perspective?

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Except that the decision is not in the ballot box really. It is in the pockets of lobbying special interset groups. Those with the deepest pockets win. Our legislative system works pretty well but don't kid yourself into thinking that everytime your representative votes he is considering what is best for his constituents and the country as a whole. The Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act, and Elder v Ashcroft were not won at the ballot box, they were won by the lobbyists.

Public TV

Anonymous's picture

I couldn't let this go. Its been several years since PBS public television was generally better than the original programming produced by "we try harder" 2nd tier cable stations. One of the greatest disappointments is Nova, which used to be worthwhile viewing every week, but is now only occasionally worthwhile. Often, the intellectual level of the show is excruciatingly low and the commentary apparently targetted at the uneducated. I can more often find better fare on A&E, TLC, and the Discovery channel. Ditto for This Old House and Nature. Once is a great while they still produce a gem, but these are few and far between.

In addition, I find unbalanced political views creeping into shows like Nova and Nature.

It seems to me that PBS has become more of an indoctrination station for children than anything else.

After many years of supporting them financially, I wrote them a letter telling them why I withdraw my support..

Re: Public TV

Anonymous's picture

So you're preferring shark week to Nova?

I've not seen anything on Nova that didn't seem better written and produced than the great majority of Discovery channel fare.

Re: Public TV

Anonymous's picture

I agree. Either they dumbed the shows way down, or I've gone up a hundred IQ points since then and they just seem dumbed down. Somehow I don't think it's the latter.

Re: Public TV

Anonymous's picture

What you say about Nova is so true. The Nova people used to do some great stuff, but now it seems to be all dumbed-down and biased environmentalism all the time and, as you point out, dumbed-down other stuff, too.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

There is a technology which is out there could be put to good effect in an area such as this. I've always felt that it would be great to have a two teir internet. One tier is an authenticated, non anonymous Internet, where you log on and every site you visit knows who you are. This solves some problems, such as having to create new accounts for every website you go to, allows shops to track your habits etc, all the things that happen to us in the real world whenever we use a credit card. If you dont like it dont use it.

A second teir then is provided for people who want to be anonymous. This is how the internet works today.

This way the big companies get what they want (ability to control and track us as consumers) and the people get what they want (most people just want to go online, buy something, look at some sites with as little hassle as possible. The second Tier which is anonymous continues to provide all the freedoms that more indepth net users wish to have.

Best of both worlds.

The astute among you will realise that to an extent this is what Microsoft tried to do with Passport but it was doomed to failure, not because it was a bad idea but because it was Microsoft. No one was going to let Microsoft have all that information so noone got involved.

Obviously a central repository of Personal details (only actually has to store a person name and a Globally unique ID - information relevant to each individual site can be held at the site) will cost money, so let the companies that sign up for it pay the price. They get customers willing to use it because its trustworthy, people are more willing to log in, because they dont have to remember yet another login and password.

Now why not set this up as a W3C standard, with a company (a bit like network solutions for domains) assigned to handle it and all companies wishing to implement it paying for it.

With the above ideas everyones happy.

No doubt you'll tell me if everyone is nt happy!!:)

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

You paint such a pretty portrait of such an evil proposal.

Let me try describing your proposal in different terms. You want to split the internet into a "top teir" with full access to everything and and a "bottom teir" of crippled access. Any person, site, or computer in the "top teir" can see and use everything. Any person, site, or computer in the crippled teir can only see other people, sites, or computers in the crippled group. It is the classic Microsoft abuse of "embrace and extend" - you said it yourself, you are merely repeating Microsoft's plan. All people and sites outside the wall are at a disadvantage and are encouraged to move inside the wall. The more people and sites who move inside the wall the worse life becomes for those remaining outside. Eventually there's so little left in the "second teir" that it becomes useless and dies.

And of course the "second teir" will be demonized as a haven for "pirates, pedophiles, terrorists, and drug dealers". Between that and the "embrace and extend" effect you are proposing eliminating the internet completely for a wholy corporate controlled and privacy-free replacement. Exactly what the original story is fighting against. Exactly what "the enemy" wants it to become.

You specificly state you want to allow corporations to "control and track us" in order to get into the top teir. Anyone who resists is locked out and suffers. And of course most people don't know squat about computers and simply click "OK" to get the damn thing to work.

In order to qualify for full access to the internet you MUST "voluntrily" waive all rights to privacy. This reminds me of an amusing quote from a pro-TCPA FAQ that claims TCPA protects your privacy because users MUST agree to any and all privacy violation in order to be able to use the TCPA system at all.

Perhaps it's nothing, but I find your use of the phrase "Globally unique ID" rather interesting. I don't recall ever seeing that exact term anywhere except from Microsoft. Hmmmm.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

What I believe the author was alluding to, perhaps without even knowing it, is a National PKI or Public Key Infrastructure with or without a SmartCard.

Check out .

Now, this is on the Internet. The author also appears to advocate a physically separate network within which this could be used. However, this would not be necessary with PKI.

Other governments are trying similar things, Belgium, Australia, even the USA.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Two things:

1. Doc forgot to point out that Hollywood, from which most of the DRM garbage comes, is not a conservative bastion. It's full of liberals. Liberal causes have resulted in much of the regulation he bemoans. Conservatism and Liberalism both have dichotomous natures between favoring big enterprise issues and populist issues. The two are often at odds in both worlds. The basic issue is freedom, not so much conservative vs. liberal.

2. Doc criticises the Eldred vs. Ashcroft decision for being based on the concept of "property." I believe it was based more on populist notions of freedom. It was far more populist for the Court to leave the length of copyright up to the elected body that is Congress than the non-democratic body that is the Supreme Court. Personally, I favor a legislative solution to the copyright problem, and that's why I signed Mr. Lessig's petition:

Otherwise, I liked the article very much and agree that we need lots of political action to "save the net" and consequently preserve and enhance freedom.

Tim Egbert

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

If we accept your assertion that Hollywood is full of liberals, which is arguable, then these liberals are taking a very conservative stand on the issues of copyright and DRM.

If it's about freedom, then the conservatives want to secure more freedom for the content holders, to the detriment of the general population. This is not populist.

The other half of the protection racket

Anonymous's picture

Liberal causes have resulted in much of the regulation he bemoans

Exactly. Here's how it goes:

  1. Something is wrong.
  2. The do-gooders decide There Ought To Be A Law
  3. They get a law, which creates regulations, and an Agency to administer and enforce them.
  4. The do-gooders move on to the next Great Cause
  5. The people who work in the industr{y|ies} being regulated, who therefore have the most experience with the subject matter, go to work at the Agency, and end up running it
  6. The incumbent businesses subject to the regulation no longer need fear competition, because new entrants aren't members of the Old Boys' Club.
  7. Politicians throughout the political spectrum receive money from the people with the highest interest in continuing to control the regime


Re: The other half of the protection racket

Anonymous's picture

"Hollywood", and when I speak of this I mean the studio executives and MBA-types who run the studio business infrastructure, have ALWAYS been Conservative and "business at any price" oriented.

Anyone who knows even a smidgen of the business history of Hollywood knows how executives would do ANYTHING to maximize profit and maintain control over markets they control; spend millions to lobby to give up civil liberties, to rewrite copyright legislation to favor their interests and so on and on

Re: The other half of the protection racket

Anonymous's picture

There's nothing I respect more than the use of the term "do-gooders."

Hard to believe that the party of the Christian right is the one that has succeeded in make the idea of working for positive change or for the general good the equivalent of weakness.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

While I appreciate your perspective of the Net and computer architecture, I am troubled by your accusation that political conservatives account for 50% of the problem.

Two oddly allied mentalities provide intellectual air cover for these threats to the marketplace. One is the extreme comfort certain industries feel inside their regulatory environments. The other is the high regard political conservatives hold for successful enterprises. Combine the two, and you get conservatives eagerly rewarding companies whose primary achievements consist of successful long-term adaptation to highly regulated environments.

The Internet has been gradually dying since businesses were first able to put their stamp on it. A tenet of business is to get consumers using your product/service and structure that product/service such that the switching costs are so great that alternatives are not considered. This concept is fine in the general marketplace as enough competitors compete in the space to keep any one of them from completely owning their users. We face a unique situation in the realm of multimedia and computer software. In multimedia, we have an oligopoly in which content is owned by only a handful of networks. If one network decides to do something, they can effectively shape the market space. In software, especially OS and business productivity, we have a monopoly that is controlled by one company that we all know. So, what is my point? The Net is in trouble because businesses are trying to force it to their mold--make it such that consumers choose them and the switching costs are too extreme or impossible. It has very little to do with partisan politics. This situation has been around for many years, and both parties have been in power to see it take shape. One cannot blame the current administration without also placing due blame on the previous administration.
I say all of this because my political beliefs are conservative, and I am not in favor of the MPAA or the RIAA spreading their oligopoly to the Net. I use Linux at home in a very legal and law abiding manner, and I want to be able to experience all that the Internet has to offer on my Linux box without fear of retribution.
Also, I agree with one of the other posters who said that really you do not provide a plan of action for changing the situation. I believe you are correct when you say that there is misunderstanding of the words copyright and property. However, this would seem to point to a need for educating those in power. This would include the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches of the government. They need to hear our perspective on technology, both in the home and as a business tool. I'm not talking about the mindless punks that thnk they're 1337 when they bash Microsoft and Windows. They also need to be reminded of what our forefathers believed when they penned the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the laws that have made our nation Free, as well as Safe (relatively speaking, of course).

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

The Net cannot be saved. It is end-to-end. There is no one there in that "dumb" portion, to represent it, and what it does. However the end points do have representation, which is divided. One end point is the media companies, the other is the consumer. Aside from consumer "voting" with their dollars, the media holds the cards coverning the future of the internet.

The dumb middle consists of various mutually exclusive regulating bodies so at best it is weak. We need a seperate governing body just for the net, run by Netzians, but that will never happen.

Face it media is about content control & delivery. They've succeeded at controlling the air waves, so now wires are next. Unless you can create a media-free purose for the net, (and you can't) it is doomed.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

It is end-to-end... One end point is the media companies, the other is the consumer.

No. that is the exact opposite of what "end-to-end" means, and it is exactly the threat to the internet. End-to-end means that anyone who connects to the net can take any role. Look at multi-player gaming. Look at IRC. Look at blogs. Look at VOIP (voice calls). Look at P2P. Anyone with an internet connection can host a website. In all of those examples who is the "producer" and who is the "consumer"? Those terms just don't apply. It's just two ordinary people connected to each other. The internet is nothing but an end-to-end connection allowing any two people to communicate. The link itself should be essentially invisible.

The problem is that some people are trying to restrict the internet and force it into two seperate classes exactly like you descibe. They want to make the internet like TV where a few powerful corporations are at one end and "consumers" are at the other end. They think the "consumers" have no business talking to each other.

Is it time for an amendment?

Anonymous's picture

If it is possible to restrict the power of the US congress regarding copyright, patents and IP through an amendment within the existing framework then I think it is time. See: Constitutional Amendment Process
Probably a snowballs chance in hell but if marketed properly...hmm.

It's not just Republicans either.

Anonymous's picture

There are a number of Democrats bank roled by Hollywood passing these laws too. Look at your candates very carefully.

Geek Guide
The DevOps Toolbox

Tools and Technologies for Scale and Reliability
by Linux Journal Editor Bill Childers

Get your free copy today

Sponsored by IBM

8 Signs You're Beyond Cron

Scheduling Crontabs With an Enterprise Scheduler
On Demand
Moderated by Linux Journal Contributor Mike Diehl

Sign up and watch now

Sponsored by Skybot