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 the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

...they ask to own what they create or be able to deal with people to buy more. I cannot fathom why that would offend so many people.

What offends people is not that they ask to own what they create, but that they are demanding effectively perpetual ownership rights, and using their monetary clout to sway the Congress to extend the ownership right far beyond the "limited period" envisioned by the framers. Ownership is not the problem. Greed is. At the present the system is imbalanced on the side of the Big Content Producers and away from the Common Good.

And you want what I created for free...

Anonymous's picture

and do whatever you want with it. Resell it even? If that's not greed then greed doesn't exist.

Re: And you want what I created for free...

Anonymous's picture

I'm TG unregisterd and I happened to stop by.

Not really. Your have a specific time limit to use your buisness savvy to make it work. If you objectives fail due to the market or your compitition you shouldn't have the right to force your unwanted product through coersion some time in the future. If after a time someone else improves that product through default after your time is up on that right before you do then that should be considered tough luck chump. That market should be decided by the people not through force feeding regulations. Regulations is just greed perpetuality. Those who patent the hammer would find that idea quite troubling when people choose to go back to using hay and mud. The market changes and people who fall behind are the losers. Put up regulations against the peoples right to live anyway they choose and demoralizing them causes nothing but problems down the road. Lying to them is even worse. It causes pressure and that is what causes relvolutions to occur. The net is a revolution not a product.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

Right on. One of the weakest parts of this article is the way it casts the argument as "Liberals Good, Conservatives Bad". I take that to mean "Democrats Good, Republicans Bad." That is just ridiculous. Look at Fritz Hollings or John Conyers or Joe Lieberman: all of them are "Liberals", and all of them support regulating our computers, the internet, television, what have you.

Also, conservatives do not cringe when they hear the words "fairness" and "opportunity". That is another straw-man argument. They have a different idea of what the easiest way to achieve fairness is, but they don't shy away from it.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

"'Democrats Good, Republicans Bad.' That is just ridiculous."

Chances are if you're conservative you listen to Rush... I hear the oppsite (Republicans good, Democrats bad) every day on his show so dont tell me it's ridiculous when your people are doing it, loving it, and lapping it up like rabid dogs on a fresh wound.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

Like others, I disagree with this binary argument. The "Democrat to Republican" spectrum cannot be imposed on the "liberal to conservative" spectrum; witness Joe Lieberman and Olympia Snowe, for example. Take Howard Dean as well, who is only liberal as an icon, not a policy administrator. I have been fortunate to have spent the last ten years in electoral politics/government service, and I tell every high school civics class I visit that the people who try to impose this vision of two groups clashing under partisan banners are either out-and-out lying or haven't examined the individual players closely enough. The fact is, Americans tend not to like true conservatives or true liberals (high positives, very high, crippling negatives, a la Jesse Jackson, Pat Buchanan, Henry Hyde), so people like Lieberman and Snowe, who have dozens of individual preferences as opposed to one overarching litmus test, are the ones who are able to reap long-term success. Lieberman has been under assault lately for being a liberal AND for being a conservative (which in itself is fairly astounding) yet I saw in poll numbers released today still has a 70% approval rating in his home state and nationally leads the field among Democratic candidates for President. I think this is because few of us are idealogues or zealots and the pols we support are people who consider issues rather than check the handbook for the "right" position.

In my opinion, this article makes a number of quality points. By stripping the contemporary partisan bias from the words "liberal" and "conservative" and, instead, using their historic meanings, I think the self-defined political conservatives who feel, in some sense, attacked by the article may be able to re-evaluate the arguments from a different perspective.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

To paraphrase your current 'president':

You either with us, or against us.

Couple this with the opinions the spew from the likes of Michael Savage and Ann Coulter and you see the mentality of the conservative.

I have no problem being against that.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

Hollings, Lieberman, et al are not really liberals or what I would consider "real democrats" anyway. Most of us democrats would just as soon they join the republican party. After all, that's what they act like.

Most of the conservatives I know -DO- cringe when they hear the word "fairness" because to them it is somehow some "special interest group" trying to get "special privileges" (e.g. gays trying to get the right to not be discriminated against, conservatives think not being discriminated against is a "special privilege.")

personal rights and discrimination

Anonymous's picture

gays trying to get the right to not be discriminated against

What about my right to find somebody elses actions offensive and respond accordingly. (I am thinking of passive responses, as in choosing not to associate with the person, NOT active items such as violence etc.) In this area, Ypsilanti, MI, there was a print shop sued because they refused to print tickets/posters for a gay pride rally. The owner/operator of the print shop was personally against homosexuality and would rather lose a customer than help promote what they felt was repugnant.I am not sure how this case wound up, but even though I am fine with people doing whatever they want with whomever they want (descretely, please... homo or hetero) I hope the print shop won. Just the same as I hope I retain the right to be a customer of whatever ISP, etc I choose. (to bring this back on topic)

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

agentorange's picture

I think your arguments are bad as well. I won't use an anonymous post to say so either. I don't shrink from an argument, and I don't buy the idea that "liberals are bad, conservatives good."

That is the sort of divisionist bullsh*t that makes people despise politicians in the first ****ing place. If you want to talk about being fair and how wonderful Republicans are, then why do they feel the need to resdistrict my state on a non-census year? Why do they feel the need to continue to move the map-planning sessions so that no comment is allowed from the public? Why do they feel the need to try a blatant power grab by splitting our State capitol into three districts one of which stretches in a thin line to Mexico?

Yes, that is all about "fairness" and "opportunity". It is fair to them (and not the public) and an opportunity to keep moving the testimony so that no one sees their blatant and naked aggression against the Texas capitol.

Televsion is more conservative than ever (Fox News, MSNBC) and it is only the Internet which gives the public a voice at all. What you want is simply everyone to agree with you - or to be unable to speak. That is about as Un-American as it gets. Do you know that every serviceman is supposed to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, its people and not just the Republican Party, or are you just ignorant?

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

"Linux is a registered Trademark of Linus Torvalds" ...In at least one sense, these folks say, Linus owns Linux. That means it is, in a limited sense, proprietary.
This is really far off. He owns the name, period. You can go fork your own version, and call it something else, and take all the code. Nothing under the GPL could be considered proprietary, and anyone in the Free Software community should know this.

There is proprietary code in some GNU/Linux distros. Some drivers are closed, or package mgmt applications. However, users choose between apps, and can choose to avoid these apps.If the author is really that uneducated on the topic, I recommend going to and reading up...

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

The key part there is the phrase "these folks say".

I don't think the author actually believes that Linux is the property of Linux. I think that it's an example of how most people are easily mislead by terms with they don't fully understand.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

You also have to keep in mind that a products name creates its market. If someone decides to run away with the code and name it something else, they in essence have to start over and rebuild brand recognition which can take a few months or a decade to build, as is the case with Linux. So he who owns the name owns the product, hence Doc's statement.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

First, let's quote the whole thing:
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. [Emphasis mine]
Clearly, this is not his own position. He also makes it quite clear, throughout the article, that he understands what he's talking about. Next time, read a little more carefully before you call someone "uneducated."

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Saving the Net will be a continuous battle. If we relent, we'll lose it. What's more, to make our ideas prevail, we need to recover Congress and our institutions of government. Restoring majority-rule and trumping money-rule will be a fierce fight.

Rule of Law, not of majority or money.

Anonymous's picture

If we want to save the net and America, we have to reclaim the rule of Law, not majority rule. We have to strip the government of all unnecessary law, and impose a separation of business and state just as an unofficial wall between church and state exists.

Congress must not be allowed to regulate business or grant favors to business, as it does now.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Maybe someone could form a Free Internet lobby site. Candidates that support a free Internet laws would be identified on the site for private contributions. The candidates could even provide content to the site. Then add some way to track that a particular private donations to a candidates was because of his stance on laws governing the Internet.

obvious problems with this

Anonymous's picture

Obvious problems with this is first Free Internet will be confused with cost vs freedom same as software.

Secondly, how do you define Free Interent? Something that anyone has the right to use? If so, then that doesn't address the problems in the artical. Everyone will have the right to use it, as long as it goes through the corporate channels and abides by their restrictions. (Wether cost or content).

Thirdly How often have you seen candidates reverse themselves once they are in power.

I think something more fundamental is needed. Something that can stand as a bedrock that can be built upon.

Re: obvious problems with this

Anonymous's picture

Not so... grassroots political campaigns have historically been very successful at influencing politicians. Of course politicians listen to special interests: the people with money and power are the only ones who ever bother contacting their Congressmen. Politicians aren't dumb, and they know that they need votes to continue winning. If you get enough people grinding away at them, and make it clear that they will not be re-elected if they continue their policy platform, they will indeed listen.

Re: Saving the Net

hbo's picture

Forgive me for commenting on just one small idea in an article with a wealth of big ideas, but one of Doc's comments struck a nerve.

I have frequently heard the statement that there is no consumer demand for DRM crippled PCs. This is true, of course. But the media companies are trying to control that demand! If they succeed in suppressing other channels for distribution of digital content, as is clearly their intention, then they will be able to create demand for DRM by only allowing distribution of their content via such systems. Note that they don't have to kill KaZaA to acheive their aims. The only have to convince most of their target market not to use it. If they can arrange it so every file sharer in America knows someone who received a summons from the RIAA, they stand a chance of scaring their market back in to line. I'm positive that this is what they are trying to do. Whether they can succeed in this, or whether their actions will create a backlash that will do them significant harm is an open question. Note however that most file sharers are not Internet Libertarians, but people looking for music online. If they are afraid to trade songs on the one hand, and able to get the music they want through blessed channels on the other, I suspect they will be quite happy to go along.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture


Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

They are already succeeding in controlling that demand, and that access to services with the passage of the State DMCA laws. Visit for more information on who this impacts, and why it needs to be stopped.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

How about beating the conservatives at their own game? Any legal decision most certainly originated as the creative idea of somebody, most likely a lawyer. And as such should be subject to copyright law. I find it difficult to believe that royalties or licensing fees are paid for such ideas when they are subsequently used in later lawsuits. Furthermore, do I as an individual need to license ideas from lawyers who proposed the laws that provide the rights that I take for granted today?

I, Anonymous, reserve all rights to the preceding statement.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Arguments made in court can't be copyrighted because Court proceedings are public records, not private documents. Anything said in court is automatically a contribution to the public record, not a creative act.

No copyright in ideas

Anonymous's picture

There is no copyright in ideas, only in their expression. That's why the US had to extend patent law to protect ideas (business processes, software innovations like OneClick).

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Fantastic article, I have just began to gather stuff to build a linux box, and try to join this fight for a free and open marketplace, or to keep/return it to a free and open marketplace. However, I believe one of the large factors that I am missing, is that while the actual content of the internet is up to any person, I still have to pay for someone to provide me with this internet. I assume that what I am paying for (Internet Access) is the use of the physical lines that my information travels through, access to their network maybe a better way to put it. I can't see anyway to overcome this however as long as they own the entire network. I suppose I should better email this to you, because I am young and I'm trying to find the fight that I want to battle. I'd rather not spend my entire life "working" but rather building and giving new structure to the flaws of our current system. I've been thinking a lot of going to Law School, which I plan to do still, and I'm just wondering what the legal ownership issues of cable lines/telephone lines are. If they are owned by the Cable Company, then this is a hard fight indeed, and we would somehow have to make a first step of revoking that ownership, or making it useless. Sorry, my thoughts are a little jumbled, as your article has lit a fire here. However, should the government have ownership(I suppose meaning they physically built them or contracted the construction of them, retaining ownership still), and since the government is, in a very general sense, a derivative of the nation; why would we(the government) be able to regulate the cable lines. I suppose what I'm thinking is that in order to loosen the grip of these large corporations on the internet, we have to take control of access. I do not think we will ever be able to liberate the internet to its free-state, unless the users have direct access. Of course I suppose we all could just build our own network of cables and try to establish this, or possibly if wireless technology makes some stellar jump, we could also achieve this. However, the only way I see this happening now is if we can take control of these lines. However, now that I think about it, if that were to occur, than the media would also become controlled by us. We as a society do need some kind of regulatory figure, which the government has always been. I do not disagree with the Government being a regulatory entity, because some people in the world just have no self control. The government would control essentially many of the positions the ISP's controlled, such as punishing the script-kids, and the "winnukers" of the internet, they would facilitate the main access nodes of the internet that are currently corporately owned. However, if this occurs then they would also have to do almost the same things with the cable/satellite industry, by facilitating these they would have to implement various safeguards just as many corporations have, to protect children from porn, etc... etc.. Now, at first this sounds very odd, but I think this is the only way that we could ever actually give open access to everyone. This would infact make it so that anyone could hook a cable/phone line up to whatever hardware they have, and access the end-to-end system. Because it can never be an end-to-end system, it would instead be a end-*government backbone*-end system, where we have more control over the middle, instead of the corporation controlling it. I know this might all ready have been discussed, or whatever else, but I have so much more I want to write,just don't want to take up much more space. Is there any way I can get involved? There must be one of the most overlooked issues pressing our future...

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Just a few points to consider:

Cable companies do own the cable lines. Phone companies do not own the phone lines.

In short, you don't have the right to wrest control of the cables from the cable companies because they built the cable infrastructure. It is their physical property.

US Telephone infrastructure was laid (or at least funded) by the US Government oh-so-many-years ago. This belongs to the people (ha!) but is controlled by the Telcos and regulated by the FCC because it was too big of a job for the government to handle (i.e. it would continue to cost too many tax dollars and would not "advance" as quickly as it would were it privatized).

Cringely has been talking about this point, to a certain extent, in a number of his "Pulpit" articles. He's pointed out that one of the goals of the Telcos should be/is to replace the current "last-mile" copper infrastructure with their own infrastructure because they can then claim ownership of the lines and not have to share it with anyone.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Some of the theoretical issues are being discussed occasionally at the Legal Theory Blog. See for example

A post to Doc's own discussion board last year$2291

notes that "property" is an optional concept in discussions about copyright and patent. A follow-up post by the same contributor is at:$2298

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Hello Doc,

I am a conservative computer scientist. Like many others I have contributed
to the net, for over 10 years. However, I would like to add some enlightenment, from a conservative perspective.

BSD went through the legal challenges, so Linux will survive.

Conservatives are not for Globalization, the political mechanism that allows corporations to overrun citizens. Conservatives, are mostly christian that fundamentally believe that Almighty God, and our love for God, is what has made America Great, as a nation.

Now look at the average conservative american. We have to put (pay hansomely) to put our children in private schools so that they are not bombarded with a hedonistic onslaught of pornography, premarital sex, and other forms of social decadence, promoted by our tax dollars.

Enter a politcal party that champions the rights of parents over the state
to determine what are children are exposed to, and taught as "truth".
At the same time this conservative political party champions the 1% wealthy of American as being worthy of benefits the rest of us do not have access to. This conservative political party become the lesser of the two evils. If the Liberal computer scientist were to agree that we need to eliminate pornography and gambling from the internet, I think a deal could be cut to coalesce a majority of voters to take back our nation.

The ISP I started in 1991 was the first to use ppp commercial. I convinced SURAnet that allowing us to resell Internet Access was good for America.
Today, I do not allow my children on the internet. Yes I can maintain network resources to insulate them from evil, but the expenditure of time, repetively, is not justifiable. Parents need to be the primary influence in our childrens lives, with our chosen educational system being a close second.
The Liberals on the Internet do not share our value system. Consequently, conservative parents are faced with a real hard choice, politically.

Look at one particular issue. Evolution. This theory is slipping into obscurityfor a variety of scientic reasons. One merely has to apply the mathematics of modern day genetics to Evolution, to realize the theory does not hold water. Do you ever wonder why so many people hold onto the theory of Evolution? If man decended from a primordial ooze, then then followed various form of animal life, then man is merely another animal. If man is only an animal then he cannot be held accountable for actions similar to animals, killing, raping, aloof, from any form of higher authority. This is what many Liberals want with the Internet, escape from accountability.

For the Record I hate Microsoft and everything they stand for. When the net was going commercial, I wrote several papers outlining how the only way to ensure it's survival was to force the RBOC(Regional Bell Operating Companies) to diverse themselves of the copper infrastructure and at least 60% of the Central offices and RTU in their monopolistic areas. Public rights of ways should be free for anyone to lay fiber optic cables, and hugh tax credits, if not complete expense of this fiber optic build out should be given. The Large carriers should be allow to sell transport, but not accessor service. One price for transport should be mandated, regardless of a reseller's size or political connections. The resellers would compete on quality, content, and SERVICE. Today, most people that I encounter that have not switched to Linux or xBSD, is because they are not technically savvy, and need support, real support, not just rpms, .debs or such.

Remember corporations are merely a legal entity to allow the owner of a company to escape accountability, via a legally protective schroud. What we need to combat this is for the Amercian Government to do away with Social Security numbers and give everyone a corporation, at birth, free from any fees and with the same rights as an LLC.

Here in Florida we have a failed public educational system. Conservatives want to fully implement educational vouchers, so PARENTS are in control of what children are given, what they are exposed to, and what they are to believe, untll they reach an age and maturity that allows them to "pay their own bills". Vouchers would allow affluent and impoverished families the ability to dictate to educators what are children are exposed to, and what to believe in, via a free market system. Let the parents choose how to spend those educational dollars. The statistic that you never hear about the State of Florida is how well children perform, educationally, in private, mostly religious schools. The thing that really pisses off LIberals is that the caliber of teachers teaching in private religious schools is far lower than their counterparts in public ecducation, the salaries are lower, if at all, and
about 50% do not even have " teaching certificates".

Smoke on that a little while........

If the liberals on the internet want to embrace accountability, and develop robust technologies, such as SELinux, biometric requirements, etc, then we could form an alliance, a political system, to take back america.
Look at the third political party. It was formed and controlled by a man with too much money and power. Since he has left politics, his business with the Federal government has swollen.

Are you aware of the tremendous infighting in this conservative political party between conservative (mostly christian) and the moderate (mostly for the 1% wealthy)?

However at the end of the day if you force people to accept Microsoft and the RBOC structure or choose liberal theologies, Christians every time will choose to be accountable to almighty god. It's really no choice at all.

You find a way to get Liberals to join the efforts of familys to comply with their ordained responsibilities, and bring the net into compliance with removing pornography, gambling and covert activities, then, we could form a 90% alliance to take back america, including communications.

Nobody like the current political landscape of lobbyist, global corporations, and the decimation of our middle class working society, something that both political parties want, as we move to this globalization.

However give conservatives the current politcal choices, and they choose to comply with fundamental responsibilities to their family and children.

The current choices stink. I push open_source and LInux/BSD, to government employees every day of my life. It's a hard sell to christians who receive pornographic spam.....

PS, I did not run a spell checker, so do not publish this without giving me a chance to clean it up grammatically. If you have an interest in further refining the model for true telecom deregulation, I'd love to participate.

But, the most important thing is for Americans to put in place a system that requires ACCOUNTABILITY, in every thing we do. Get the Liberals on board with that, and we can quickly and easily solve the net and other issues. I will personally sell the package to conservative, churches, and christians. Much has been said about the founding fathers of American and their freedoms. What is rarely mentioned is that these people who enjoyed enormous freedoms and extended them to everyone, were mostly christian, who fundamentally believed in ACCOUNTABILITY.


James Horton, PE

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture


Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

If the Liberal computer scientist were to agree that we need to eliminate pornography and gambling from the internet, I think a deal could be cut to coalesce a majority of voters to take back our nation.

Which takes us right back to the idea of central, not endpoint, regulation and censorship of the net. Then someone will get the idea of removing file sharing. Then 'potentially offensive' works. Where does it end?
Besides, I thought one of the things that you Amercians valued was freedom of speech.
On the other hand, I should know better than to let a religeous zealot bait me into posting this.