So, at the end of my last post, I mentioned a lecture on-campus by Richard Stallman that happened last year. I found a transcript of a similar lecture of his, and I wanted to paraphrase it for you. It’s way too long.
And, probably, it’s way too subversive.
I don’t think it is subversive, but, then again, I think malls will be turned into greenhouses 500 years in the future.
But going back to the lecture being way too long – it is. The set-up is great and it’s easy to follow. although paraphrasing it is becoming a task bigger than me, as my mother would say; thus, you should read it yourself.
Stallman is a prominent figure in the realm of computers, computer science and jazz who also started the free software movement. From how I understand it, free software is basically software for which anyone can access the source code. You can configure it, learn from it, take it and make something new out of it. Like… food: you can take a recipe and modify it to make something new. I don’t think the concept of free software condones claiming ownership over something that isn’t yours, or modifying the source code slightly, releasing a fairly similar program and then saying you are the original author, or… anything like that. It’s about having access to the basic parts, I believe.
I referred to “hackerness” in the title because hacker culture is related to the free software movement. I don’t mean scary, evil nerds chugging energy drinks for hours as they remain glued to their dirty, cyberpunkified, customized CPUs looking for your credit card numbers. Maybe we should start calling those people “j3rk5.”
So that’s free software…
Stallman came to U of T last year, in second semester, I believe. I had a class in the same room prior to his lecture and I had spotted some friends still hanging around after class was over. One of them remarked that a guy who was closely involved with Linux but resented being called “The Linux Guy” was legendary and awesome was about to give a lecture. So I stayed.
I REGRET STAYING – I kid; it was really cool.
The lecture I linked to (above) is a bit different from the one I heard; it’s older, from 2001, and it was done in Massachusetts. Okay, I’ll paraphrase as best as I can. The gist of it was that, in the past, before the printing press, anyone who was literate could copy a book as well as anyone else with the same level of literacy. The introduction of the printing press, however, changed publication copying into a more centralized and standardized industry practice. When copyright laws were introduced, they only restricted what publishers and authors could do.
But, thanks to digital information, computers, networks and such, we are going back to a world more similar to the past (or, what Stallman refers to as “the ancient world“). Many of us now have the means to copy and distribute various kinds of information. Stallman argues that this is changing the way copyright works; rather than “restricting publishers for the sake of authors,” it restricts the public for the sake of the publishers. I KNOW!
As copyright restrictions start cracking down on us more, we need to start asking some scathing questions. For example, why? Why is it that a course reader – $35 last semester, less than $35 for its materials alone – now costs the broke, Tim Horton’s-feeding, OSAP-laden college keener $100 more? Are the authors of the reader actually getting any money? Is T-Pain* really suffering when his auto-tuned robot wail pierces said college keener’s earphones because said college keener downloaded some song of his from some Napster-like PTP (PHP? P2P? PSP?) thing? After all, artists/writers/creators must be compensated for their “intellectual property.” To many, reproduction without proper compensation is equal to theft. I would argue that reselling is the issue, but once again, for many, mere reproduction equals theft.
[A speculative digression; I would have a problem with someone selling reproductions of my drawings. I would not have problem with someone, whether I find out about them or not, saving a copy of my drawing and putting it up on a blog, with the caption "A girl named Liesl drew this." I like free MP3s. Are they the same as reselling or just "re-distributing'? I believe some artists already pay for distribution costs, however their distribution is done. But does that mean I am "distributing illegally" if I play a song in public?]
We come to another point. T-Pain might be suffering. But, not for the reasons you may imagine, i.e. those 12-/20-year-olds downloading his music.
Stallman refers to a speech given by Courtney Love at a “Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference” that took place in 2000. You can find it at Salon.com. There are some naughty words and such, but she makes some very interesting points about where “all the money goes” and about who owns the music being sold (hint: it’s usually the record company). That, and I think we’re old enough. No, I’m not linking. Refer to the last part of my title. Besides, Google is a powerful thing. [EDIT: I lied.]
It seems to me, the crazy radical artist, that current copyright laws are becoming unnecessarily intrusive to the general public, and only for the benefit of a small number of people, usually not the artists/writers/makers of the things in question. I don’t believe in (complete) anarchy, but I think a revamping of the current system is in order. Perhaps, the general public needs to stop being distracted by shiny things like iTampons and Kindle, and start wondering if we are really supporting the makers-of-things when we blindly allow Distribution Man to handle all the money. I would hand Bjork, who is rich, a 20-dollar bill if I knew she was getting every penny. Maybe someone at this institution, or at the copyright agency we’re (they’re?) in cahoots with, could lay out where all of that course reader money goes. Maybe that will shut my radical-feminist-anti-racist mouth.
At the university level, this word keeps popping up: dialogue. “We need to have a dialogue about this.” “We need to start a dialogue about that.” Apparently, stating one’s opinion can start these necessary dialogues. I’m still just getting this; I understand the need for dialogue, but I’m also a “CAN WE DO SOMETHING NOW!” kind of person. And then I’d plan forever. But that’s a different, self-insulting digression. In short, I don’t like where this copyright thing is going, and (scary girlfriend face) “we need to talk.”
*I do not listen to T-Pain.