Before I begin, I have to thank Neil for inviting me over to Firestarters and Google UK for hosting it. I’m not a conference or talk regular as I’m not in London whilst I look for a job so to me this was a pretty interesting evening. I couldn’t sell my kidney to go to the APG Worlds Colliding event anyway.
I’ve been following Cory’s work on and off over the years and distinctly remember reading Little Brother and nodding along to stuff, thinking ‘he gets it’. Modding your xbox to put a linux distro on it and everything – that. And I wondered why there are so few people who not only understand the why, but the how of things. He could explain to others things that were obvious to us (presumptuous use of ‘my generation’). Some anonymous feedback I heard was that he sometimes comes across as preachy – but there’s a thin line between passion and preaching.
(Started 3 minutes in)
I found 3 themes that caught my attention and this is an attempt at balanced reporting + more links thrown in here and there. Hoping some images from the Scriberia illustration and better photos come out
# 1 – Rise of personal computers
In that sense, the talk was a natural follow-up to all his work around copyright issues. He made it clear it is not about that – who should copy, when, whether it’s good or bad to do so – but how various industries feel threatened about the rise of personal computing. And that includes what people do with things that sit on their hard drives, particularly sharing them. Yet you can’t avoid the copyright issue.
[Around 1996] there was talk about an ‘information economy’ – but [giving 24h access to books or videos] wasn’t possible unless you could control how people used their computers and the files you’d transferred to them. How could you do that once you’d actually sent the file to someone’s computer?
Thinking about video and music streaming through dedicated apps and the cache – there will always be ways of holding on to that content (‘decrypt the file and throw away the stupid player app‘), but the point is usually to make it increasingly harder for the vast majority to keep the files they watch.
# 2 – Piracy
At this point, people bring up piracy. Why pay full price for anything when there’s a copy on the internet? Or why pay £15 for a hardback when it’s £8 on Amazon? Anyone remember ‘information is expensive because it’s valuable, but information also wants to be free because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower’?
“Of course, just because ideas want to be free doesn’t mean they should be free. It just means that we have to get the price right.”
Jonah Lehrer, in his latest book ‘Imagine’, in the context of creativity and ridiculous patent laws
My thinking is that you can side with people like Thom Yorke/Clay Shirky: people pirate music because radios play shit music: first they select their audience, then they give them ‘content’, rather than make things and wait for the audience to discover it. Or you can think like Valve does about games: piracy is not a pricing issue, it’s a service issue: give people a better service than what they get from pirates. They claim Russia is their 2nd biggest EU market after Germany. The notorious “pirates” pay! This is highly interesting stuff, at least to me. (Related update: A report about online activities in Sweden, home of The Pirate Bay and Spotify found that a larger percentage of file sharers pay to download individual songs than those who do not share files.)
Cory’s made the point in past talks & interviews that piracy is a problem when it’s part of a general trend towards law-breaking and the law itself is only applied selectively, making it increasingly irrelevant.
Some piracy is just law that hasn’t caught up with technology.
“There’s a heuristic we could apply: special purpose technologies are complex, and you can add and remove features from them without doing fundamental, disfiguring violence to their underlying utility. It serves regulators well, but is rendered null and void by the PC and the Internet. You can’t telll someone ‘make me a computer that doesn’t run spreadsheets’ or ‘give me a version of the Internet that doesn’t run ThePirateBay.org’.
Every [other Internet bill] is going to arrive at the same place: “Can’t you make us a PC that runs all the programs except the ones that scare or anger us?”
# 3 – SOPA, PIPA, CISPA, the rest
Cory’s passion resides in the way anti-piracy laws have been passed without much thought; sometimes not by people who understand technology, but by people who understand policy or are elected geographically, like MPs in the UK might be. He stresses that at world events, experts on things like agriculture, health, etc. are sent – and copyright is an afterthought, when it shouldn’t be given how many connected devices we have and will have on this planet.
I think this is the bit that got most people thinking and the underlying beauty of Firestarters as a catalyst for conversation – if you know of countries where they already block access or they force companies to give government control over data (think as far as RIM and legal interception of users’ Blackberry data in India, not just China’s firewall), it’s not a big stretch to imagine how this could happen in other industries – precisely because we know it works.
“After all, SOPA came THAT CLOSE to breaking the Internet at a fundamental level, in the name of top-40 music, reality TV and John Carter of Mars.”
There’s definitely more and the questions were some of the more interesting ones I’ve heard lately: third-party cookies and cloud computing copyright issues. There’s lots to be said, but if anyone has anything interesting, let’s all link it together so it’s easier to find!