I've been enjoying renting Star Trek (Original Series) DVDs from Netflix recently, and getting reacquainted with the old ST world. What i've been discovering is that it is more nuanced than i remembered it. Often it gets a bad rap for its pre-PC sensibility. Jokes about Kirk and his "flying leg kicks" and his use-phaser-first, ask-questions-later policy. But it's soooo much more complex than that.
I recently watched "The Devil in the Dark," where Kirk and Spock have to deal with an alien life form, a "Horta," that has killed dozens of Federation-protected miners on a resource-rich planet. The Horta even kills an Enterprise security officer. But Spock refuses to kill the Horta, and convinces Kirk not to kill it. In a twist, Kirk then has to convince Spock not to kill it. They discover that the Horta killed only to defend its eggs, which the miners were unwittingly destroying. Kirk makes peace between the Horta and the miners. All the more remarkable perhaps since Kirk is, as he says in a different episode, "a soldier, not a diplomat," and the Horta has killed a man under his command who was doing no more than standing watch. We could point to Kirk's "humanism" here, but the Horta is not human, and not even a carbon-based life form (it's silicon based). This is an episode that would surely please even PETA. Amazing. Kirk is hardly portrayed as a phaser-toting imperialist.
Sort of. Kirk reaches a compromise between the Federation's need for vital minerals and the Horta's right, as an indigenous species, to thrive on its home planet.
I also recently watched "Errand of Mercy," where Kirk and Spock attempt to turn a seemingly simple, agrarian planet, into a Federation-protected outpost. Why? Because owing to its location the planet is of strategic importance to both the Federation and its enemy the Klingons, who show up not long after Kirk and Spock. The whole set up is obviously the Cold War and the competition of the US and the Soviets over any number of strategically important and pre-industrial societies from the Middle East to Vietnam. As it turns out, the inhabitants of the planet are super-powerful beings who are, as Spock observes at the end of the episode, "pure intellect." The beings render the armaments of both the Federation and the Klingon Empire unusable, and scold them for their warmongering. In a comic scene, Kirk and the Klingon commander take turns mirroring each other in their puerile protests to the beings: "It's not fair!" "You have no right to interfere!" Of course this is sublime irony since both Kirk and the Klingon commander have themselves come to the planet to do just that--to interfere! This episode, as clearly as anything I have seen, soundly critiques the cold war reasoning that justified Vietnam.
Hard to say, but the episode clearly suggests it should have been. Kirk wants very much to modernize the culture of the planet (if only to make it a Federation outpost), and he's hard pressed to take "no" for an answer from its inhabitants, but the Klingon arrival renders the argument moot. The whole ethos of the episode, as revealed in the final scenes, is that there is little difference between the Federation and the Klingon Empire when it comes to respecting the self-determination of other cultures, and that that is a BAD thing.
The third episode I'll mention is "The Return of the Archons." This if you'll recall is the episode where the Enterprise team beams down to a planet that seems like a Puritan community in its uniformity and rigidity. Until "Festival" that is, when everyone abandons, for several hours, all sense of civility. Kirk and company try to discover the shadowy leader behind this society which is clearly based on a highly organized religious cult. "Are you one with the body?" the inhabitants ask them. Turns out the leader, who is seen as omnipotent and omniscient, is a computer programmed by a long-dead ruler to preserve social order in a society that almost destroyed itself through war and barbarism centuries before. When Kirk decides to destroy the computer, Spock reminds him of the prime directive. Kirk dismisses its relevance. The "culture", Kirk claims, arrested as it has been by the rule of the totalitarian computer, is not really a culture at all.
Depends on whether you buy Kirk's sophistry, though the episode is certainly sympathetic to Kirk. Perhaps we could get from this episode to a justification for deposing Saddam Hussein. But "Errand of Mercy" leaves us with a caution. Would be interesting to discuss the similarities and differences between these episodes.
Okay, so i just wanted to point out the nuance with which ST Original Series handles these questions.
Some selections of my favorite student responses (from both course sections) to Cluetrain:
One would think that as a society we have become less emotional and accessible when in reality we are becoming more and more intimate and open with each other. And now, corporations are being forced to become vulnerable as well.
What I don't understand is how [Cluetrain] keeps trying to relate the web to our need to not be managed when I think that the web is probably our greatest attempt [to] manage the world, conceptualize it, dualize it, put it on a computer screen and make it as accessible as possible.
I really feel now that I have a better understanding of the history of the “Net” and how it has and is socially affecting our culture. One of my favorite quotes was, “The net grew like a weed between the cracks in the monolithic steel-and-grass empire of traditional commerce.” I really like the fact that the creation and growth of the net, and still to this day, works as an underground revolution, just like the 60’s and no one even knew it was happening.
In class a while ago, when Gilbert was telling us about blogs and the freedom that they offered us, he compared, or contrasted them, to blackboard. While blackboard is watched over by, “The Man,” blogs are free. The school can censor and watch what we say on blackboard and the freedom we think we have is really non existent. The web is our opportunity to say what we want to say and be heard.
The internet makes me feel very connected to people. Thanks to Lania, I have started reading Rosie O’Donnell’s blog. I am now obsessed. I was a fan of her show, so I love reading her blog because it’s almost like her show is back, but it is much more personal. I feel like I know her. Instead of just watching her on TV and not being able to respond or give feedback, her blog gives people that opportunity. The fact that I have a blog and Rosie has a blog is just bizarre to me.
Living in the ultra managed world does have some disadvantages, though. I agree with Weinberger when he claims that living in the ultra managed world creates the mandatory entity known as “professionalism” in the workplace. Though it does not create the strict Catholic school dress code some of us (myself included) grew up with, it does create a sort of standard that everyone must abide by. People are only allowed so much in the way of self-expression....
There are some who say that being a student is just like holding a job. Using that analogy, Marymount becomes my work place. Like any good workplace, Marymount has its code of professionalism. We’re free to do what we want when we want how we want so long as it is within the limits of reason. We shy away from topics that might offend others around us when we talk and we try to act like good little workers in class....
Contrasting [with] this, like the internet contrasts [with] the workplace, is the world we create in our blogs. Here we can say what we want and fear no repercussions.[...] It gives us a chance to make use of out professionally silenced voices and allows us to let our all important opinions be heard.
Maybe that’s the elusive purpose of the internet? To give voice to the millions that have been silenced by the workplace and the world of professionalism. It is the place where opinions can be stated and shared, traded like so many trading cards. It is true that the opinions some express may be wrong in some way, tainted and negative by their life’s experiences but they, too, are allowed to speak their virtual minds.
In ancient times, back in the days of the Greek and Roman marketplaces, we were a highly interactive society. Locke, the author of the cluetrain manifesto, makes it a point to describe the nature of the ancient day marketplace. The marketplace was the hub of ancient society. It was the place people went to not only exchange goods and services but to exchange gossip as well. Take, for example, Socrates who presented his questions to Athens while in the marketplace. For him, it was the place to rouse the sleeping beast that was Athens, to be the preverbal “gadfly” on the horse. It was a place of teaching and of learning and of, basically, annoying the rest of the city.
From there, according to the cluetrain manifesto, the human race started to become passive. The gadfly failed to wake us up as we fell into a deeper slumber in front of the television. Like so many people in their own private, isolated cubicles we started to stare at the televisions, passively absorbing the information it presented. The business world- the corporate world- was telling us what to buy and how to think and we were powerless to do anything about it. Instead, we stared at the television and took in what was shown on the flickering screen.
Why have power structures been upheld so rigidly for decades? [....] We have always had the right to have a voice, especially here in America. Why are people more likely to speak when they are hiding behind a computer screen?
I would argue that we are giving up the freedom of a truly human voice for a comparable electronic one... but is it a fair trade?
Then came the net, which had the potential to save us had it not been usurped by the same corporate giants and their all-too tempting products. But there is still hope, Locke insists, because the internet changed the producer/consumer relationship. By providing a space for consumers to speak freely about products and their manufacturers, the internet:
---> causes command-and-control model management to become obsolete, as people at the top and bottom of a corporation are no longer separated by a large gap in power.
---> allows consumers to break free of the media-conditioned passivity of yore and gain an active voice in a forum that was once barred off.
Even though corporations are on the web, they do not OWN it as they own media outlets like television; the only active voice a consumer has in boob tube advertising is flipping the channel. Therefore, this lovechild born from a handful of computer geeks is now the most revolutionary media outlet worldwide.
Our voice is everything; it’s the strongest, most powerful and direct expression of who we are....
We have the business voice, that’s used in a managed environment, and this voice literally sounds like everyone else’s voice. It’s like writing a research paper, you how it’s supposed to be formatted because your professor makes it clear in the beginning of the semester.
...The internet lets you show a different voice that you don’t necessarily get to show at work and that’s what the internet is for.
When I post this assignment, many people will be informed from what I have written, just as I’ll be informed with their posts. So the internet is not only a way of communicating, but also a way of gaining knowledge.
Weinberger says that we manage our lives, that every aspect is controlled in a way that a business is controlled. We dont only strive to find a voice because of work, but because of how we live our lives and the social norms that have been created in society that keep our voices inside of ouselves. When he says, "The spiritual lure of the web is the promise of the return of the voice" I think that is not completely accurate. The web is definitely a way to show who we are and let out emotion and to communicate with others, but I am not sure that the web is a "spiritual" way of letting the voice out....
We need a world where people can have their voices heard--or read I shoud say and the internet has done that, but we still need the actual voice part in there somewhere. Someday soon, I am sure that someone will figure out how to make that possible.
This is where Mr. Weinberger spoke to me. After a hard day of being closed inside a tight space, I am home right now, online, writing for my pretty blog. I am checking my e-mail and talking to my friends. I have my screen name, my own personal alias to which I am free of any boundaries. I can speak my mind, the true voice of Jill is out in the open. I couldn't wait to go online because I could be me. Mr. Weinberger also spoke of how we use home pages to get our identities on the Web and to provide an even greater sense of freedom. A prime example is my own personal homepage...where if you want to know me, take an eternity out of your life and read my page. ...We don't care how bad the page is, as long as that independent feeling is indeed felt, that's all that matters.
Any author who starts a piece of writing using song lyrics, let alone U2 lyrics, is smart as a whip in my book.
I really took an interest in Mr. Locke’s assessment of how excited America was when the Internet first caught on fire. I remember when I first got AOL- version 3.0, slow as hell, but I didn’t care. I was finally online, going into chat rooms, sending e-mail, and visiting my first website ever (a Spice Girls fan page-give me a break I was 13). It took FOREVER to load up, but who cared?!
And just to go back to Mr. Locke’s points about how nothing is ever good enough, (the car needs to be bigger, the girl needs to be blonder) I thought I should bring up my employer Shop Rite Supermarkets. We’re in a competition with a better store right now, and the owners believe that we need to redo our floors and change our structure to try and top them. I equate it to getting plastic surgery when you don’t need to.
“However much we long for the Web is how much we hate our job.” It kind of makes sense when you think about it. I like my job and I don’t spend a whole lot of time on the web besides paying bills and checking e-mail. My boyfriend doesn’t really like his job. He says that it is boring, and he spends every minute of the day on the web. I go out rollerblading while he spends countless hours playing poker online.
I dont think everything in life is managed but carefully watched and looked at. And we don't manage our families, it sounds too overpowering. We grow, learn, teach, accept with our children and families.
The whole point is that if you do not know the answer, then chances are someone else does. This exchange of information and interaction makes people's lives easier because it leaves room for few surprises on general questions (examples: how much sugar to add to cookies or name of a CD) and provides more reassurance that there is some merit to their inquiry. Another benefit I like about the forums are that people can actively participate without having to say a word. All it takes is a little curiosity and a little patience for the surfer to stumble upon an interesting forum. The person may become intrigued by the threads and read what others have to say. The person may not respond through a detailed or witty message, but the person may indirectly participate just by scrolling through the messages boards. Sometimes when I have free time, I like to go onto messages boards and read what people have to say about various issues that are thriving in the media. Sometimes I shake my head, laugh, or sigh at the comments that a user makes. Yet, many people like myself like to, as Levine labels it "eavesdrop" because we desire to hear the voices of others besides ourselves. We want to see how others feel about an issue and their reasoning behind their position.
Now the Internet is no longer viewed as just another mechanism for people to connect with others who are lands or oceans apart, but it is now a network that is slowly and surely disassembling the whole organizational chart.
...Weiberger reinforces the idea of self expression on the Internet. He explains how it is a way for people to reveal the multifaceted sides of themselves. At work people have to concentrate on one specific task whether it is accomplishing their bulk of the work, or promoting the image of their company. Yet, on the Internet they can show defiance to conventionality.... I remember reading a theory from McLuhan in which he emphasized that many of the objects or mediums we use are extension of ourselves. Well, in this case, the Internet is an extension of our voices. The Internet gives people the power to speak about several subjects whether it is verbally in message forums or abstractly expressed through art on their personal homepages.
...It is amazing to see the assumptions that companies have about consumers. Locke made an interesting point about the unawareness of "Joe Six Pack", who spends his time watching television and is a couch potato because television is his only "objective" window to the world. However, the emergence of the Internet transforms Joe into a knowledgeable person and in the companies eyes, a potentially dangerous individual because he is now connected to people beyond the domestic borders. Although it sounds frivolous, knowledge is a powerful tool, especially with the Internet because people can now find out from others in the world about the issues that are thriving. Some companies may have made the premature assumption that people are not suppose to question or have suspicions about the companies because people are suppose to take the information at face value. Yet, as people learn, the more they begin to question certain systems and organizations around them. They discover contradictions or hypocrisies of companies and may spread the word that companies may not uphold their public image. Some companies underestimate the intellectual capacity of consumers. They fail to realize that once they press the "connect" button, they are venturing outside of their backyard and into a cyberspace world, where limitless information is accessible to the Internet surfers.
Also, Locke creates a comical approach to the whole concept of firewalls. He reveals how a majority of companies have these firewalls to protect any detailed and confidential information. Yet, the only secrets they can conceal are that they are all "talk". They have nothing significant to hide, but they try to convince the public that they have substantial information they want to protect for their consumers. However, the reality is that the companies know how to talk a good bluff and they know how to shuffle the dice, but there is no monopoly board to play on. Levine emphasizes how eventually the companies will have to give up their obsession of protecting their information. They will have to become more flexible because this way it establishes a much more open relationship between the consumer and the organization.
I read the last statement right before the heading “Testing, Testing.” That statement read as follows “We die. And there's more than one way to get it over with. Advertising has some serving suggestions for your premature burial.” ...I found it to be an interesting statement until I kept on reading and found no explanation through out the rest of the chapter. You can’t state something and not explain it, and Locke does that more then once.
Though yielding power to the seemingly communistic community of the internet seems frightening...this new means of production and efficiency could actually create a country of intelligent consumers, and in turn, an even more intelligent group of producers.
If “nothing is more intimately a part of who we are than our voice” than why is it that we are so quickly willing to give it up? And why then, if we are so willing to give it up [why] are so angry for losing it? It is because the business world has found a way to obliterate all traces of the human voice without actually commanding that it be demolished. In order to subscribe to the professional standards that most corporations demand employees must [give up] the right to their own voice. So, if there are a set of rules that you must follow in order to be successful and your voice does not fit into these rules, then there is no other choice than to sacrifice voice for accomplishment. Professionalism creates one unified front and kills inidividuality, though some would tend to disagree.
Children “grow up hearing news of a world more frightening than anything in ancient fairytales. The wicked witch won’t really push you into the oven, honey, but watch out for AK-47s at recess.” This notion is indeed disturbing. Because it is true. Locke understands that our culture needs a jolt to send us into the next age with an explosion of passion for life and a renewed sense of identity and creativity. He knows that this jolt, should we embrace it and allow it to be what it has the potential to become, is the internet.
Work and business are two unavoidable entities in today’s society. Though there are exceptions to this rule-perhaps you’ve won the lottery or been lucky enough to come from a wealthy family- chances are that at one point or another you have held a job for some period of time. I personally have been working since 2 weeks after I turned 16. And I hate it. As is the case with most people in the United States. I have never, nor do I ever want to hold your typical 9-5 paperwork desk job. While there are certain comforts that come with a regular schedule, the monotony and routine of this class of profession needs to be shaken loose. A change has to occur. Or it will be detrimental the mental and emotional health of the people in this country. Though I know I will lose some of my cool points for this- because by using this quote I must admit that I watch and enjoy ridiculously cheesy ABC family channel movies- I must agree with a line that I heard in the most recent ABC family movie (the one with Ryan Reynolds). One of the characters said, “It takes far less than death to kill a man.” This is exactly what Locke points out is happening to our society. We are all slowly and unknowingly dying because in our jobs we are not allowed the freedom to pursue creativity and passion, we are not allowed to explore ourselves. The mold needs to be broken.
Locke compares the internet to an ancient market. He believes that like these markets, people do not use the internet merely to buy the goods. They flock to this new technology for the promise of a genuine conversation with another human being. We have been emotionally suppressed and subdued to the point that we lost the ability to sincerely interact with one another. Because the desire for this never left us, the internet may be the tool needed reach deep within us and find the courage to let the desire to be human again flourish. People do not desire corporations; they desire each other.
Upon reading the first paragraph of the third chapter of The Cluetrain Manifesto, I realized that Mr. Levine and myself share something in common. He spoke about how his father was a potter and he taught young Levine what it was to be passionate about one's craft. Growing up as a kid, my grandfather made a living as a metal worker. A couple of times I was fortunate enough to watch him mold that metal with his bare hands. To this day, I have a six inch statue that he made, bare handed, not even the slightest need for gloves, sitting in my room. His proudest achievement was knowing that he was a man. When I was 8 years old I was working with my grandpa and I told him how I wished to become a man like him someday. He replied, in his thick Slovakian accent "Know your job, do it well, and offer it everything you are...." Those were days of integrity, honor and pride. As I learn more and more about my generation, and the generations that surround mine, I don't really hear those words anymore. We've been born into Corporate America, raised to believe that money is akin to success. Those who disagreed would not be wealthy. And without money, they’d have no power. And without power, they’d have no control, no say. To the Corporate Leaders, they were just consumers. But now, with the maturing of the Internet, new forms of communication are spawning. The power is changing hands, from the corporations to the people....
The people who have the most influence on consumers, thanks to the abundance and popularity of weblogs, are now the same people I opened my blog with. Honest people, who take pride in their work, are being sought out for their expertise and opinions.
I was born and raised to believe that someday I would be sitting at a desk from nine to five. "Desk jobs pay well." I'm beginning to realize that I live in a society that is gradually changing. Wait, it's not though. It's not gradual. It's truckin'. Many things that Locke says about corporations, I did not know. I knew of intranets. 4 years of business classes took care of that. But I didn't realize that this was threatening corporations. I didn't realize the power of the Internet. All I knew was that I spent most of my time on it and if I wanted to know something that my school didn't feel like teaching me, I could find it there.
Many of my classmates had some interesting blogs. Laura mentioned dreams in her entry.
We aren't dead, but asleep. In a sense, many people in the world spend most of there time dreaming of what they wish they had or wish they knew. Our dreams are where we try to build our knowledge so we may one day be able to wake up and understand....
Interestingly enough, I have been pondering the relationship between dreams and communication a lot lately. I've realized that communication brought death to the life that had no distinction between dreams and reality. A life without comparison, without society. Not a life of evolution and growth, but rather a life of contentment. Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote many essays on the topic of man's evolution into society. And as a society we chose not to be content. We chose to evolve. Yet, so many people today are striving to be "content." There is an abundant amount of focus on reality. My father, the cpa, always reminded me, "Dreams aren't real." A common thought in today’s society, but not one to live by. The Internet can provide endless amounts of communication. An abundant amount of knowledge and dreams. We create dreams, we can share em, we can mold em, and with em, we can create reality.
The truth is, the internet doesn't save us from the enslavement of companies, but it does provide a safe place to exchange ideas with other consumers who have used the products and/or worked with or for the companies which make the products. We can now get truth, not PR. According to Locke, this is the crucial shift in the producer/consumer relationship. As, by now, we should all be fairly familiar with the name Scoble, I found myself skimming through his recent blogs just the other day. Conveniently enough, he provides a perfect example of this - where he is in the limelight not for all of the wonderful things he tells the masses about Mircosoft products and the company itself, but rather for his straightforward persona. "Workers have had it with repressive management that just gets in the way. Markets have had it with hyperbole-laden corporate rhetoric that's 99 percent hot air." After all, mother always said honesty was the best policy....
..."Life is too short," we say, and it is. "Too short for office politics, for busywork and pointless paper chases, for jumping through hoops and covering our asses, for trying to please, to not offend, for constantly struggling to achieve some ever-receding definition of success." And I think to myself this guy is dead on. Life is too short. Way too short for me to waste time reading his book or writing a paper on it for that matter. However, it must be done.
...One last thought on this whole dying thing. However brilliant the internet may be I see it creating a perimeter around each of us that doesn’t allow for human contact. It is too easy for us to sit in front of the computer and get what we need. We can create new friendships online but when it comes to face to face communication our skills are slowly diminishing. Therefore we are experiencing a death of interpersonal relationships as well.
My students have become acquainted this semester with the social bookmarks manager del.icio.us. As bandwidth increases along with the desire for audio-visual media, it will be interesting to see if we will be able to share podcasts and videoblogs with each other the way we are now sharing bookmarks and pictures (via flickr, for example). Obviously the networks will have their own schemes for how to deliver digital audio and video to us in a way that preserves their old broadcast model. I suggest that we need to build an alternative system with at least these two characteristics:
We must find a way to allow people to "tag" segments of digital media files, the way we now tag webpages, blog posts and pictures. It is not enough to tag an entire media file. To make a usable folksonomy possible, we need to be able to tag at a more granular level.
We must all, podcasters, videobloggers, and others, begin to license (via Creative Commons) our content in such a way that we can tag and remix each other's work, and so that whoever builds a folksonomy-based search system for digital media will be able to legally host the tagged clips that we will make from each other's media files. [I have sketched out a social clips manager that would allow us to do just that. I call podilicious.]
I wrote this up several days ago and decided to share it with my students and other readers.
In this proposal (inspired by conversations with MattP) I suggest that we need a major documentary filmmaker to offer source material from his or her film under a license that will allow amateur documentarians to remix it. I argue that such a move would help to spur a democratic, citizens media, while bringing renewed attention to the work of the documentarian and quite possibly increasing sales of the original documentary. One further effect would be new publicity for the documentarian and his or her work among online communities interested in Web journalism, digital rights, and a media Commons.
We are in the middle of a communications revolution, as significant as the ones that began with the invention of the alphabet in the ancient world and the printing press in the 15th Century. Both of these earlier revolutions transformed art, culture, and politics, by democratizing the transmission of information. The current revolution, which is a digital one, promises to do no less. But there are obstacles. The Culture Industry, represented by an increasingly smaller number of increasingly larger corporations, has spent the better part of the last century consolidating its ownership of, and control over, the creative works of our culture.
In the early years of the internet these corporations failed to pay attention. After Napster, however, and with the Grokster case pending before the Supreme Court, they have moved from panic, to partial restoration, and finally to fantasies of consolidation and control unimaginable before. The Culture Industry has come to see the digital age as one in which it can gain advantages far beyond what the analog age afforded. Those of us who hold out a hope for the triumph of democracy over the Culture Industry must be vigilant. The progress of the sciences as well as the arts depends upon a repository of ideas, available to all, which inventors may draw upon to create new works. Lawrence Lessig (blog), professor of law at Stanford University and founder of the Creative Commons, contends that a healthy culture (one not dictated by a Culture Industry), is a “Remix Culture.” Remix Culture needs free ideas. No one said it better than Thomas Jefferson:
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
With corporations attempting to patent, trademark, and copyright everything from life saving medical procedures to phrases like “fair and balanced,” we are a long way from Jefferson’s vision of the freedom of ideas. When Mickey Mouse was about to fall into the public domain in 1988, lobbyists for “intellectual property” owners (an oxymoron for Jefferson) persuaded Congress to pass the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, extending the life of copyrights to 70 years after the death of the author (75 to 95 years in the case of works produced by a corporation).
By banning all acts of circumvention, and all technologies and tools that can be used for circumvention, section 1201 grants to copyright owners the power to unilaterally eliminate the public’s fair use rights. Already, the music industry has begun deploying "copy-protected CDs" that promise to curtail consumers’ ability to make legitimate, personal copies of music they have purchased.
In addition to being a threat to consumers, the law also has a “chilling effect” on commentators, movie reviewers, professors, and journalists, who may have good Fair Use reasons to sample from copyrighted works for purposes of pedagogy or critique.
With the rise of digital media, CDs, DVDs, and Digital TV, corporations are consolidating their control over the plethora of creative works that constitute our culture: music, movies, and news. These corporations view the internet as nothing more than a more efficient “content distribution system” for their “intellectual property.” The democratic potential inherent in the Web, the ability to create new democratic conversations and share information and culture through Weblogs, P2P (“Peer to Peer” systems), and other Web-based social software applications, is seen by these corporations as a direct threat to their old, 20th Century business model.
Currently a great deal of Remix Culture exists in a dangerous legal terrain. Practicing a form of civil disobedience in the digital age, amateur musicians have begun to remix bits of sampled sounds to create new forms of music. Though this practice has roots in Baroque and jazz music from the past, digital technologies now allow musicians to borrow not only the themes and motifs of a musical piece, but to sample sounds from a recorded version thereof.
One of the most popular examples of a remix work is DJ Dangermouse's Grey Album, which he made by combing clips from the Beatles White Album with an a cappella version of Jay-Z's Black Album. Thousands of people have downloaded the Grey Album on P2P networks since it was released in early 2004. Though Dangermouse distributed his work freely to others who distributed it to an even wider audience freely, EMI, who owns rights to the White Album, claims that the Grey Album is an illegal use of their intellectual property.
Not long after Dangermouse's Grey Album began to circulate, the Jay-Z Construction Set appeared on the P2P networks. The Jay-Z Construction Set is a large collection (several hundred megabytes) of audio clips, loops, riffs, breaks, and nine remixed versions of the entire Black Album. the creators of the Construction Set say that their goal is to "inspire new artists to add their voices to the cacophony." LIke the Grey Album, the Jay-Z construction set is, arguably, illegal, though no one has profited from it and there is no evidence that it has resulted in a loss of sales of the Black Album. On the contrary, by increasing the exposure of the Black Album the Jay-Z Construction Set may very well have contributed to more sales of Jay-Z's music.
In its November 2004 issue, Wired magazine broke new ground. The magazine included, in its print edition, a free CD with music by such luminary artists as David Byrne, Chuck D, and the Beastie Boys. The music on the CD was licensed with a new sort of license that allows content producers in the digital age to give other artists certain rights to borrow from their work.
This new CC (Creative Commons) license is not a replacement for, but a compliment to, existing copyright law, and can be tailored to the desires of the copyright owner. In the case of the Wired CD, anyone was free to sample from the music and remix it to create new works. A contest was held to judge the best of these remixed works, bringing further publicity to Wired and to the musicians who contributed to the Wired CD. In an online interview, Lessig explains the significance of this endeavor:
The purpose of all this was to demonstrate that you could give up control over part of your rights and encourage lots of creativity on top of it without necessarily giving up the right to make money from the underlying content that's being sampled.
The sampling license in its pure form says, you can sample me, you can sample me for commercial purposes, but you can't copy my underlying song and distribute that for either commercial or noncommercial purposes. Again, it's encouraging the kind of creativity that the technology has at its soul: the creativity, which you're going to see more of in music and film, the creativity of remixing other creativity.
What happens in the digital music world is a harbinger of what will happen in the digital movie world. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) is pursuing a DRM (Digital Rights Management) scheme combined with legislative and legal assaults on the principles of “Fair Use.” These actions have sought to criminalize the copying of legally purchased DVDs and threaten to stifle innovation on the internet (specifically by making P2P technologies all but illegal). Those of us who are interested in helping to build a “Commons” of creative work as an alternative to Big Media’s Big Content should look to the example of the musicians who contributed to the Wired CD.
What applies to music also applies to books. Dan Gillmore (blog), formerly a technology columnist with the San Jose Mercury News and author of We the Media, a book about grassroots journalism in the digital age, has famously said "my readers know more than I do." In this spirit, several authors have released their books under CC (or similar) licenses, hoping to recruit the talent of the Web public in correcting, annotating, and expanding their work. Lessig is a notable example.
Lessig has recently invited the Web public to help him rewrite his book on internet law, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, first published in 1999 by Basic Books. This is not Lessig’s first foray into leveraging the power of the Commons. In March 2004, through a deal with Penguin Press, Lessig made a copy of his book Free Culture available on a website licensed with a CC license allowing anyone to make derivative, non-commercial use of the book's content. Within a few days, people began to upload free MP3 files of the book (audio books) and to post annotated and glossed copies of the book’s chapters in various formats (collected here). Because internet technology and law advance so rapidly, Lessig has recently decided to update Code. But this time he is taking his use of the Commons one step further. He has created a collaborative website (known as a wiki), inviting the Web public to help him revise his book. Anyone who wants to can make changes to Lessig's Code. Of course Lessig will make the final editorial decisions for the revised print edition, but by opening access to his content online he is leveraging the collective knowledge of the Web public to help him produce a better work. What is true for music and books is also true for journalism.
In September of 2002, Sheila Lennon was featured in a New York Times article about bloggers. Only one sentence from the interview ended up in the article. Though she felt that the Times had quoted her fairly, Lennon decided to publish her own copy of the full interview on her Weblog, allowing readers to dig deeper. The Web makes it easy for journalists to share such source material with their readers. Barb Palser, writing in the American Journalism Review, puts it this way:
Most journalists who publish interviews they've conducted are...loath to let a good thought go to waste. Not all interviews are interesting or coherent or even publishable, but every reporter knows the regret of culling one quote from an amazing conversation. Why not invite the audience to read (or hear) the interview?
Jonathan Dube, who publishes CyberJournalist, points to a media archive maintained on the Web by the US Department of Defense as an example of how valuable interview databases are for the journalist who wants to dig deeper. Palser summarizes Dube's take on the DoD's archive:
[DefenseLink is] a 'journalist's gold mine' of speeches, briefings--and transcripts of every media interview given by top DoD officials. The site is a prime venue for what [Dube] calls interview voyeurism--journalists can not only spy on the techniques of their colleagues, but pluck quotes for their own stories since the interviews are public record.
Ultimately, when source material is made available, everyone wins, including the reporter. Indeed, despite the trepidation of some journalists, journalists savvy to the Web may be the primary beneficiaries; Lenoon explains (quoted in Palsner):
Traditional reporters who think of the Web as just another way to publish the same story they'd write for print are the ones most likely to be rattled by the source putting up the conversation.... Online journalists are more likely to understand the freewheeling nature of the Web--the synergy that comes when their story stands on its own and the source's transcript sends more people to the reporter's story....
Digital Film and OurMedia
I have considered not only how amateurs, but also professional musicians, authors, and journalists stand to benefit from participating in Remix Culture. I would like to suggest that filmmakers also stand to benefit—especially documentary filmmakers who pursue critical journalism through their films. By granting small, amateur filmmakers access to some of their source material, professional documentarians would help to attenuate the power of Big Media, invigorate public debate, and bring a new form of recognition to their own work.
The problem of film in the digital age is especially tricky. The small or amateur documentarian, enabled by cheaply available digital filmmaking tools, nevertheless faces a legal minefield. Lessig explains:
...The point to recognize is that the rise of digital technologies and the spread of the internet has encouraged a different kind of filmmaking to go on. So the idea that people with a Sony videocam who are trying to make a little documentary about something going on in their hometown that they'll share on the internet with anybody who wants to get access to it ... the idea that those people have to live by the same rules that 20th Century Fox lives by is crazy. The rules that 20th Century Fox lives by are crazy, but at least a big company like Fox can afford the legal costs to bear the burden of those rules.
The solution, Lessig urges, is to build a Commons of shared source material based on CC licenses:
If you can begin to wrap content in licenses where the original creator signals there are subsequent uses available for this content, you could begin to develop a different norm--a norm around people being free to remix and build upon, to sample out of, to supplement, to criticize content that otherwise ... at a minimum, it's uncertain whether you have that right. More fundamentally, it's probably not the case that you have that right because of the way the copyright law has developed.
Crucial to the effort of building a rich Commons is OurMedia. OurMedia, a not-for-profit organization made up of a “who’s who of bloggers, scholars and citizens media advocates,” launched its website on March 21st, 2005. With help from the Internet Archive and Creative Commons, OurMedia, in it’s own words, “seeks to spur the citizens media revolution.” It is instructive to look at OurMedia’s mission statement.
[OurMedia], a free global repository for grassroots media, allows anyone to upload, store and share digital works. The site will accept home movies, music videos, original music, audio interviews, photos, art, documentaries, grassroots political ads, animations, books, student films, software — any work in digital form....
The site is open to amateurs, hobbyists and professionals alike. There is no charge for the service....
“We’re living in a time of fundamental change in the media landscape,” said Lasica [J. D., cofounder of OurMedia].... “We’ve been taught that only a trained professional elite can create media. But people are now realizing that there are alternatives to top-down, passive consumer culture.
“Some of the most startling forms of new expression can be found online in the works ordinary people are creating every day,” he said. “Ourmedia is about spotlighting those works and creating a place where people can come together, learn how to create do-it-yourself media, and discover these creative jewels that are now hidden away.”
Ourmedia will also test the boundaries of fair use, permitting inventive or educational mash-ups or “remix” works that contain small snippets of copyrighted work — but drawing the line against infringement and illegal misappropriation of others’ content.
Advisors to the OurMedia project include:
Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford University professor and chairman of Creative Commons; James Boyle, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School; David Bollier, co-founder of the public interest group Public Knowledge; Angela Beesley of Wikipedia; authors Howard Rheingold and Dan Gillmor, and 10 others.
Remix Documentary (The Plan)
So here’s the plan. Where possible, a major documentary filmmaker should make source material from his or her documentary available on OurMedia under a under a CC license (non-commericial, attribution, derivative, share-and-share-alike). This would not require relinquishing copyrights to any of the material. With such a CC license, citizen journalists, video bloggers, and citizen documentarians would be free to sample from the source material to produce their own investigative reports or documentaries, as long as:
They credit the content owner.
They do not use their derivative work for commercial purposes.
They license their own derivative work under a similar CC license, so that anyone can produce a derivative work from theirs, as long as those people too credit the original and make their work available for non-commercial purposes only.
Again, this can all be done legally under the CC licensing scheme without the documentarian giving up an iota of his or her copyrights to the source material.
Further, the documentarian should approach OurMedia with the plan, and a proposal to host a "remix contest" for citizen documentarians, based on the original film. Like the various members of the Web public who remixed chapters of Lessig's Code, glossing and annotating it, enhancing its content and thereby providing greater visibility for the book and its author, contest participants would undoubtedly produce fresh versions of the original documentary, drawing on the cornucopia of relevant information (much of it available on the web) that has appeared since the release the original documentary film.
Such a contest would also bring a new round of publicity for the original, and for that filmmaker’s work in general. At the same time, the participation of a well-known documentary filmmaker in the OurMedia / Creative Commons project would doubtless help to legitimize the vision of a critical media Commons for the digital age; a vision that is vital to the future of global democracy.
Another pointless distraction: A Flash site that plays, and transcribes, the evil messages that are audible when certain songs are played backwards. Most of you are too young to remember when we actually did this with the vinyl albums on our (abused) turntables. But Britney?! Did anyone ever actually own Britney on vinyl!?