What we should be learning from the current Wikileaks news cycle.

The current news cycle regarding Wikileaks parades a great many of the social mechanisms which are exploited to protect the current power structures.

In the mainstream news media, one sees far more reporting on Julian Assange.  The so-called “leftist” media focuses on the fact that he has been charged with sex crimes.  The “right” paints him as a terrorist and asserts that he should be assassinated.  By doing so they are distracting our focus from that of the issues involved — the discoveries we are making about the inner workings of our government, as well as the more fundamental issue of how much secrecy can you have in a government, and still call it democratic — and instead focusing our attention on personalities, in this case villifying  Assange rather than debating the merits of Wikileaks and the work the site has done.

That is exemplary of another tool used in the disinformation age of government control — conflating disparate issues into a single issue, making meaningful discourse next to impossible.  Being for more openness in government is conflated with being for Julian Assange, which then makes you soft on rape.  This should be resisisted.  J.A. deserves to be tried for any crimes he may or may not have commited in the same way that any of the rest of us should be tried.  This is the ideal to strive for, and his political activities should be kept separate from those trials, as much as is possible.  The same is true for his political activities.  They should be judged on their merits, and not colored by what he does in his personal life.

Another interesting tactic taken by mainstream pundits and media is the critique over the wide-bandwidth, mass dump of information.  One often sees claims that J.A., or more properly Bradley Manning, is no Daniel Ellsberg (leaker of the Pentagon Papers).  Anyone reading or writing such claims would do well to read or listen to what mr. Daniel Ellsberg has to say on the subject, which can be summarised by one pithy quote “I haven’t met either of them, but based on what I’ve read they are new heroes of mine”.    In particular I have to condemn those who (like Rachel Maddow) have criticised Bradley Manning for dumping documents indiscriminately,  including unimportant information like Quadaffi having a busty nurse.  They are missing the point, which is why, in a supposedly open and democratic society, is such trivial information classified in the first place?  It reveals a default policy of secrecy which weakens public oversight of our government, and shows us how much classified information should be unclassified.

A great deal of attention was paid, on a recent episode of Rachel Maddow’s show and elsewhere,  to a released cable which claimed, either erroneously or deceptively, that Micheal Moore’s film Sicko was banned in Cuba.  Ms. Maddow chose to focus on how this cable shows that leaked documents give a false sense of import and reliability, thereby providing a useful tool for misinformation.  Ms. Maddow declined to mention how planned leaks of misinformation are a de-facto norm of government policy, which leaves the viewer to interpret this as a criticism of Wikileaks and leaked documents in general.  There are two, far more important lessons to be learned from this cable.  The first is the level of incompetence and self deception within our government, revealed by a cable who’s author was unable to distinguish between a film being banned and a film being broadcast on official government channels.  The second follows from the first:  We need less classification of such documents so that citizens can review them, and better understand, judge, and control their government.

This leads me to the critique made against Bradley Manning for the dump of such a wide and indiscriminate swath of documents.  Bradley Manning (assuming that it is indeed mister Manning who released the documents, which has not yet been proven), sitting at a computer on a military base did not have the time to sift through hundreds of thousands of classified documents., to determine which ones were vital to our national interest, and which were trivia.  He saw enough (such as the murder of Reuters reporters by U.S. soldiers) to know that he had to do something, and at tremendous cost to himself he smuggled those documents out and sent them to the one journalistic organisation he felt he could rely on to release the meaningful information:  Wikileaks.   Wikileaks in turn has made an effort to redact those documents which might pose a risk to the life and liberty of people, even to the point of contacting the Pentagon and mainstream media channels to ask for assistance with the redaction.

Copyright is not theft.

Every once in a while I read some rants in the newsgroups, and find myself compelled to reply.  Below is a recent post I made in sci.skeptic.

On Thu, 09 Dec 2010 01:17:27 -0800, Michael Gordge wrote:

>> >> >> >> >A parasite is a person who claims he is not stealing anything
>> >> >> >> >by copying

I really get annoyed how often I see this opinion expressed.  It’s a sad testament to the power of the propaganda model of the American media.

Do you know how you can tell that copyright violation is not theft?  There are several ways.  One very simple one is that they had to create specific laws prohibiting copyright violation, despite the fact that property laws (and thereby the legal concept of theft) already existed.  They are disjoint and separate things, and someone copying a book simply could not be prosecuted under theft laws.  It was perfectly legal to do so until copyright law was created.  I.e. theft!=copyright.

Another way you can tell that copyright violation is not theft is the simple principle that theft, by definition, denies the original owner of the use of whatever was stolen.  If I steal your bicycle you have to walk or take the bus.  If I make a copy of your bicycle, we can both ride.

The reason you are so brainwashed to believe that copyright == theft is due to a very deliberate and expensive advertising campaign (which would have been called a propaganda campaign 70 years ago before the word became pejorative) trying to make an emotional (not factual or logical) connection between copyright and property laws.  It’s a very successful exercise in framing, which causes its victims, like you, to regard “intellectual property” as real property, preventing you from engaging in real and meaningful debate (internally or with others) on the subject.

If you did think about the subject rationally and free from the framing prejudice built into you by the mass media (who, not coincidentally are the biggest profiteers from copyright law), you might bother to learn about the history, the social context, and the social impact of copyright law.  You might learn that the founders of the constitution were strongly ambivalent about the copyright and patent laws.  They viewed them as restrictions of freedom of speech (which they are).  In the end they decided to implement short copyright laws as well as patents, as an attempt to stimulate creative works.

That’s a very important thing to realize:  Copyright laws are a form of government intervention in the free markets, to attempt to stimulate said economy.  This is not simply an interpretation of events, it’s an historical fact backed up by the writings of the implementers of copyright and patent laws themselves.   They should be a far more contentious and hotly debated subject than, for example, minimum wage laws, as *they are an attempt to regulate free markets through a direct abridgment of constitutional rights*.  They are virtually never discussed within the mainstream media however, as such a discussion would threaten the bottom line of said media outlets.  Thus it is up to us to inform ourselves, and parroting their ridiculous propaganda is not helpful, regardless of your political or economic ideology.

If you were to further investigate the history of copyright law, you would learn that copyright used to ~20 years, with the option for the author to renew another 20.  With increased corporatization of the media industry (almost entirely in the last century) the ownership of copyright began to rest largely in the hand of large corporations rather than the creators themselves.  Corporations are by definition amoral, immortal, and through their wealth and longevity are able to gain political clout through economic means.  They, particularly Disney, lobbied extensively to ensure that the works of long dead artists remain their exclusive property, rather than entering the public domain as they should.  In the most recent copyright extension, copyright protection was granted retroactively to cover works already in the public domain and put them in private ownership.

If you were not so effectively brainwashed you might begin to realize that the biggest parasites in this system are these gigantic and wealthy entities which profit from the creative works of others while serving no functional role in society.  If Elvis’s works were in the public domain, as they should be, rather than in private copyright, more people would have access to his music.  That we are not able to freely copy and share his music is not the worst effect of these policies.  Keeping Elvis’s works in copyright is certainly not encouraging Elvis to keep producing new work, now is it?

The real harm comes from the inability to use his work in new creative works.  The large corporations who did nothing to promote the creative work, are using their copyrights to reap massive profits while robbing our creative commons.  They are the real parasites, and I would encourage you to please educate yourself on the subject.

I’m not a copyright abolitionist, but based on scholarly work on the subject, and an analysis of how the economic situation has changed, I’m convinced that copyright terms should be growing shorter, not longer.  Previously copyrights were more useful as it might take some time for a work to spread effectively, due to less efficient manufacturing and distribution.  Nowadays a book or piece of music can be copied infinitely many times and distributed all over the world, virtually for free.  This means that media distributors need less government protection than they did previously, and indeed are becoming more and more obsolete.

Shorter copyrights mean less government intervention in free markets.  Shorter copyrights mean more material for more creativity.    Shorter copyrights mean more freedom of speech.  I would propose a return to 20 year copyrights (from the current 90+ years enjoyed by the oligarchists in the US), and after reviewing the economic and social ramifications of that roll back, consider a further reduction to ten years.