Stephen Wright, Digging in the Epistemic Commons

This is an older text, from 2005, but it's still one of the best on the issue of the paradoxical relationship between the attempts to privatize knowledge and its inherent tendency to be social, because it's based on a shared language.

The gentrye are all round, on each side they are found,
Theire wisdom’s so profound, to cheat us of our ground
Stand up now, Diggers all.

The Diggers’ Song, Gerrard Winstanley & Leon Rosselson

Using the ideas of Gabriel Tarde, Ludwig Wittgenstein and George Herbert Mead, writer and critic Stephan Wright reflects on the question of how, in a capitalist knowledge economy, to prevent intellectual property from being commodified and knowledge from becoming increasingly privatized.

Source: http://www.skor.nl/article-3090-en.html

Bourgeois anarchism and authoritarian democracies (First Monday, 07.2008)

First Monday published my paper in its current edition. Below is the abstract, the full text is here

Digital communication is profoundly affecting the constitution of (civil) society by drastically lowering the costs to speak across time and space with individuals and groups of any size, and by producing abundant records of all activities conducted through these media. This is accelerating two contradictory trends. On the one hand, a new breed of social organizations based on principles of weak cooperation and peer production is sharply expanding the scope of what can be achieved by civil society. These are voluntary organizations, with flat hierarchies and trust-based principles. They are focused on producing commons-based resources rather than individual property. In general, they are transformative, not revolutionary, in character. This phenomenon is termed "bourgeois anarchism." On the other hand, the liberal state - in a crisis of legitimacy and under pressure from such new organizations, both peaceful (civil society) and violent (terrorism) - is reorganizing itself around an increasingly authoritarian core, expanding surveillance into the capillary system of society, overriding civil liberties and reducing democratic oversight in exchange for the promise of security. This phenomenon is termed "authoritarian democracy."

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This article was first published in Italian, in the journal Millepiani. An earlier version was delivered as a talk (view stream presentation at Ars Electronica, 2007, and published in their catalogue under the title "Our new public life".

Another Music Recommendation Engine

Hype Machine is a blog that aggregates music blogs and automatically generates playlists and let's you "spy" on what other people are doing on the blog.

De-Liberalization of user rights

http://reason.com/blog/show/127444.html

Flickr, the popular photo sharing site owned by Yahoo, took down Dutch photographer Maarten Dors’ pictures of a Romanian teenage boy smoking a cigarette, arguing that it broke the site’s rules for appropriate photos. Dors says he didn’t intend to glorify smoking, but to document the living conditions in one of Eastern Europe’s less prosperous countries. Someone from Yahoo put the photo back on Dors’ profile, but another employee who was unfamiliar with the exception took it down a few months later. Someone else later put the picture back up, and it's still there, for now.

Dors’ stor is a reminder that ever-increasing usability has been accompanied by the de-liberalizing of user rights. Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, warns against Internet users relying too heavily on applications and software over which they have little or no control.

Here, from the same article, this is how Yahoo! explains itself.

While mindful of free speech and other rights, Yahoo and other companies say they must craft and enforce guidelines that go beyond legal requirements to protect their brands and foster safe, enjoyable communities—ones where minors may be roaming.

Guidelines help "engender a positive community experience," one to which users will want to return, said Anne Toth, Yahoo's vice president for policy.

go beyond legal requirements to protect their brands not that this is surprising, but it's rarely stated that bluntly.

Open Source 3D Printer

Uh, things are getting interesting. Open Source, capable of producing a working copy of itself. A bit geeky still, but who knows for how long.
Source: http://www.reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome

Look at your computer setup and imagine that you hooked up a 3D printer. Instead of printing on bits of paper this 3D printer makes real, robust, mechanical parts. To give you an idea of how robust, think Lego bricks and you're in the right area. You could make lots of useful stuff, but interestingly you could also make most of the parts to make another 3D printer. That would be a machine that could copy itself.

RepRap is short for Replicating Rapid-prototyper. It is the practical self-copying 3D printer shown on the right - a self-replicating machine. This 3D printer builds the component up in layers of plastic. This technology already exists, but the cheapest commercial machine would cost you about €30,000. And it isn't even designed so that it can make itself. So what the RepRap team are doing is to develop and to give away the designs for a much cheaper machine with the novel capability of being able to self-copy (material costs are about €400). That way it's accessible to small communities in the developing world as well as individuals in the developed world. Following the principles of the Free Software Movement we are distributing the RepRap machine at no cost to everyone under the GNU General Public Licence. So, if you have a RepRap machine, you can make another and give it to a friend...

"Think of RepRap as a China on your desktop."
- Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager, Google Inc., 8 April 20

G8 summit aims to stop piracy once and for all

More draconian measures that will cause pain if implemented, but not "solve" the problem.

According to New Scientist, the talks will be based around the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which has some scary ramifications for file sharers. In case you’re unfamiliar with ACTA, it’s a potential trade agreement between several countries, including the US, the European Commission, Switzerland, Australia and Japan, which was first proposed in October 2007.

Little has been officially announced about ACTA yet, but WikiLeaks published a leaked document about it a few weeks ago, which reveals an international strategy for cracking down on piracy. This is proposed as a solution to the current problem where different copyright laws in different countries make it difficult to crack down on international Internet pirates.

Full text is over at custompc.co.uk.

80% want legal P2P - survey

The Register has an interesting survey concerning the use of p2p file sharing (the sample, though, is quite small, 773 people, no word on how they were selected.)

A fascinating survey of music consumption conducted for British Music Rights has good and bad news for the beleaguered music business.

The bad news: online file sharing is more prevalent than other surveys suggest. The good news: a lot of people are willing to pay for a service that offers legal, licensed P2P file sharing. Half the people surveyed think distributors such as large telecomms companies should pay creators from the proceeds of such a license. And a surprisingly large number of people still value physical music goods, with two thirds of potential subscribers to legal P2P saying that they would continue to buy CDs.

The numbers are quite high:

63 per cent acknowledge they "illegally" download unlicensed music - with the average monthly download being 53 tracks a month.

Also interesting is this fact:

Altruism plays a large part, the survey discovered. More than two thirds said they were giving something back to the community. The reason that most frequently appears on website comments - that music is "too expensive" - was only cited by around 10 per cent of respondents.

"This suggests that respondents recognise the value in the ‘share-ability’ of music and are motivated by a sense of fairness and the principle of reciprocity – something for something illegally," BMR concludes.

Absorption and Exposure

Jordan Crandall posted a very interesting essay to nettime, focussing on the subjectivity of a culture of "assemblage", or as I would call it, a culture of remixing. The most interesting parts are bolded by me.

Absorption and Exposure
a working assemblage of assemblage theory
Jordan Crandall

I am interested in a certain sense of wanting to be "in" something: to participate in it, to connect with it, to synchronize with it, to be caught up with it, rather than to visually possess it. The desire to be attuned to something that is happening, or that might happen at any moment -- not necessarily as a conscious thought, but as a vaguely felt expectation. The desire to move toward something that is (or might be) happening, in order to absorb its force, touch it, taste it, surrender to it -- rather than simply to observe it.

For Bataille, this would be the erotic pull of death. I am thinking about it as a dynamic of immersion and implication that involves media-technological actors and which reorients questions of subjectivity and spectatorship. Or, in other words: an ecology of absorption and exposure. Since it involves the sensorium and the transmission of resonances, it is not something that can be understood in terms of visual mastery or language. It does not privilege reading but readiness. Rather than being about possessing something from a distance, it is about a surrender to it -- an extreme intimacy, a merging. One does not look from afar, fortifying the self, but rather enters into the fray, exposing the self.

Tech giants form group to buy patents

CNET June 29, 2008

Google is part of a group of tech heavyweights going on the offensive against the threat of patent-infringement lawsuits, the Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site Sunday evening.

The group, which calls itself the Allied Security Trust, plans to buy up key intellectual property before it is obtained by parties who might use it against them, the newspaper reported. Joining Google in the group are Verizon Communications, Cisco Systems, Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson, and Hewlett-Packard, among others.

Is this an attempt to create a "walled garden" or a space for innovation, open to all?

see also: Selbsthilfegruppe gegen Patent-Trolle Spiegel.de and the ArsTechnica article

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