Web Fonts Arrive! Firefox 3.5 is out!

“But we need not wait for epiphanies from those whose paycheck depends on them not having any.” - Dmitri Orlov

Firefox 3.5 is out, and supports web fonts! Grab it from getfirefox.com and tell your friends :-)

The Core of the Copyfight

Over on the PHD-DESIGN mailing list, Lars Albinsson asked, “In Sweden there is a huge debate on copyrights vs sharing on the Internet. (Swedes managed to both start the Pirate Bay, allegedly the leading peer-to-peer service, as well as introduce very strong regulatory legislation against it.) The trail of the pirate bay people this spring was one of the most internationally covered events in Sweden for years. The pirate lobby also started a political party and managed to get a seat in the European Parliament. There are mainly two sides in Sweden; roughly summed up as: Mainly record companies and some artists claim that the creative industry is dying because of internet piracy; and Other artists, many “intellectuals” and IT industry people claim the internet offers huge potential for creative businesses and people. What are the thoughts on the list about this issue (or issues)?”

As I see it, there are three sides to the “copyfight”: The public, the authors/artists, and the publishers.

Computer networks are built to share data, and the public Internet is the ultimate publishing system. Trying to prevent the public sharing data over the Internet is impossible, unless you create an intrusive police state.

Copyright conceptually starts with everything published being in the public domain. The public then grant authors a limited time monopoly over some aspects of published works in order to encourage publication. Authors do not have a natural right to control their work, this control is granted to them by the public so that the public may benefit. Note that the phrase “intellectual property” is designed to confuse this, suggesting that authors have natural rights akin to physical property rights, and lumping together laws which have almost nothing in common (patents, copyrights, trademarks, database rights, attribution rights, etc). That phrase must be avoided to have a meaningful discussion of the issues it is associated with.

The public used to trade away its natural right to copy published works to encourage the publication of more works, when it didn’t have widespread copying machines. Now that computer networks are here, the copyright bargain makes less sense for most of the public, and it seems they would rather have file sharing - even if this means that there are less works being published, which can not be assumed, although it is asserted by publishers.

Generally the political process of western democracies is dominated by corporate interests, and in this area, by publishing corporations. Therefore while the actions of the public support p2p file sharing, their governments have worked to support publishing companies. The Pirate Party is the end result of this; if the public are disenfranchised by corporate lobbyists enough about some issue, they will start political organisation to oppose the lobbyists.

So the question is, can authors/artists continue to make a living while allowing the public to share complete copies of their works, non commercially, on P2P networks? Or will the public taking back its right to share published works mean that great authors stop publishing new works and do something else?

In 2009 there is plenty of evidence that artists who are independent of publishers can make plenty of money when they respect their fan’s desire to file share; and indeed, there are examples of authors who assert they now make MORE money when the full texts of their novels are posted online.

This leaves little room for publishing companies, since artists are interfacing directly with the market over the net, and since the most famous authors and artists are contractually tied to publishers, as the publishers’ ship sinks, those artists who are going down with them have quite loud voices. However, famous artists are now actively leaving their publishers (Madonna, Radiohead, etc) and implementing the kind of mature and sophisticated “direct marketing” to monetise their works that newer artists who weren’t able to get publishing contracts have been perfecting.

Here in academia, the question is, can academics make a living while allowing the public to share complete copies of their articles, non commercially, on the web?

I suggest that they can.

A quick example: Orion Magazine just came to my attention today (having published an article - in full - about the Transition Towns movement, which I’ve recently started participating in) and the footer of each page explains: “Orion publishes six thoughtful, inspiring, and beautiful issues a year, supported entirely by our readers – we’re completely ad-free!”

Journalists and other professional authors will continue to exist, but their publishing companies and newspapers probably won’t. Many people are now professional bloggers, paid by donations directly sent by their readership and advertising.

(Many thanks to my friends Richard Stallman, who gave a speech titled “Copyright and Community in the Age of Computer Networks” at my undergraduate university in 2004 about these issues, and my dear departed friend Fravia who also practiced what he preached. Thanks also to the countless other thinkers associated with the copyfight who I do not personally know but whose works I have read :-)

Print is dying fast, I suspect collapse psychology afoot.

Print is dead: ad sales graph shows precipitous drop in revenues

TechCrunch reports that the newspaper industry has had an unprecedented drop in revenues in the first quarter of this year.

Print is dying fast. I wouldn’t be suprised if they pretend everything is okay and then one day just turn off the presses; that’s the pattern of collapse

I’m reminded of Mish: “Things that can’t happen, are about to.”

I’m also reminded of my good friend Dr. Thomas Fischbacher, who explained in a recent lecture series on “the econo-energy crisis for engineers” the similar situation in Mathematics:

“God exists, since mathematics is consistent, and the Devil exists, since we cannot prove it.” (A. Weil)

For a long time, Mathematicians tried to prove that their axioms are ‘consistent’, i.e. never will produce contradictions. At some point, they found that this is a seriously misguided idea: They managed to show that Every set of axioms that allows a proof of its own consistency then automatically also allows finding a “proof” for every possible statement, wrong or not. So, a mathematical theory that succeeds in self-justifying its correctness is worthless, for then it inevitably will be able “to demonstrate both that 2 + 2 = 4 and that 2 + 2 = 4 at the same time.”

At first, this was a surprising result. But it caused Mathematicians to make a transition to a higher state of awareness on what their discipline is about. Knowing what you never will be able to achieve, and why this is a good thing, can be humbling, but provides us with a higher degree of understanding of what it actually is we are doing. The problem with “proof theory” is that many people philosophize about it (in particular: about G ?del’s Theorem) without having a sound idea how it works. This is not what we want to get into here! So, let me emphasize: the link we are about to make with Mathematics concerning the ascension to a higher state of awareness on what we are doing is only an analogy! We do not and can not transplant G ?del’s Tree onto the soil of, say, Politics!

Many people (maybe preferentially in western societies?) search for an all-encompassing explanation of how the world really works. (Hypothesis: Maybe because not knowing makes the human mind feel deeply uncomfortable?) Some of them arrive at a picture of the world which they consider meeting that ideal and then start to prosyletize – to convert others to their belief. The problem with every “I explain it all” ideology is that it provides an explanatory framework that makes its adherents blind to disconfirming evidence. Suppose the ideology is wrong, for some reason. If you can find an explanation for and come up with an answer to every conceivable observation, how would the problems that arise in the application of a false ideology manifest themselves?

As indications of major flaws are never seen for what they are, the only conceivable consequence is collapse – being deprived of all room for manuevre by the clash with hard reality!