Personal Democracy Forum, part 1
At 7:30 this morning, I arrived at the 2007 Personal Democracy Forum. I’ve been to every Personal Democracy Forum that they’ve had, so this was old home week for me. It started off with a networking breakfast where I ran into many old friends. Even at 7:30, there were plenty of people sitting off in one corner or another doing their networking via the internet, and one person quipped that there were likely to be many people added as friends on Facebook or MySpace during the networking breakfast.
Andrew Rasiej gave the welcoming remarks and we went to the first speaker, Larry Lessig. Larry’s talk was entitled Free Culture, Free Politics. I’ve read Larry’s blog, but never heard him speak in person. It was an engaging talk.
He started off bewailing the either/or thinking, which I’ve also talked about as black and white thinking or binary thinking. He spoke about it in terms of copyright. Many people present copyright as either you are completely for it, RIAA style, including things like the DMCA and CTEA, or you are completely against it. He pointed out how this is a false dichotomy and went on to provide good examples.
Before he went into that, he explored a tactic of staunch copyright defenders to portray anyone opposed to anything other than the strictest interpretation of copyright laws as ‘communists’.
I don’t want to move on from this without exploring what I think is an important underlying theme. So many of the battles are between a radical individualism, every man for himself, where any sort of collaboration is unacceptable, and an idea that we are all in this together, part of a community, that has some sense of responsibility to our brother, to our neighbors, a sense that there are times when we can and should work together for the common good.
He spoke about how digital communications has democratized the process remixing content. The number of people that can now afford the technology to remix audio and video has grown drastically as the tools have become less expensive.
Lessig suggested that the RIAA model is “Everything that we don’t explicitly permit is illegal”. It is about keeping control. He quipped that we can’t force people to be free, either here, or in Iraq.
From there, he launched into an attack on proprietary networks seeking to keep the content from Presidential debates proprietary. He defended the position of proprietary networks. They need to be concerned with other networks ‘free riding’. They need to be concerned with journalistic quality and others remixing the material in a way that would damage the proprietary network’s brand.
So, instead of rejecting proprietary networks concerns, he accepted them and went on to say that “If free debates are not possible on proprietary networks, then perhaps proprietary networks should not carry debates.”
If proprietary networks can’t live by principles of democratic free speech, then don’t give them the content. There are other networks that would be willing to share the networks in a way that democracy demands.
Lessig amplified this by posing the questions, would we ever put all voting booths only in amusement parks that charge admission, or make the only way to pay taxes via software from a commercial firm? Why should we have debates only on proprietary networks?
With this he commented that he can’t wait until his kids say, “Can we go to Disneyworld?”
“Not over my dead body” would be his reply.
He pulled it all together by pointing out that copyright has its place, but it must be kept in its place, and that does not include areas of public debate.
Through out the talk, he used many great illustrations from online videos to Robert Greenwald films. Underlying this was the issue of what is fair use. During the question and answer period, Jeff Jarvis asked about Fair Use and if that was a viable defense for bloggers. Yes, in many cases it is, responded Lessig, if the blogger can withstand years of court battles.
He ended off with calling on the Presidential candidates, especially those on the Democratic side, to stand up in defense of a reasonable approach to copyright law. It was a very good first session.