Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge?


“Learn more” is SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. We are already seeing big media calling us names. In many jurisdictions around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation that prioritizes overly-broad copyright enforcement laws, laws promoted by power players, over the preservation of individual civil liberties. We want the Internet to be free and open, everywhere, for everyone.


* Google
* Beeb
* Wikipedia blackout forces students to copy from printed ‘hardcopy websites’

15 thoughts on “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge?”

  1. I did have an idea around this.

    It starts with the premise that, ultimately, you cannot enforce copyright-payment at the point of consumption without extreme measures; DRM, punitive laws, very strong restrictions. And these measures both cost money without providing anything of real value and limit the customer/fan base to those with the present ability to pay.

    This crosses a range of areas, from Newspapers that either go broke giving away online content or get no online presence, to academic publishing which is stupidly unavailable freely online – even when taxpayer funded, to books, music, computer games, films.. anything you can transfer digitally.

    If/when 3D printing starts going mainstream things could get really interesting.

    The only answer to the problem that does not involve multiple layers of restraint and draconian legal measures is to separate consumption and payment. Specifically, set aside a ‘Media Fund’ from general taxation – which would probably imply a hike in tax, probably basic rate income tax – and use that to allocate royalties at a set rate according to the popularity of the given media. From a revenue point of view there should be little difference.

    All that is needed is an official register of what has been accessed and by who. Still a tricky problem – you have to ensure that the system is not ‘gamed’. But there is no real financial incentive to bypass the system, and a big incentive on the part of the big media companies to be sure that it works.

    The critical thing now is that since there is no payment at the point of consumption, there is now zero incentive for piracy. Digital distribution suddenly becomes much easier and safer. Small players can get paid for their work as barriers to entry to the ‘media market’ would come down, much in the way that Amazon e-books allow self-publishing.

    And, of course, we wouldn’t end up sticking kids in prison for a decade for sharing a few files.

    [I think I’d prefer just less copyright; the current situation is insane, without adding SOPA. Mind you in one respect the US stands out: works of the US govt are PD, whereas our own idiot govt jealously guards its copyright -W]


  2. > works of the US govt are PD
    Often true, e.g.

    But it gets complicated; the argument is often that the government can’t or shouldn’t hold data or compile it, so what’s collected — whether via government or business activity — gets handed on to private companies that copyright their bundling of it, and when they’re the only route for the data to get to the public, it effectively privatizes the information.

    It’s kind of ‘extraordinary rendition’ for data — once it’s gone into a private company’s hands the government’s no longer legally restricted by the privacy laws.

    [It still works much much better than ours does. Compare, say, the wiki use of US govt photos vs UK ones -W]


  3. our own idiot govt jealously guards its copyright

    From my dealings with journals I am aware that crown copyright exists in the British Commonwealth and that special procedures are required for papers where crown copyright applies. That is as much as I know about it. Perhaps this merits a separate post, but could you enlighten us about the implications of crown copyright?

    Per Hank’s comment, journals based in the US (at least the ones I have dealt with) consider papers to be copyrightable if any co-author is not a US civil servant. This presumably includes people who work at government labs but are paid by contractors. It may well be better than the situation in the UK, but not by much. Also, US copyright law can and has been changed on behalf of a fictional rodent. (That last sentence is not a joke: the most recent update to copyright terms in this country had the intent and effect of preventing the character of Mickey Mouse from falling into the public domain.) I don’t think that’s true, at least directly, of other countries.


  4. My impression is that copyright holders if left to their own devices will only become more intrusive and anti-user – to the point where their products become unusable.

    There was firstly the SONY rootkit scandal a few years ago. One hesitates to think what information some of their ‘blue-sky thinkers’ would think themselves ‘entitled’ to mine had it remained undiscovered.
    I’ve never allowed a SONY disc near my PC since, even if freely provided with a new camera.

    More recently I bought a Blu-ray disc of a favourite artist which contained an extra show that was not included on the regular DVD. I plonked my new premium-priced disc in my player looking forward to an enjoyable Friday evening’s listening with hi-def video accompaniment and … nothing.

    About two and a half hours later the disc started playing of its own accord. It turned out my player had to apply for an ‘upgrade’ to play a new (to it) disc, and I suppose being at the start of the weekend there must have been a long queue, which it eventually downloaded and applied.

    I’m not a particular fan of blu-ray and only have this one disc for the extra content, but apparently this is not an uncommon experience. That may or may not be the case, but it’s an absolutely ridiculous state of affairs that this kind of vetting is applied after the fact of purchasing the product.

    Makes me hope all their titles get pirated.


  5. For most of my life knowledge has no been ‘free’. Of course, libraries buy books, magazines and journals whereopen library card holders may read for ‘free’ (since one is not counting the tax support).

    I don’t see much of a leg to stand on, inconvenient as it might sometimes appear.


  6. The opponents of SOPA have the same distrust of authority and fear of government control that a lot of climate skeptics do. Some warmers have ’em, too. Oddly enough, many of the top Progressive Democrats are co- sponsors of the bill.


  7. > a world without free knowledge

    Yes, there are those who think that’d be better:

    “… neoliberal theorists like Hayek … state that the Market is the superior information processor …. the belief that science progresses when everyone can buy the type of science they like …”

    You know what they think of people giving away knowledge?
    Polluters of the market! externalized costs! soshuleezm!



  8. Here’s an argument for free and accurate information — and the reason the liberals and libertarians share to collaborate at improving this stuff:

    “… Liberals talk about the moral reasons for fairness and libertarians the practical, competition-nurturing ones. They tend to forget that – as followers of Smith – they actually want the same end result!

    What they share is something deeper that both movements ought to recognize. They want every child to hit age 21 ready and eager to join the rivalry of work, skill and ideas.

    Liberals should recall that fair competition is the driver, the engine of our cornucopia. The source of the wealth that made social progress possible. And libertarians need to pause, amid their dogmatic, ‘FDR-was-Satan’ incantations, and recall that the word ‘fair’ is the only thing that can make competition last….”


  9. >The opponents of SOPA have the same distrust of authority and fear of government control that a lot of climate skeptics do.

    Which if anything indicates the canny harnessing of a perfectly rational posture. Authoritarianism especially as practiced by government isn’t welcomed by many citizens of the world, and historically for good reason. And probably less so when short sighted, self-serving and venal corporate interests are held to override all other concerns

    >Oddly enough, many of the top Progressive Democrats are co- sponsors of the bill.

    Even more oddly, perceived subversion of the democratic process and its representatives of whatever stripe by corporate and moneyed interests is currently quite high up on many people’s political agenda.


  10. I’ve seen comments on this Wikipedia blackout (comments or discussion on Twitter, I dont remember exactly) and those people were only complaining that they can’t gte free data for their homework, or something like that. No reflection, no thinking about the idea behind the blackout.. That’s really sad.
    The blackout is extremely important and I only regret we haven’t got such strong movement in Europe, as our UE Parliment is trying to inplement something similiar (called ACTA).


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