What does the corporate enclosure of the Internet look like? It starts with grand words wrapped in timid acts. That's what FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave the American people as he punted on the important issues that need to be resolved. Internet users and startup entrepreneurs needed to be assured that their data-traffic would not be delayed or stifled just because AT&T, Comcast or Verizon might wish to do so.
Given the political clout that Internet service providers have within the Obama administration and Congress, the new rules will only hasten a further consolidation of power over Internet access and a new marketization of Internet content and traffic. It won't happen overnight, and it won't happen without new battles that might slow or limit this outcome. But the FCC's unwillingness to defend our interests -- in the face of telecom oligopolies with enormous political influence and legal resources -- is a clear sign of where things are headed. Downward.
Those antic law professors who gave us Bound by Law – a glorious superhero-comic treatment of the fair use doctrine in filmmaking -- are at it again! Forget DC Comics. I want my IP Comics! Keith Aoki, James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins are apparently out to build a franchise by translating the arcane monstrosities of copyright law into clever, hilarious and downright educational comic books.
Their latest offering, due out in the spring or summer of 2011, is Theft! A History of Music -- Musical Borrowing from Plato to Hip-Hop. Aoki, a professor of law at the UC-Davis School of Law, is the graphic artist for the comic book. Boyle and Jenkins -- both professors at Duke Law School – researched, wrote and designed it. Boyle is the former Chairman of Creative Commons and co-founder of its spinoff project, Science Commons. Jenkins heads the Center for the Study of the Public Domain.
The International Commons Conference in Berlin continues to generate some interesting follow-up work. One of the most engaging is a series of videos shot by Alain Ambrosi of Remix the Commons. The day after the conference, Alain interviewed ten commoners, including me, asking each of us the same questions, such as "What struck you most about this conference?"and "Would you say there is a commons movement?"
The Remix the Commons project is still a work-in-progress and won’t be fully operational for a few months. However, in the meantime, two different series of videos are available: “Define the Commons / Définir le Bien Commun / Definir el Procomùn,” and “Framing the Commons in Berlin.” The latter consists of a series of nine separate interviews with Silke Helfrich (Germany), Michel Bauwens (Thailand), Julio Lambing (Germany), Beatriz Busaniche (Argentina), Frédéric Sultan (France), Valérie Peugeot (France), Rosa Maria Fernanda (Ecuador), Alberto Acosta (Ecuador), Hervé Le Crosnier (France), and me. Each interview is conducted in the interviewee’s native language.
So now NATO is interested in the commons! Or at least, it’s interested in what it thinks is the commons. In September, a group of NATO brass, security analysts and other policy elites held a conference called “Protecting the Global Commons.” Attendees were mostly unknown to us commoners, but they are described as “senior representatives from the EU institutions and NATO, with national government officials, industry, the international and specialised media, think-tanks, academia and NGOs.”
The event, hosted by a Brussels-based think tank called Security & Defence Agenda, had its own ideas about what the commons is. Let’s just say the sponsors apparently don’t regard the commons as a self-organized system designed by commoners themselves to serve their needs.
No. To NATO decisionmakers, the “global commons” consists of those empty spaces and resources that lie beyond the direct and exclusive control of nation-states, yet which are necessary to fruitful intercourse among nation-states. So, for example: space, the oceans and the Internet.
One of the abiding dramas that we moderns are fated to endure is the nagging sense that something more real, more authentic is happening elsewhere, that we do not really inhabit our own skin and have sovereign experiences. Why is this? Former magazine editor and essayist Richard Todd explore this vague, uneasy phenomenon in a series of beautifully written, amusing and often profound chapters in his book, The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity (Riverhead Books, 2008). I've been reading it lately and finding much nourishment.
Todd writes: "This book began with a simple feeling, the sense that my life and much of the life around me was not ‘real.’” What does it mean to be “real,” and why do we care about it so much? The twenty-one essays are sparkling, humane meditations on “authenticity” and the false and simulated. Why do we prize an object that has a documented historical provenance over an identical facsimile? Why are the the hyper-real, personal lives of celebrities so compelling to so many people even though the details are so palpably artificial? Why is irony often as revealing and truthful as professions of unvarnished “sincerity”?
There's a reason why the financial dealings of the Federal Reserve are so arcane. It helps in ripping off the American people. Don Dzombak of The Motley Fool has posted a very funny homemade video in the style of South Park that explains in a simple dialogue how the American people get ripped off when buying U.S. Treasury bonds.
Two barely animated cartoon characters resembling stuffed bears are standing in a field talking in robotic, tech-modulated voices about the Federal Reserve Board's asinine policies. I'll pick up the dialogue midstream:
John Naughton, writing in The Guardian (UK), is one of the few observers to see the WikiLeaks case for what it is: “the first really sustained confrontation between the established order and the culture of the internet. There have been skirmishes before, but this is the real thing.”
It’s difficult to make predictions about a story that is still unfolding, but the U.S. Government’s response to the WikiLeaks disclosures make two things quite clear: 1) that the world’s oldest democracy is not really committed to open debate, citizen accountability and due process; and 2) nation-states, in quiet collusion with key corporations, share an interest in curbing the open Internet in order to limit its disruptive impact on their power.
While the U.S. lectures China about the virtues of an open Internet, what happens when that very ideal is applied to the U.S. Government? The disclosures expose stunning deceit, mendacity, incompetence and corruption, and the U.S. Government goes into attack mode against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.