"Barlow…caves in to fear."


After reading Reason's recent interview with cyperspace guru John Perry Barlow, Tech Central Station's Arnold Kling tut-tuts the lyricist-rancher-netizen for caving "in to fear." To wit:

If Barlow and others think that the next version of Windows is just too creepy [due to its "trusted computing" and "identity-authentication" functions], they can stick with XP. Or Windows 98, for that matter, which still has a huge installed base. If identity-authentication is enough of a show-stopper for enough people, then Bill will have to leave it out in order to get people to buy the next upgrade.

Of all the organizations you could look to because you fear identity-authentication, it is ironic that Barlow would choose government. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which Barlow founded, has spent considerable effort in fending off government attempts to make the Internet wiretap friendly, efforts which date back to the infamous Clipper Chip. Turning to government to help maintain anonymity on the Internet is like going to the Pope for help in keeping abortion safe and legal.

Whole thing here.

Reason's Q&A with Barlow here. Reader comments to that exchange here.

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  1. Shannon-

    I don’t think this is quite right. A copy is a copy, maybe you Xerox a book (which may or may not by copyrighted) or a CD. A Xerox of a book will likely be a poor copy with little ambiguity between the original and the duplicate. A copy of an original piece of software is almost exact. I think this is the problem. It is trivial to make many exact duplicates. To fix this software companies sell a license in place of the actual software. You can legally own a piece of software and simultaneously not be licensed to use it. This could be done with books as well. Post a book on the net free for download. However, if you would like to read it you must purchase a license. I’m not surprised this isn’t working out to well, they made it too easy to steal.

  2. pigwiggle,

    DRM systems are just software license technology generalized to files. Thats why people hate them. Licenses don’t solve the property problem but merely move it from the data itself to the license. The central problem remains: How to protect privacy by making the purchasing and transfer of licenses anonymous while at the same time making it verifiable and accountable?

    What Barlow et al don’t recognize is that if a property system cannot be created that will let the free-market automatically manage digital media then the State will eventually take over the entire system. The internet will become a distribution system for media funded by tax dollars whose content is determined by politics.

  3. This could be done with books as well. Post a book on the net free for download. However, if you would like to read it you must purchase a license. I’m not surprised this isn’t working out to well, they made it too easy to steal.

    Ebooks haven’t taken off because the current DRM schemes are a pain in the ass. Most folks don’t have any interest in paying hardcover price for something that’s tied to a specific device, can’t be resold or loaned to a friend, “disappears” if the hardware manufacturer goes out of business, etc. Some of the dedicated hardware devices (…SONY…) won’t even let you put non-DRMed content on them — bah.

  4. Not paying for copyrighted material is wrong, but…

    People downloading music, etc. from the internet without paying for it are thieves, but so are the folks that produce the copyrighted content. Ask yourself, when is the last time you actually saw an original work? I mean ORIGINAL! Almost all are rip-offs of previous work. Okay, so they change a few names and rearrange the scenes and, blah, blah, blah…

    I’m only half serious about the above comments. The real crimes are the ridiculous extensions of copyright. What is more important, a scientific discovery that saves lives or a rock ballad? Explain to me why the copyright on the rock ballad lasts longer than the patent on the scientific discovery? Does this make any sense at all? Limit copyright to 20 years and I promise that I’ll never use KaZaa again.

  5. I think the critical problem here is that property and anonymity are antithetical. Property rights are by definition statements about who controls a particular resource or object. For example, nobody owns land anonymously. Every piece of land in the free world has a specific individual or group of individuals that controls it’s use and is responsible for it. A vast and expensive mixed public-private system exist to trace and define which specific individuals are attached to which pieces of land.

    It feels to many people to property and anonymity can go together because of the legal and cultural presumption that “possession is 9/10ths of the law.” If you have a physical item in your possession it is presumed to be your property unless someone else can prove otherwise. This system works well for physical property because physical property is zero sum. If you are reading a physical book I cannot read it at the same time. If I steall your book you will notice and complain. People are presumed to have legal ownership of items in their possession because otherwise somebody else would complain about the missing item.

    Digital media, however, is non-zero sum. The presumption of ownership that grants functionally anonymous ownership for minor physical items breaks down. As Hanah Metchis points out in another posting, copying is the most basic computer operation. Every time we make use of digital media in any form or in any way it is first copied. If you are reading a book in a digital format I can copy it and read it at the same time without causing you any lose. I can even copy the book without your knowledge or permission and so can millions of other people. We can’t presume that someone with particular pattern of bits on their digital system is the legitimate owner of the pattern because there is no reason to assume that others would complain if they were not.

    The problem of the digital age is that until this point we have all accepted anonymous ownership as a convenient legal fiction. This was especially true for information related properties like books. Now we find ourselves in a technological environment where the people who produce information products are demanding that we demonstrate that we acquired the information product legally. We resist because we believe the legal fiction was real and that the request to demonstrate ownership and to sacrifice privacy is illegitimate.

    But it’s not. The technological limitations that made the legal fiction work in the real world are fading away and hard reality is roaring back. We are going to have to adapt.

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