For the Week of January 10, 2005
The Great Race has always been between tyranny and freedom, with order as tyranny's worthy handmaiden, and crime as freedom's ugly stepsister.
The triumph of liberty in the 20th century was basically a technological triumph. It was Moore's Law that did it. Moore's Law, and all its antecedents, changed the rules of the economic game, of the power game, and the balance between rulers and the ruled.
Moore's Law, the idea that things get better-and-better faster-and-faster, means that trained minds are the key to economic growth. Willing hands, the key to economic growth in the industrial age, matter far less than they did. Chains may keep trained hands working. They don't do so well with trained minds.
In America the result, as Dr. Richard Florida wrote, was the rise of a new "Creative Class" that could dominate societies and drive economic growth. These were people, accused of wealth and guilty of education, whose values were intellectual and meritocratic, and (perhaps most important) were capable of economic satiation. Creative people have, on the whole, risen through Maslow's "hierarchy of needs," and are in search of self-actualization, not food or even luxury.
Creative people like cities, vibrant and tolerant cities where we can explore ourselves and others freely, in relative comfort. The Internet is the ultimate "Blue City," where people from Pakistan or India, South Africa, Germany or Italy or America can meet as peers, become friends, and work together to create a better future.
In Florida's book he observed America's internal migration patterns to identify where growth would come later - Austin, Raleigh, Boston, Berkeley, Portland, Seattle, Santa Fe.
But America is not the only country, and the creative class is far more mobile than Florida imagined. Europe is just waking up to the possibilities of the creative class, developing new centers of economic growth around centers of learning, and remaining globally competitive by reaping the benefits of that. East Asia is now building such cities, and when this trend moves to Africa watch out.
Mobility is enhanced by the Internet, where the creative process has gotten a full dose of steroids. The big story of the last decade has been the advance of liberty, knowledge and economic freedom through this medium.
It's against this backdrop that I return to the subject of the Copyright Wars, a subject I first broached here in 1997.
The conflict has gone pretty much as expected. Big businesses have become the stalking horse for Big Government, going after people on a worldwide basis, in ways even governments are reluctant to undertake. The U.S. Justice Department can't go after someone in Australia, not without going through extradition. The copyright industries can. The U.S. government can't threaten China over software issues. The copyright industries can.
And the copyright industries have, by and large, had the imprisonment of the creative class as their main goal. One-sided contracts, with all rights assigned to the copyright owners, have been the rule for nearly a century. And in extensions of copyright, or the rights of copyright, nearly all the cash goes, not to the people creating the work, but to the industry. Time-Warner, Fox, GE, Disney - these are the Fords, Pullmans, and Rockefellers of our time.
In this work they have been more succesful than their enemies admit, more successful than I expected. They have succeeded in shutting off several server-less peer-to-peer networks, and ruining users' lives on several continents in the process. Yet freedom persists.
And so we have the BitTorrent controversy. BitTorrent may be the most powerful network yet, and the one that skirts the law most completely. You plant a "seed," an initial copy of a file, and it spreads to wherever there's empty space and bandwidth, so the cost disappears from the person posting the file, both bandwidth and storage. (Actually it's just shifted - it's still there.)
The benefits are enormous to legal files. Companies can distribute Linux at a cost near-zero. Those battling government censorship can get millions of copies of forbidden thought into users' heads and hearts within days.
But this same enormous power can be used to pirate movies, or it could be used by terrorists. Big governments and big business are united against it. The Achilles Heel or point of weakness is a "tracker" site, like Suprnova.org, which hosts nothing but merely points to file names that can then be located by client software. There's no direct copyright violation, and there's powerful non-infringing use, but lawyers are tenacious, and such sites are being shut down.
So we have the next evolution, the so-called "Darknet." By the time a file shows up on BitTorrent, it has been all over the Darknet, and there's no way to trace the infringement back to its origin. In this case the hub itself is hidden. You don't get there by a link. It's like a speakeasy to which only the elect (selected by their expertise and knowledge of other "conspirators") have access. Just getting access is an achievement. Being able to feed the Darknet makes you a Hacker Supreme.
How you feel about this depends entirely on which side of the divide you're on, and where you stand can change with circumstances. Are you spreading the word for a free Burma, or a free Tibet, or the female victims of mutilation in the Islamic world? You're a good guy (or girl). Are you spreading an unreleased video game, Hitler's collected works, or Osama's terrorism cookbook? You're a bad guy (or girl). The point is, the technology doesn't care. The same technology that makes freedom possible (and tyranny impossible) can also destroy the world.
Get used to it. And get over your efforts to kill it. Because if you do kill it, if you really succeed in making file sharing impossible, you will have ushered in a Permanent Tyranny over all mankind.
In this, as in all cases, Ich Bin Ein Berliner, as in Isaiah Berlin, the British philosopher of the 20th century. Perfection is impossible. Muddle through.
And if you doubt the sense in that, I think it's what Jesus would do as well.
I urge everyone who reads A-Clue.Com over to Mooreslore to enjoy my ongoing online novel, The Chinese Century. I hope it's as much fun to read as it has been to write.
In partnership with ZDNet, I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source .
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout , a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know . Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Best of the Week
The Chinese Century
Clued-in are all those aiding the rescue effort in South Asia.
Clueless are all those who begrudge it, or who claim America is doing more than its share.
A-Clue.Com is a free email publication, registered with the U.S. Copyright
Office as number TXu 888-819. We're on the Web at http://www.a-clue.com.