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Lessig on Digital Barbarism

Lawrence Lessig has posted a review of David Halperin's recent book, Digital Barbarism.

Halperin, who authored the (in)famous New York Times article calling for perpetual copyright, has now compiled his ideas into a book. Lessig offers a much-needed critique, including citing misconceptions about Creative Commons (Halperin conflates it not only with "freeware" with software... more

Inactive Political Activists
Tobias Schonwetter · Cape Town (South Africa) · Jun 17th, 2007 2:18 am · 23 votes · 1 comment
The first official day of this year’s iSummit in Dubrovnik was a long day indeed– with participants struggling a bit towards the end of the day with the summer heat here in stunning Croatia. On this day, between 5 p.m. and 6h30 p.m., well-known political activists discussed “their strategies for fighting against strong IP legislation, advocating for change and taking copyrights to the streets” as part of the summit’s Peer Production: legal and architectural norms” stream, and against the backdrop of repeated requests from people not physically present at the summit, it is a pleasure to give some account of what has happened during the session.
Let’s start, however, with a general statement here: Germans like to be (over-) prepared! As a matter of fact they do feel quite uncomfortable if the information on hand is incomplete and sketchy for a certain task they are about to undertake. Hence I felt a bit uncomfortable when I entered today’s session about political activism – a session I was supposed to write about. In order to prepare for the event and to find out what was going to be discussed, I had of course contacted all of the speakers well before the summit and all of them had replied sooner or later. Yet, the replies were rather vague, to say the least, and ranged from a general link to a website with recent articles from Becky Hogge (Open Rights Group) to a simple “No, sorry, I do not have any prior information for you” from Cory Doctorow. However, Fred Benenson (Free Culture) indicated that he would probably speak about the question of how to build up sustainable memberships and interest locally in free culture chapters, and Eric Josefsson (EFF Europe) pointed out to the fact that the copy-crime campaign was arguably the most important thing he had worked on this year. So, in a nutshell, I had not really a clue of what the session was all about when I entered the venue today.

In an attempt to involve the audience right from the start, facilitator Elizabeth Stark from Harvard/ asked everybody at the beginning of the session to chat to each other about their most memorable personal experience with (political) activism for about 3 minutes. Subsequently, the four panellists had each 10-15 minutes for their presentations. The panellists spent quite a good amount of their speaking time to introduce their organisation and a few selected projects. Of course, the information given in this respect - and much more - can be accessed easily on the websites of ORG, Free Culture, EFF and on Cory Doctorow’s website ( and there is no need to go into details here.
Fred Benenson was the first panellist to speak and he stressed that Free Culture’s political activism is exceptional due to the fact that they are acting as partisans without a coherent opposition party. More importantly, they abstain from interaction with politicians and have very few, if any, laws that they want passed. Consequently, he raised the question whether or not they actually do qualify as political activists. He left the question unanswered but asked interesting follow-up questions, such as whether or not wearing a Creative Commons T-Shirt is political activism or whether a physical protest on the streets or the set-up of a specific website is sufficient?
Thereafter, Eric Josefsson took the podium and presented his view on political activism which was in nice contrast to what Fred had just said before. Eric’s essential message was that political activism is all about raising awareness and watching what is happening, especially with regard to policy-makers on the national as well as supra-national level, for instance the European Parliament. As previously announced, he mentioned in this context EFF’s recent Copy-Crime initiative and other projects in order to show that one actually can make a difference. He pointed out to the fact that two members of the European Parliament tabled legislative amendments at some stage which were based on recommendations by EFF’s IPRED workgroup.
In the following presentation, Becky Hogge used the issue of copyright term extensions in the UK and Europe as her starting point for the discussion of political activism. More precisely, she explained on the basis of the UK Gowers Report that making a noise can make a difference: In 2005, the Gowers report was announced and ORG realised at once what great a chance this would provide for them to work with the government and to raise awareness. Gowers took the (not so new) view that copyright law is meant to strike a balance between the interests of individual creators and the interests of the society. Yet, an independent economic study was commissioned because of objections raised by ORG and the study confirmed ORG’s concerns. However, Becky stressed that the fight is far from over and that ORG will continue to lobby in the UK and on the European level in Brussels in order to combat protectionist ambitions such as the UK House of Commons Culture Committee’s view that artists have a possibly perpetual moral right to compensation for their works.
After my pre-summit communication with Cory Doctorow, I was not surprised to see that he was the only speaker who did not prepare a PowerPoint presentation. He simply does not need one since he is an exceptionally gifted speaker. Cory referred to his long history of computer usage and explained his early interest in computers with his realisation that PCs do what you want them to and that they actually allow you to change the world (especially if we all collaborate) as the huge success of Napster showed so impressively when something great was accomplished more or less by accident. Consequently, using the Internet is a political action – the more you use it the more political you are. Moreover, political activists should simply make people more interested so that governments and lawmakers become more cautious about what they do.
Lastly, and somewhat unexpectedly, Markus Beckedahl from in Germany took the podium and explained that you do not need to have large amounts of money to raise awareness. Rather, a good deal of creativity is necessary and at the same time sufficient. Markus entertained the audience with some amusing yet effective examples of previous projects from Germany.

After roughly an hour, the speakers had finished their presentations and during the remaining time some discussion took part. While this discussion did not offer further insight as to what political activism means, it clearly showed a certain amount of frustration of numerous people in the audience because of the insufficient number of activists in some countries, such as Poland. I have to admit though that I missed a couple of minutes of the discussion due to the fact that a few participants standing next to me decided to engage in a private conversation so that it was impossible to understand what was said elsewhere in the room.

Altogether, today’s panellists were surprisingly inactive today for being political activists – and only Cory exceeded his speaking time. Moreover, I can not really say that the session offered as many new insights or strategies as I had expected. It doubtlessly did not fulfil the expectations raised in Elizabeth Stark’s pre-summit announcement for the session which had promised that we would “engage in some introspection with regard to formulating ideas, and then look to how to carry them out via political movements, activist agendas, community spaces, engagement with the public sector, and more.” Having said this, it was nonetheless an interesting event and I am looking forward to the following sessions of the stream on “Peer Production: Legal and Architectural Norms”.

Tobias Schonwetter,
iCommons legal columnist – University of Cape Town, Department of Commercial Law, South Africa
in Dubrovnik, Croatia

tags: dubrovnik croatia policy-law political-activism summit07

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Thankfully, EriK Josefsson pointed out to me an inaccuracy in my article regarding the achievements of EFF's IPRED2 (Second Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive) workgroup: As a matter of fact, the two members of the European Parliament from the two most powerful parties PSE and EPP had suggested a far reaching broadening of the term "intentional infringement",which are treated as criminal offences, so that the acceptance of an infringement would qualify as a criminal offence. It was due to EFF's intervention that these amendments were eventually not adopted. I would like to use this opportunity to mention that I am a strong supporter of EFF's highly important work. For more information on EFF and some of their projects see:
EFF website

Tobias Schonwetter · Cape Town (South Africa) · Jun 17th, 2007 8:26 pm
your call: is this comment useful?
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