Jan 202012

I like Kirk Tuck. I admit I only discovered his blog when The Online Photographer reported about his resolution to give up blogging. Thankfully Kirk reconsidered, and since then I follow his blog. He is a powerfully eloquent writer and the sheer amount of text that he produces is intimidating. Nevertheless I read his posts, all his posts, and all but a very few from start to finish. I do it because Kirk is not only knowledgeable, he is also amusing.

And he can be rude. You know, that hobsonesque type of rudeness, that I-know-who-I-am-and-I-say-what-I-say type of in-your-face rudeness. I like that. It’s great to know where someone stands and it’s great to hear honest opinion voiced in an honest way. Very frequently I agree, sometimes I don’t, and this time I don’t agree at all. Kirk mourns Kodak and SOPA/PIPA.

Kirk has blogged a lot (not only) recently about the challenges that digital technology poses to traditional businesses, and as a professional photographer and writer he is exactly where the impact is felt these days. In his world, the “Internet Giants” like Google and Amazon exploit free or cheap content and mix it with their advertising. He sees the artist as being exploited, used in a pseudo-darwinian struggle that can’t be won, devalued and meaningless for the giant content exploiters, washed away and replaced by the next wave of desperate contenders.

And all this may be right. In a way. It’s only that destroying the Internet won’t help. And destroying the Internet is, what SOPA/PIPA are all about.

It may not be meant that way. It may only be a helpless attempt by incompetent, short-sighted politicians, financed by a fat industry that greatly overestimates its value.

I like good Hollywood movies. Probably not as much as I like what Ingmar Bergmann, Federico Fellini, Carlos Saura or Francois Truffaut have made, but I’ll strongly defend “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” as one of the best movies ever made. Still, the Internet is changing our world towards freedom, in a way that was never before possible, in a way that science fiction failed to predict, and I don’t want to give up all that for the greater good of Hollywood.

The Internet is a communication infrastructure and the greatest collection of knowledge that humanity ever had. Sure, Encyclopedia Britannica (or Brockhaus around here) is of a higher standard than Wikipedia (much higher indeed, and to see those refined encyclopedias of the past wither away is aggrieving), but Encyclopedia Britannica is a niche product for a very small, wealthy elite. Today I have complete mirrors of all the texts of Wikipedia on my smart phone, ready to be used in situations when I am not even connected. You know, there are Internet cafés in the third world. And people there are able to partake in that wealth, and they are able to contribute, and they do. There is much more to the Internet than “piracy”. There is social change, there is knowledge spreading, there is political power, enormous agility, and the whole world is rapidly changing.

Kirk portraits Google as the big, soulless juggernaut that tries to change the Internet into a TV-like structure, with “free” content produced by exploited authors, intermixed with advertising, the only revenue-generating content at all in this network.

It’s provocative and it’s plain wrong. Sure, Google doesn’t do what it does for the love of us, but that’s not the point. Google is a giant enabler. Google empowers ordinary people like me and you. Google makes it possible for me to write a blog post about something that I care about, and actually make other people who care find it.

There was a time when the Internet was not known to lawyers and businessmen, but even at that time people produced content and liked to see that content shared. The Internet was about communication and sharing of knowledge – and it worked. No business involved, no money paid. All that still exists. It is a layer on top of the plain infrastructure, a community completely isolated from the Internet’s commercial uses.

Let’s admit it, the Internet costs a lot of money and someone has to pay the bill. Even if you dislike the ulterior motives of those companies that provide the infrastructure, in the end it’s great that it is there, because the Internet is of course the exact opposite of a TV-like broadcast medium, regardless of how much revenue Google generates through advertising. The Internet has a commercial backbone, but the valuable part are the constantly re-forming neural connections of this planet-sized brain.

For the first time in human history we have a means of immediate and global exchange, and this is not about media piracy at all. Yes, piracy exists, no doubt, but it is just one small phenomenon in that broiling sea of ideas, exchange and democratic communication.

SOPA/PIPA are laws meant to observe, control and oppress. The sad reality is, that in order to reach their goals, our society would have to mutate into the worst kind of tyranny. And even then they wouldn’t succeed, because there are always ways around for those who are really determined.

SOPA/PIPA would erect The Great Firewall of the United States of America, only that the US define cyberspace as their home turf. You read this post on manessinger.com, the blog of an Austrian author who happens to publish in English language and who uses a domain registered in the US, publishing content hosted on servers located in the US. I don’t feel like I should be under US jurisdiction though. Should I? Should the US government have the right to shut down my blog whenever they feel like it, without due process? Well, they also think they have the right to kill whoever they want, so probably I shouldn’t complain 🙂

SOPA/PIPA are dangerous because they propose technical solutions that are not only unfit to reach their goals, but that also have severe side effects. Take for instance the idea of DNS manipulation. Not only is it easy to circumvent, it is also undermining the efforts towards a trustable, cryptographically secured DNS that will be essential for combating cyber-crime. You can either have DNS manipulation (by governments, criminals and criminal governments) or you can have secure DNS, not both. It’s a fact completely obvious to every computer scientist, but the politicians still hope for the perpetuum mobile.

The Internet is a complicated clockwork with some flaws, but is completely absurd to expect that technically incompetent lawyers and politicians could fix anything. To the contrary. The proposed measures are technically dangerous, ineffective towards their proposed goals, and they are perfectly adequate as the foundation of a totalitarian tyranny. We don’t want that, we don’t need that, we must never agree to that.

SOPA/PIPA are not made for Kirk Tuck. They are made for Warner and Sony and Disney. So, what’s the solution for the big players in the content industry? I don’t have any. They will have to adapt. I know, being able to sell us the same content on ever new media, vinyl, tapes, CDs and DVDs over and again, that’s what made them fat and greedy, but I don’t need their content. I consume it once in a while, I pay for it, I gladly pay twice if it’s that good (happened a lot with music, happens now with some books), but if I have to choose between a corporate “Internet”, sold by corrupt politicians, and the friendly and helpful society that I have lived in for 20 years now, I say good riddance to the content industry.

Go and invent your own infrastructure. Nobody asked you to try to make money on the Internet, nobody asked you to “go digital”. Don’t whine when it doesn’t turn out as in your arrogance you thought it would. Leave us alone. Go die somewhere where your foul pestilence does no harm.

And Kirk? I wish he would think about what he wishes for. And reconsider. He’s just too good and influential to be on the wrong side. If he ever got what he asked for, I guess he wouldn’t like it anyway.

The Song of the Day is “Tears Of Rage” from “Music From Big Pink”. Or “The Basement Tapes”. Depends on how you like your Band, pure or not. Hear it on YouTube.

  5 Responses to “1920 – Tears Of Rage”

  1. Well said Andreas. I too read Kirk’s blog, have done for a long time now and like you I like his take-no-crap attitude. And like you I was surprised by his views on this topic. However it seems he is now a convert as he just posted on Twitter “I’m ready to run for president. I flip flopped on the whole SOPA thing. You all were right. The ends don’t justify the means. Do over?”

    The thing is I understand Kirk’s frustrations as an artist who is trying to make money from his art, the sad thing is that the people who push SOPA try to sell it in such a way that it convinces many who do not/cannot know how the Internet works that it’s a good idea for their bottom line.

    The Internet is still in its infancy as far as its potential goes. We can only imagine where it will go and even then we’d be underestimating it. But one thing is sure, if we break it now we might never recover.

  2. Well said Andreas. I had the same feeling when I read Kirk’s post yesterday. He had pointed out a quite narrowed view, his view, and when not considering the broader reality, one could sympathize with his point of view. But what I immediately felt he was missing are the other aspects of change – the demise of Kodak is one point where he expresses his mourning, but similar things go on in the printing and publishing industry, made partly obsolete by the digitalisation he so perfectly uses with his bundle of different cameras. (Camera industry – nah, not worth a second thought).

  3. Andreas, the whole key to this attempt to control our access to the internet, IMHO, lies in these sentences you wrote:

    “There is much more to the Internet than “piracy”. There is social change, there is knowledge spreading, there is political power, enormous agility, and the whole world is rapidly changing.”

    Yes, it’s this freedom we all have now that’s threatening to those who have tried to control us over the centuries. They’re afraid now for their lives – for if word gets around via the internet about how these controllers have lied to us, while cheating and stealing our freedoms, then they’re afraid they’ll lose their power.

    It was via the internet lots of times that people in one part of the world have discovered what was happening in other parts of the world that their own government didn’t want them to know about – and therefore these events didn’t appear in the controlled mainstream media of his country.

    It’s all about control by the few – and well they should be worried about losing their control.

  4. An excellent write up, Andreas. I used to read Kirk Tuck, but sometimes found him a bit too arrogant and insulting, so I stopped reading. It’s nice that I have that right. I agree with you that the US, nor any other country, should control the internet. I like the free exchange of ideas. I think that you summed it up completely when you said:

    Nobody asked you to try to make money on the Internet, nobody asked you to “go digital”. Don’t whine when it doesn’t turn out as in your arrogance you thought it would. Leave us alone. Go die somewhere where your foul pestilence does no harm.

    That would be perfect. They could invent their own network, ProfitNet, and have control of everything, but I’m sure that they know that they couldn’t compete and that few people would follow them. They are not selling anything at all that’s needed. They sell entertainment, period.

  5. Very good post, Andreas.

    I didn’t see Kirk’s first SOPA article only the second, but yeah, he can go off half-cocked. The iPhone Photography article was another rant. To his credit, he does he change his view when presented with accurate information. I guess his blog is an opportunity for two-way education. 😉

    And you made a great point about commercialising the ‘net: perhaps we should have two versions. The “Wild West” we have now and a more formal + business orientated one.

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