Property

Informationell Deutschland

In preparation for the 2011 Graduate Center-Humboldt University Summer Seminar that I’ll be participating in, I thought it would useful to take stock of some of the recent informational happenings in Germany:

  • Germany is now the largest market for video games in Europe, driven primarily by German interest in the Wii Fit (more …).
  • German laws banning the distribution of photos of people or their property without their permission is forcing Google to modify its StreetView functionality before its launch in Germany (more …).
  • A number of German states, led by Lower Saxony, are now trying to prevent web services such as Amazon, Facebook, or Google from aggregating and sharing visitor information without the explicit consent of the visitor (more …).
  • Facebook has grown by 260% in Germany over just the past year and Germany is now the 18th largest country in Facebook with over 2M members. However, Facebook still remains much smaller in Germany than the Berlin-based StudiVZ social network which boasts over 13M members (more …).
  • A Hamburg court has ruled that YouTube can be held liable for damages when it hosts copyright-protected material without permission (more …).
  • Dead Drops — an anonymous, offline, p2p file-sharing network in public space — has been established by Berlin based media artist Aram Bartholl. Dead Drops embeds USB flash drives into walls, buildings and curbs in public space, allowing anyone to plugin their laptop to share their favorite files and data (more …). h/t jgieseking

This is, but of course, a very small sample of recent happenings. Hopefully I’ll have more to report post-seminar.

Welcome to Personhood: SCOTUS Rules No Personal Privacy for AT&T

The Supreme Court, after recognizing corporations as legal persons in their Citizens United decision, has now ruled that AT&T does not have a right to personal privacy. Welcome to personhood, AT&T!

Here’s some background: AT&T over-prices some of the equipment it was selling to schools (schools!). The FCC investigates. AT&T’s competitors file a FoIA to make the investigation’s findings public. AT&T claims the FoIA request is a violation of their personal privacy. The SCOTUS denies their right to personal privacy. AT&T and other corporations join the ranks of the rest of us “persons” who are given no right to personal privacy in the US.

It’s worth remembering that this is the very same AT&T that denies their own customers a right to personal privacy. From SFGate.comwaaaaaay back in 2006:

AT&T has issued an updated privacy policy that takes effect Friday … The new policy says that AT&T — not customers — owns customers’ confidential info and can use it “to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process.”

The policy also indicates that AT&T will track the viewing habits of customers of its new video service — something that cable and satellite providers are prohibited from doing … The company’s policy overhaul follows recent reports that AT&T was one of several leading telecom providers that allowed the National Security Agency warrantless access to its voice and data networks as part of the Bush administration’s war on terror.

Irony abounds.

GEMA to Preschoolers: Pay Up or Shut Up

GEMA (Germany’s version of the RIAA) is now demanding that preschools pay corporate giants for the right to sing along. They’re not just talking about sharing music files anymore, now they’re policing preschools for making copies of sheet music for sing-along time.

According to Deutsche Welle:

A tightening of copyright rules means kindergartens now have to pay fees to Germany’s music licensing agency, GEMA, to use songs that they reproduce and perform. The organization has begun notifying creches and other daycare facilities that if they reproduce music to be sung or performed, they must pay for a license.

“If a preschool wants to make its own copy of certain music – if the words of a song or the musical score is copied – then they need to buy a license,” GEMA spokesperson Peter Hempel told Deutsche Welle . . .

. . . Fees start at 56 euros ($74) for 500 copies of a song, a rate charged annually, not per child.

If you think this sort of extreme copyright enforcement is unique to Germany, think again. The same sort of thing is happening in the US, in France, and elsewhere.

Call for Participation: MyDigitalFootprint.org Seeks NYC Youth Ages 14-19

MyDigitalFootprint.org is a participatory action research project focused on the interests and concerns of young people growing up in digital environments. The MyDigitalFootprint.org research project is looking for young people ages 14-19 living in New York City, for both Research Participants and Youth Co-Researchers.

  • Research Participants take part in a one-time 90 minute interview at the CUNY Graduate Center in midtown Manhattan and receive a free movie ticket.
  • Youth Co-Researchers help develop an open-source social network that investigates the common concerns and interests voiced in interviews with Research Participants and receive training in qualitative research methods and digital media production, as well as a
    $10 per hour stipend.

All participation is confidential. The Graduate Center of the City University of New York’s Institutional Review Board has approved this research.

MORE INFO: http://mydigitalfootprint.org/about

Mill on the Institution of Property

From Principles of Political Economy, p155-156:

We proceed, then, to the consideration of the different modes of distributing the produce of land and labor, which have been adopted in practice, or may be conceived in theory. Among these, our attention is first claimed by that primary and fundamental institution, on which, unless in some exceptional and very limited cases, the economical arrangements of society have always rested, though in its secondary features it has varied, and is liable to vary. I mean, of course, the institution of individual property.

Private property, as an institution, did not owe its origin to any of those considerations of utility which plead for the maintenance of it when established. Enough is known of rude ages, both from history and from analogous states of society in our own time, to show that tribunals (which always precede laws) were originally established, not to determine rights, but to repress violence and terminate quarrels. With this object chiefly in view, they naturally enough gave legal effect to first occupancy, by treating as the aggressor the person who first commenced violence, by turning, or attempting to turn, another out of possession.

Hardt and Negri on Property

From Commonwealth, p7:

Property, which is taken to be intrinsic to human thought and action, serves as the regulative ideal of the constitutional state and the rule of law. This is not really a historical foundation but rather an ethical obligation, a constitutive form of the moral order. The concept of the individual is defined by not being but having; rather than to a “deep” metaphysical and transcendental unity, in other words, it refers to a “superficial” entity endowed with property or possessions, defined increasingly today in “patrimonial” terms as shareholder.

News Corp is the user – You are the producer

It’s Rupert Murdoch’s Internet, you just live in it – or so Murdoch argues in his World Media Summit speech. PaidContent.org has posted a transcript of the speech Murdoch delivered in Beijing on 10/09/09. It’s a three part speech with one message: if you use the Internet, whether you’re the People’s Republic of China or Internet users in the U.S., you’re probably stealing his property (or at least devaluing it). A defense of (his) property rights that concludes with an ironic plea for “our planet” to be as borderless as . . . the Internet (cue the Twilight Zone intro).

To put the speech in some context, the keynote was delivered at the Word Media Summit to an audience of mostly Chinese business people. The Word Media Summit was a two day conference organized by some of the world’s largest news organizations: Xinhua News (China), News Corporation, Associated Press, Reuters, ITAR-TASS (Russia), Kyodo News (Japan), BBC, Turner Broadcasting System, and Google. As Murdoch notes in his introduction, his speech aimed to divide the “digital world” into three parts:

How media is being transformed… how the Chinese media can take advantage of that transformation…and some steps necessary to ensure that the Chinese people are in a position to realize their potential.

I found the section dedicated to attacking “content kleptomaniacs” to be the most interesting. This user-bashing is nothing new, of course, as Murdoch has been a prominent advocate of paid-for Internet content (see Grinch Alert: Rupert Murdoch). What’s interesting is how much this speech reminded me of Bill Gates’ “Open Letter to Hobbyists,” where Gates demanded that computer hobbyists “pay up” for “stealing” his software. This letter was penned back in 1976, when software was widely considered to be free (while hardware, services, and manuals were something you paid for). In his letter, Gates’ argued that software must be proprietary and paid for to qualitatively improve. . . you know, so people could pay gobs of money for “quality” software like Windows Vista.

Back to Murdoch. In his “how media is being transformed” section of the speech, he argues:

Of course there should be a price paid for quality content, and yet large media organizations have been submissive in the face of the flat-earthers who insisted that all content should be free all the time. The sun does not orbit the earth, and yet this was precisely the premise that the press passively accepted, even though there have been obvious signs that readers recognize the reality that they should pay a price.

There are many readers who believe that they are paying for content when they sign up with an internet service provider, presuming that they have bought a ticket to a content buffet. That misconception thrived on the silence of inarticulate institutions which were unable to challenge the fallacies and humbug of the e-establishment.

The value of content has been volatile in the past decade but we are entering another decisive phase in which device makers are again courting the creators of content. I have sensed that shift in recent days during my travels in Japan and South Korea where I met some of the world’s leading electronics manufacturers. These companies don’t want their customers to be served a diet of digital dross, and yet that will be the inevitable consequence if the worth of content and creativity are not appreciated.

The Philistine phase of the digital age is almost over. The aggregators and the plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid-for content, it will be the content creators, the people in this hall, who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs will triumph. (emphasis added)

Like Gates’ before him, Murdoch willfully ignores the unwaged labor that he so handsomely profits from. Murdoch sees News Corp, AP, BBC, Xinhua, and the like, as the only rightful (and thus recognized) producers of content – just as Gates sees Microsoft’s hired programmers as the only rightful producers of his software. But what about the millions of MySpace users who freely produce untold volumes of content that News Corp then monetizes for a hefty profit?  What about all the blogs that News Corps’ journalists read and take information from without so much as a citation, never mind compensation. What about all the people that freely participate in beta-testing Microsoft’s software and the millions of software “users” who report problems and freely contribute their time and energy to improving Microsoft’s content? If it’s obvious that “there should be a price paid for quality content” — which I’m willing to support — then how much will News Corp be paying for all the free quality content it uses, and how will it compensate all the unwaged labor it uses?

Kevin Kelly’s “We Are the Web” essay in Wired is instructive here. As Kelly notes, ‘in the beginning’ big corporations were unwilling to invest in the Internet because they felt it would be too expensive to produce the “high production-value content” necessary to make their efforts worthwhile. Now, over a decade later, millions of Internet “users” have produced the overwhelming majority of cyberspace. So who exactly are the “users” here, and who are the “producers”? Murdoch can deem free content as “Philistine,” and he can rail against pirates, plagiarists and aggregators — all of which he characterizes as “content kleptomaniacs” — but such a speech needs to be delivered in front of a mirror.

Corporations like News Corp are the users. We are the producers.

FDR on Security

A good deal of my dissertation is concerned with notions of security, and insecurity, in informational environments. While my primary concern is with young people’s experiences and understandings of cyber(in)security, I’ve also taken an interest in contemporary and historical discourses of security (e.g. Seven Takes on Security). So, I was excited to see Michael Moore discuss Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Economic Bill of Rights” in his new documentary. In his final 1944 State of the Union speech, with the U.S. near the end of WWII, FDR called for “a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all.” What’s more, the focus on security is often related to “our children” — he describes “a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival” in the 4th sentence.

In summarizing his diplomatic discussions with “Mr. Hull,” “the Generalissimo,” “Marshal Stalin,” and “Prime Minister Churchill,” FDR defines a new supreme objective for the future:

The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security.

And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security—in a family of Nations. (emphasis added)

The speech, which you can read in full at TeachingAmericanHistory.org, concludes with a call for a “second Bill of Rights” to ensure such economic, social, and moral security:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  3. The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  4. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  5. The right of every family to a decent home;
  6. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  7. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  8. The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being. (emphasis added)

It’s notable that he links the expansion of our industrial economy with a need for new rights to ensure equality in the pursuit of happiness. I rarely hear “security” discussed in terms of ensuring happiness. I also find his “Necessitous men” quote notable (4th paragraph above). The FDR American Heritage Center includes a footnote for this quote, from The Public Papers & Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt Vol XIII, that states:

“Necessitous men,” says the Lord Chancellor, in Vernon v Bethell, 2 Eden 113 (1762), “are not, truly speaking, free men; but, to answer a present emergency, will submit to any terms that the crafty may impose on them.”

Security, to FDR, is thus physical, economic, social, and moral. It is necessary for the equal pursuit of happiness in an industrial economy. And, it affords citizens the freedom to resist terms imposed on them from the “crafty” during emergencies.

Of course, FDR’s “Economic Bill of Rights” never materialized in America and his declaration that “we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash” was unfortunately proven false. America – Fuck Yeah!

Twitter changes TOS: THEY own YOUR tweets

Twitter recently changed their Terms of Service (i.e. TOS). They (somewhat) address the changes in a blog post, that generally outline each change, most notable their new found ability to advertise and their redefinition of ownership:

Ownership—Twitter is allowed to “use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute” your tweets because that’s what we do. However, they are your tweets and they belong to you.

Essentially, while a copy of your tweets may still “belong to you,” Twitter now claims ownership over a copy too and they are reserving the right to do whatever they want with it. So, how exactly do my tweets still belong to me, if Twitter now owns them?

“Land: see Snatch.”

Attorney General Hedley Lamarr, a character from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, discovers a way to  re-route railroad tracks through the town of Rock Ridge:

Hedley Lamarr: Wait a minute… there might be legal precedent. Of course! Land-snatching!
[grabs a law book]
Hedley Lamarr: Land, land… “Land: see Snatch.”
[flips back several pages]
Hedley Lamarr: Ah, Haley vs. United States. Haley: 7, United States: nothing. You see, it can be done!

More Blazing Saddles quotes here.

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