Freedom on trial?

To continue the freedom of knowledge and information debate on a morethe_pirate_bay_logo practical level,

as most of you might have heard, bittorrent tracker The Pirate Bay (which I have written about before here) is currently on trial. Interesting enough the people behind The Pirate Bay and similar Swedish organizations, like Pirate Party leader Rick Falkvinge, use the freedom of information argument to defend piracy. As he states:


On the one side, there is the public. Every human with access to the Internet has received fingertip round-the-clock access to all of humanity’s collective knowledge and culture. This is a fantastic leap ahead for mankind – much larger than when public libraries arrived 160 years ago, and comparable to how society changed with the arrival of the printing press.
On the other side, there are the current people in power, who would like to harness this power to build a surveillance machine – collecting information about regular Joes, and actively preventing the free exchange of ideas – that would make George Orwell look like a cheery, skipping optimist. Many powerful institutions are pulling in this direction.”


The trial is already been called the ‘political trial of the century’ and seems to be going favorably for the Pirate Bay. Via BoingBoing I discovered that in honor of the trial of the Pirate Bay’s founders, the people behind the documentary series ‘Steal this film’ have released a new trial edition of what is eventually to become a movie on intellectual property right and file sharing. You can download it from their website. The first part of this documentary can be found in many places, including here.

This is actually a very interesting documentary (series), which follows the same idea as the remix documentary RiP I wrote about before, putting raw (searchable) footage and snippets of what is to become the final documentary online, together with more or less finalized versions of the documentary (like a sort of preprint in scholarly communication lingo).




The documentary follows roughly the same logic as Lawrence Lessig’s book Remix, arguing that it is of no use to criminalize a whole generation of downloaders or ‘pirates’ for that matter, and that it is much more productive to search for an alternative solution to this problem, or in other words to search for an alternative business model that will sustain the free flow of cultural goods and information. The documentary includes a very nice book history analogy, referring not only to the coming of the printing press but also to historical notions of book piracy, with contributions from famous book historians like Elisabeth Eisenstein and Robert Darnton. The documentary includes interviews with other renowned figures like Yochai Benkler, and Rick Prelinger from the Prelinger Archive. I like the way he makes the following statement near the end of the documentary:


“I think we need to have a broad conversation that is probably going to be an international conversation where people who make things and people who use things, I am talking about cultural works, sit together and think about what kinds of rules best serve these interests. I don’t know that we are going to agree, but I think we need to ask a little bit more about utopia, we need to really figure out what kind of a world we would like to live in and then try to craft regulations to match that. Being reactive doesn’t cut it.”




I saw Rick Prelinger speak at a Creative Commons conference in de Balie in Amsterdam a year ago, together with speakers like Kenneth Goldsmith from Ubuweb and people from Fabchannel, discussing alternative business models. The panel I attended discussed amongst others:


 “…the public content zone beyond that of user-generated-content: the possibilities and problems related to making professionally produced cultural productions publicly available on the internet. What kind of revenue models exist for that? How is the public interest in accessibility squared with the need of professionals to make a living? What new and alternative distribution models emerge for professional cultural producers and cultural institutions?”


I think this is the important discussion, as Rick Prelinger also stated above, we need to find a solution for both producers and consumers of cultural and knowledge products and content. For as the documentary and Lessig’s books also show, the potential value of the free availability of all this information on the Internet is huge, stimulating new cultural creativity and knowledge production in. Next to that this development can even be very beneficial for society and the economy in general. In fact, as a recent Dutch report on file sharing showed, file sharing can even foster (the Dutch) economic growth in the long run.

Update April 30th 2009: Another report from researchers at the BI Norwegian School of Management shows that people who pirate the most from P2P sites are also the ones most likely to buy legit downloads. Of course there is some discussion about these findings, but the conclusions are interesting nevertheless. (via: Ars Technica)

Be sure for more posts on alternative business models in the future.


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