thinking is dangerous — it leads to ideas
President of the Board of the Polish Free and Open Source Software Foundation. Human rights in digital era hacktivist, Free Software advocate, privacy and anonimity evangelist; expert volunteer to the Panoptykon Foundation; co-organizer of SocHack social hackathons; charter member of the Warsaw Hackerspace; and Telecomix co-operator; biker, sailor.
A few days ago I had the pleasure of reading a great article on Radio Free Europe's website — Iran's War On Fun. In short, it's a terrific summary and analysis of war that the totalitarian regime in Iran apparently waged against ... fun.
It's terrifying. House parties ending in flogging; water fights being dispersed by the Police; special forces raiding private households, confiscating alcohol; finally — tragic accidents while "suspects flee the crime scene" (e.g. a social occasion where young men and women can mingle).
There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.
Ruhollah Khomeini once said, and this seems to be a working motto of the Iranian religious state, implemented with all seriousness and harshness. This is clearly visible in the article — but is also vividly shown in Persepolis, a graphic novel on modern Iran (and in the film based on it).
Western world sees all that and reacts with understandable disgust and anger...
...And then — with different reasons, methods, areas, but still — does the same.
Western War on Fun, just like the remaining two great wars of the western world that are currently raging (the War o Terror and the War on Drugs), while still offically unnamed, lasts for a few years already and lately puts on momentum. Just as with the other two wars, there is no well-defined enemy (anybody can be a "terrorist" or a "dealer"/"junkie") and no definite victory conditions are (or can be) set: no-one ever could say that all "terrorists" have been defeated, as no-one ever could say that all drugs have been eliminated.
And just as with the other two, also this war is being waged using government resources, often against the interests of The People, but in general in the best interest of certain megacorps.
In case of the War on Drugs the cost is measured in destroyed lives of kids caught with 3 grams in their pockets, and the beneficiary — prison-industrial complex, including again the arms makers.
The War on Fun is waged mainly for the media concerns — and that's something new. Of course, politians benefit too. And if this war was to be named according to what the beneficiaries would like, it would probably be called "War on Piracy".
This war rarely utilises police or army forces. The main theater of operations are courts and lawmaking. ACTA, or the "trade" treaty aimed at "intellectual property infringements" that was negotiated in complete secrecy and without informing any of the citizens it's supposed to modify rights of, was just days ago signed by 8 countries (happily the EU is not among them, perhaps because of the opposition and outcry that has risen in Europe with regard to that treaty). How dangerous and harmful for democracy and human rights this treaty is can be a good topic for a whole book, for now it's enough to mention that it gives the control over freedom of speech de facto to corporate entities.
In the USA lawsuits against filesharers are a common, everyday fact of life. Companies, having (when compared to statistical citizen's budget) practically unlimited means at their disposal, are sueing private persons for downloading a music file from the Net, based on their IP addresses — which seem to be enough to bring a lawsuit against an alleged filesharer, but at the same time are apparently considered not sufficient to catch a laptop thief.
But wait, there's more! ASCAP demanded royalties from the Girls Scouts for songs that those schoolgirls were "performing" (i.e. singing) by the campfire; oh, and they still demand royalties for "performing" Happy Birthday in public. No, that's not a joke — that time you sang it for your friend at a small party in a restaurant? Copyright infringement!
Obviously all that is done "in the best interest of the artists" — for "we all know" that nothing creative can happen without monetary incentives, especially those present decades after the work has been created. Right? Besides, the results of the actions undertaken are what should be judged, and the results are great indeed: because of ASCAP and their ilk artists lose the ability to play.
In France the HADOPI law was forced upon the public. The law says that after "three strikes" — three "detections" of on-line copyright infringement, of course not verified in any way by any court and without any recourse, of course the judge and jury are the corporations — first Internauts are soon to be disconnected.
Still on the Old Continent, head of IFPI says it loud and clear:
Child pornography is great! It is great because politicians understand child pornography. By playing that card, we can get them to act, and start blocking sites. And once they have done that, we can get them to start blocking file sharing sites.
And, as was to be expected, the child pornography scarecrow is the main argument for network filtering in Europe; in the USA it lead to a situation in which teens can be found guilty of possession and dissemination of child pornography for sending each other their own nudie pictures; a dumb thing, that's granted, but far from qualifying for being labeled a sex offender for the rest of their lives!
Obviously, polititians do not need to be convinced how annoying and pesky this whole freedom of speech thing is. Already, YouTube gets ordered by the Governments to block videos of protests, even non-violent ones; in Italy a law is proposed that would basically invalidate free speech (which has already lead to Italian Wikipedia protest, as it could mean that it would have to be closed down); and again in the Land of the Free, New York State senators concede we all have too much free speech and it should be restricted and treated as a privilege rather than a law. Some of the former Eastern Bloc citizens might tell you how that tends to go.
So it should come as no surprise that polititians go hand in hand with the megacorps in their fight against The People — for example, in Australia, it has been established that procedures requiring the corporations to provide the evidence to prosecute thousands of citizens for filesharing are not very convenient for the corps. So they came up with ideas to streamline that process. Interestingly enough the authors seem uneasy that the proposal became public and try to put the cat back into the bag by redacting the proposal text.
Well, for one good thing, the copyright law provides for the works to lapse into the Public Domain after a set time, for all to enjoy. Maybe we should simply use such works and build upon them?
Of course. However, the Governments, under pressure from "artists" (or rather, the companies that own the rights to certain works) are extending the copyright term. Recently in Europe — from 50 to 70 years.
It gets better! Even works that have already lapsed into the public domain can be put back under copyright law "protection", though the author already died years before and the "protect the author's rights" argument doesn't seem to work all that well...
Hence, War on Fun is waged even in the area that should seemingly be completely unavailable for it. Public domain works is precisely what the Society is supposed to finally receive in return for temporary monopoly on those works and their copying and publishing rights for the author, or in other words for copyright. Somebody, however, steals those works from the public domain, and from us. Maybe this is what should be called Copyright Theft?
Comparing Iranian totalitarianism to how the Governments are serving their People in collusion with megacorps might seem an unwarranted hyperbole. Perhaps, however, it is needed to highlight the seriousness of the problem. In a few years time our freedom of speech, our privacy, presumption of innocence and the right to trial might land in hands of corporations.
It's easy to boil a frog — you need to rise the temperature slowly, so that it does not notice and try to jump out of the pot. Our on-line rights are being boiled slowly, right at this moment. Slowly the temperature rises, step by step in secret negotiations and away from media coverage, under the guise of "fighting child pornography" and "protecting the rights of (dead) artists" we are being stripped of them and put on the mercy of megacorps. More often than not we do not even notice — and when we do, usually we ignore it: for we think "what can I do".
But we can do a lot. We can keep an eye on our representatives to vote for the benefit of The People, not corporations. We can support the Free Culture movement and the Public Domain, using and promoting works that are part of them — or, if we are the artists ourselves (and it often doesn't require more than a camera), we can actively extend and enrich them. We can monitor changes in law and protest agains those that are detrimental to our freedoms and rights. We can rebel.
There are no jokes in entertainment. There is no humor in entertainment. There is no fun in entertainment. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is profitable.
— let's not allow that to happen.