[Update: Joi has clarified what he meant, both in the comments here as well as on his blog. Do make sure you read the comments and his post. We learn through openness and transparency in our dialogues.]
So I had mixed feelings last night when I watched Joi speak at DLD09, as he talked about Creative Commons and RDFa and HTML5. Feelings so mixed that I decided to sleep on them rather than burst into words. [I wasn't actually in Munich this time. The videos were uploaded in record time, and I found out about Joi's talk via Glyn Moody, who tweeted briefly about it and linked to his blog.]
Joi’s a great guy and a great speaker. Three of the points he made really spoke to me:
- that the old media model was about broadcast and consumption, while the new media model needs to be about participation and expression
- that a critical part of the old value chain was about distribution, while the equivalent in the new value chain is about discovery
- that we need to focus on where the money has moved, where people are spending the money
All this is great. But then, when he laid out this grand plan where every digital object on the web is associated with embedded digital rights, I began to wonder. A plan where the software becomes Big Brother and Nanny State and a few other things rolled into one, where the software within the browser tells you what you can do and what you can’t.
Creating artificial scarcity can never be the answer. [I've been Norman Mailered, Maxwell Taylored, Doc Searlsed and Bob Frankstoned, I've been Rolling Stoned and Beatled till I'm blind. And I've heard the truth from Lenny Bruce....] with apologies to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.
You see, I’m of the belief that every artificial scarcity will be met with an equal and opposite artificial abundance.
As I’ve written before, there’s a big Because Effect coming for music. Where musicians make money because of their music rather than with their music. When transmission and delivery costs drop to nothing, music becomes abundant. Abundant things are easy to find, so discovery is also easy. So why try and solve a problem which doesn’t exist? Why try and make something abundant scarce, so that discovery becomes an issue again?
When things are made artificially scarce, they get hacked. When movies are DRMed, the DRM gets stripped. When there is an attempt to block or shape BitTorrent, BitTorrent responds in kind. One could argue that piracy in films is largely caused by the stupidity of having different release windows for films in different countries. A separation in time that is no longer necessary and often insulting. At least now we don’t have DRM in music any more.
Any attempt to pre-criminalise large swathes of people is bound to end in tears. Nobody wants to steal money from the mouths of artists, particularly struggling artists. But we don’t need Mickey Mouse Acts either.
Okay, enough desultory philippic. Why am I concerned about what Joi said? Simple. You cannot legislate for culture, particularly for satire and humour.
Joi showed a simplified “open model” stack, consisting of Ethernet, TCP/IP, World Wide Web and Creative Commons. Creative Commons was to represent the cultural aspect of the stack. And this is, for me at least, part of where the problem lies.
If we do what Joi suggests, would Marcel Duchamp have been able to moustachio the Mona Lisa? I suspect not. Would Lewis Carroll have been able to parody Robert Southey, or Ogden Nash Joyce Kilmer? I suspect not.
If you leave it to the author of the piece, whatever the piece is, the chances are that no parodies are possible. That goes further when it comes to creating something new as a remix and sample of other things. Life is complicated enough right now, when it comes to determining what is a reasonable derivative work and what is not. I can only assume it will get a whole lot more complicated when the judge of derivative works and acceptable use is a piece of software.
I know it sounds extreme, but the vision suggested by Joi really worries me. Software in a browser telling me whether something is fair use or not. To me this is the equivalent of a hob in a kitchen telling me what I can or can’t put in to the mix when making a ragu sauce.
The “default public” approach in stuff like Flickr has produced magical results, with a great deal of sharing, so I can see where the Creative Commons people are going. With the right defaults, a lot of stuff that is currently complicated will become less so. That I agree. And the principle of seeking to reduce friction in the process of creating digital objects is a good one, something to be lauded. But the process suggested, where software acts as judge and jury, that I am not happy with. And one part of the process, where the author can make sure that satire or parody is impossible, that part really worries me. Not just for creative artists, but as much for social and political protest.
I could be wrong. I am happy to learn. Do comment and help me learn. All I have done is lay out something about what concerns me and why.
As I said, I am a fan of Joi Ito. I am a fan of Creative Commons. I am just not a fan of what has been suggested. Intuitively and instinctively not a fan.