Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What Does Copyright Have to do With Jesus?

In my latest podcast, I spent a fair amount of time venting about the RIAA and their ruinous efforts to expand their control over artists and audiences through copyright extention and digital "rights" "management." I have a surprising amount of energy on this topic, but I suppose it's because even though I'm not a publishing musician I do follow technology developments and I have enough of an understanding of what's at stake to realize that people of faith should be concerned about this. Maybe deeply concerned.

Here's a few reasons why I think this issue is so relevant:
  1. Our personal ability to share our faith and communicate with one another is greatly served by both established technologies like the web and email as well as new tools and file distribution methods like MP3 players, podcasting, RSS feeds, peer-to-peer file sharing protocols like Bittorrent, Voice Over IP (VOIP), instant messaging, and the like. Corporate and governmental efforts to control or eliminate these tools hangs like a dark cloud over the industry.
  2. The ability of believers in persecuted areas to communicate with themselves and the outside world depends on these tools as well, and they are counting on us to stand up for their rights when they cannot. Neither the U.S. government nor multinational corporations are terribly concerned about protecting the rights of citizens of oppressive regimes, especially when there's profit on the line. And I'm talking about you, Yahoo.
  3. Open standards and protocols, along with open software, are changing the world. The internet, email, VOIP, cell phones, podcasts, all these are possible because of open standards and protocols. Almost universally, open standards are resisted by corporations precisely because they cannot be controlled and eliminate competitive advantages that depend on closed systems.
  4. The internet and VOIP are making it easier and easier to live lives that are more flexible and independent, allowing for more face time with our families and more time to dedicate to giving our gifts. Of course they can be abused, but that isn't the point. The point is that we are being increasingly freed from the need to commute to our desks and stay there.
  5. It used to be that technology made economies of scale more possible; now a corner has been turned and the thresholds for economies of scale are lowering. Ideally, they will lower to the point where we can return, of sorts, to a craftsman economy where we can produce much of what we need at or near home and sell our excess locally or even globally. This will mean that we can increase our rate of migration away from the cities that are a source of so much crime, congestion and pollution. And that means even more time with our families and more freedom to give our gifts.
Broadly speaking, you and I have interests that conflict with corporations who currently control the conversation about content and technological innovation. For instance, corporations have put a chill on the development of new technologies that could be used to infringe upon copyrights. Imagine being sued for building a tape recorder because somebody used it to copy a Madonna CD. This is where we're headed if the RIAA and MPAA have their way. Ultimately, it will mean that devices that could enrich our lives will never be made.

Next year, I plan on stepping up my own awareness of this issue and passing along what I've learned. I also plan to financially support groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Creative Commons. They are small potatoes compared to the massive lobbying muscle of industry groups, but they're the guys in the white hats and that still counts for something.

It just isn't possible to do this topic justice in a single blog post, but I'll keep pressing on and start dealing with this in smaller bites in detail. Stay tuned.

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