Sitting at a cafe in NYC

Well, I’m chilling out in the Esperanto Cafe in NYC while my friend Inga from Free Culture NYU finishes her last final. Daniel Putnam from Swat remarked “that’s a very chic image….working on one’s laptop in a new york coffeehouse”. It’s always nice hanging out in a public space and engaging with random people that you meet.

The first person I talked to was this fellow with an Alienware laptop. This is the first time I’ve seen an Alienware laptop “in the wild”, aside from a family friend who bought one a while back. What attracted my attention was the blinking alien eyes (“Das Blinkenlights!” I said under my breath). Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux

Do software patents destroy the American dream?

A very insightful comment on Slashdot questions whether software patents tend to prevent people from starting companies from scratch, as you can’t get started unless you have a patent portfolio to defend yourself with.  If this could be shown to be the case, then I think this would be a strong line of attack against the current patent regime.  I mean, this is a full frontal assault on the American dream, isn’t it? 

The American dream is that you can start from nothing in this country, and as long as you work hard and you play your cards right, you can win wealth and success and make a name for yourself.  But if you can’t even get in the game unless you are already a big company with a patent portfolio, then we’ve created a new nobility.  Except instead of bluebloods who own all the land, it’s corporations that own all the ideas and use their profits to buy congressmen.  Yes, creativity exists, people do make new things, but the new things have to be built upon old things unless we’re going to go back to the Stone Age and start trying to invent things that don’t rely on fire or the wheel.

Although some “intellectual property” can be tolerated, if people are allowed to own the very foundations of our technological society, if nobody can build without their permission, then we really are in an age of digital feudalism, and we’re intellectual serfs.  There are efforts to fight back against particularly broad and stifling patents, such as the EFF’s Patent Busting Project, but ultimately we’re going to need to change the system that awards companies these egregiously bad patents.  We shouldn’t have to donate our hard-earned money to strike down bad patents that are enforced with our taxes; they shouldn’t be granted in the first place.

I’m speaking at Yale | we must learn from environmentalism

I’m going to be speaking at Yale Law School this Friday (the 10th), at this event called “Digital Mix“, so if you’ll be in or around New Haven, CT then, please swing by!  Also, if you’re at Swarthmore, and you don’t have any finals that day, you should come with me… Luke is planning to arrive back at Swarthmore on Thursday and take the train up with me as well, so it should be a rocking time!

Also, check out this great essay on what’s wrong with the environmentalist movement and what green activists can do to improve things.  It’s definitely worth reading, since we at call ourselves “an environmentalism of the information commons” sometimes… We can learn from the environmentalist movement’s successes and mistakes.  Like the environmentalist movement, we must bring together hundreds of seemingly disparate issues and unite them under one banner. 

There are several differences between their cause and our cause, however… one significant one is that the golden days of the environment are irretrievably far behind us, and while we can work towards a progressive environmentalism, where we carefully steward the planet and use high technology to keep it clean and beautiful, it will never be the same as it was before humans had a population of many billions on Earth.  However, while we must fight to protect the tradition of free culture that we’ve had, which has been losing ground in the past several decades, the fact is that the internet and digital technology give us the greatest promise for a truly free culture that the world has ever seen.  If we can preserve our freedom, great changes will happen and the future will rock.  The problem that we face is that it’s hard to get people excited about bills like the Induce Act, which threaten future innovation but which may do little to destroy our current comforts.  Our opponents are clear-cutting the future, and the negative results will not be lost forests replaced by wastelands, but creativity that never has a chance to come into being.  How do you measure the loss of something which has yet to be?  If someone went around with a time machine and killed all our greatest proponents of peace and justice when they were still children, would we miss them?

On the other hand, what we are battling very much resembles a loss of biodiversity… a world in which only those who sign up with big corporations are allowed to create is very much like an environment that consists only of squirrels, sparrows, starlings and suburban lawns.  There are many parallels which we can explore, but the point is, examine the differences, play with them, and see what insights we can draw from comparing the nascent free culture movement with 50+ years of building environmentalism into a worldwide movement.