Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On Freedom of Speech


I regularly engage in international online discussions related to the subjects of science, religion, politics, economics, social justice, corruption, and human rights.

As some of you may know, a recent peaceful protest in Malaysia, which was protesting the lack of free democratic elections, resulted in police brutality.  The protesters had been forbidden their rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.  Many protesters were arrested simply for wearing shirts representing their preferred political party.

An international conversation was started on Facebook with a post of the following video of the Malaysian protest: Protest Video.  In case you are unable to view the video, it shows among other things: police turning tear gas and water jets into a hospital, trying to cover protesters wounds to prevent them from being photographed, and standing by doing nothing to help a handcuffed elderly protester in need of serious medical attention.  The video completely contradicts the statements made by the Malaysian government about the events.  The government claims that it was the protesters who were violent, and denied wrong doing by the police; exactly the opposite of what is captured on film.

The discussion that spawned from this video included issues of freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, censorship of the press, and also analysis of specific actions and statements by the Malaysian government which was clearly violating these rights.


Western Free Speech:

Much to my horror, I found that some of the content of the discussion on free speech was unavailable for me to view.  Specifically a YouTube video supposedly featuring the ex prime minister of Malaysia on Al Jazeera was blocked to me with the following message:

Unfortunately, this video is not available in Germany because it may contain music for which GEMA has not granted the respective music rights.

***I was furious!***

I get this message regularly!  Often many times a day!  It seems that many of the links I share are blocked to the intended recipients in other parts of the western world, and often their links are blocked to me.  It would be understandable if people were uploading entire commercial films to YouTube, or were deliberately trying to use YouTube as a type of file share for music.  But the reality is that most of the videos which we are trying to link and are blocked, are ***clearly original works*** made by normal people trying to express their own viewpoints!

The special irony of this specific situation was that I was trying to watch a video in the western world, which supposedly preaches the virtues of freedom and democracy, yet a video was being censored which itself was related to the human rights issue of censorship, and the freedom of speech and of the press.


My Response:

I was VERY angry and immediately posted the following bug report to YouTube:

GEMA consistently blocks non copyrighted original work materials on youtube. At most they might be able to claim that some segment, which is clearly a derivative and original not for profit work, contains some trivially small segment of copyrighted material.

In effect this is becoming a new form of censorship on the web which is impeding my ability to have political discussions on a daily basis. Right now I am being blocked from viewing the ex prime minister of Malaysia on Al Jazeera in relation to a discussion on human rights. This is completely intolerable. What is the point of living in a western country that preaches freedom and democracy when in fact our Plutocracy is so greedy that it has to filter every other new flash cartoon or political discussion with the false excuse that we are somehow 'stealing' from them? Who gives them the right to impede progress and international dialog on important issues of human rights or scientific understanding? If someone hasn't by now purchased whatever song it is that takes up 10 seconds of the background music that was originally published in 1974, they are probably not freaking going to!

This has to end!


Public Request:

I ask all freedom loving peoples everywhere to start doing likewise and protest inappropriately blocked material with bug reports or other means.  Our talk of freedom and free speech means nothing if we simultaneously allow ourselves to be censored by copyright Nazi's like GEMA.  To be clear, I am ***not*** advocating piracy.  But I am advocating that collectively as citizens of this planet we find a way to over throw these idea thwarting, conversation stopping, progress inhibiting, greedy, selfish miscreants who have nothing better to do than interfere in the transmission of facts and new ideas with the ludicrous claim that we are somehow stealing from them!


Legally Supporting My Stance:

The famous copyrights lawyer Lawrence Lessig gave a great talk on TED about this issue:  Ironically GEMA has ALSO blocked the copy of his talk that is mirrored on YouTube.


Blocking Ideas and Progress:

Historically, lack of, or limited use of, copyrights has correlated with a cultures advancement, not the other way around.

I can attest to this problem in another way as well.  I have had an idea for a film I would much like to make for the purposes of social commentary on many aspects of the current state of the world.  The film would cover various aspects of the intersections between religion, politics, economics, science and popular culture, and is not intended for or motivated by profit.  I think the insights I could provide with this film would be very valuable to many people in society.  But I have not attempted to make this film.


Why not?


The reason is simple.  In order to express the ideas, I need to make frequent references to, and take quotations from, our pop culture and media landscape.  Even though the work would be an original combination of ideas with my own conclusion, it requires referencing many many small bits of copyrighted material.  Even though I believe I could likely do the film in such a was as to be legally 'Fair Use', that doesn't mean I will not be censored anyway in many parts of even the western world.  This seems to frequently happen to other people.  Why spend a large portion of my time making a film no one will be allowed to watch?  And if a legal battle broke out over the film, even if it was legally 'Fair Use', I could not afford the costs of defending it in court.  Lessig's book 'Free Culture' gives examples of people who were undermined or censored in spite of doing no legal wrong with relation to copyrights simply because they did not have the means to challenge their accusers.

**Edit** => Remix IS the new social language.


Copyrights in general:

In the film 'Flash of Genius', the true story about the man who invented the windshield whiper, he spends most of his life in court to seek justice.  There is a scene in the court where he is accused of not making anything new because his wiper used existing mechanical parts.  In response he starts to read from 'A Tale of Two Cities'.  He asks if Charles Dickens invented any of the words in the novel, or if he simply combined existing words in a new way.  The answer is of course that he created the novel from existing words, and that likewise people build new things with the parts that are available.  The problem is, in the modern world, trying to use a large majority of the existing parts to create something new is treated as a crime!  (Or at least cause for regional censorship!)

Everything in society is built from, on, or with, something that came before it.  Media is the same way.  The conversations of the present and future, ***require*** free use of the types of media which were exclusively controlled and monopolized in the 20th century by the privileged few.  To prevent use of this material in any form across the board is to prevent the needed social dialog and conversations that are required for the advancement of society.  Further, what good are our claims to freedom and democracy if we let a few rich companies decide what we can say, to whom, and how we are allowed to say it?  How is that any better than the Chinese governments censorship?

Many of the practices and legalities which allowed some of our largest companies to come into existence, including Disney, and even Netflix, are no longer legally options for potential new businesses.   Current copyrights even undermine capitalism.



What good are our western claims of freedom if we let a handful of people claim they must block and inhibit our conversations based on the empty claim that: 'our having those conversations' or 'communicating new ideas built upon them' is theft?  Where is the public domain?  Where is free speech?  At what point do we stop letting these people prevent progress and filter our basic human right of international (or local) free speech which is required for social innovation?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Bin Laden's Death

I just watched a lot of footage on Bin Ladens death on the BBC website.


I must say that I feel a bit of sadness for these events. What Bin Laden did was cruel, but a lot of things stick out in my mind and emotions other than this.

On a personal level it is amazing to think that that was 10 years ago, and how much life, and especially my life, has changed in that time. I remember 9/11 very well. I remember how I awoke that morning. I remember watching the second plane hit live on TV. I remember spending the day helping my college girl friend move, with a constant eye on the television. I think of who and where I was then, at the age of 21, and how many things in my life have come and gone and passed by in between then and now, both good and bad. I have lived what seems a lifetime since that time.

But I also think of younger people, men and women who may have been only 8 or 10 at the time, who are now becoming adults and seeing this vengeance, which began in their childhood, come to be finished as they reach adulthood. Seeing them chant USA with happy victory faces hurts me, not because I have no love of my homeland, but because they see a pride in our nationhood, in themselves, associated with bloodshed and revenge and the 'superiority' of ourselves for 'winning'.

In the big picture I don't really see this as a victory. Even though what he did was tragic, and the world may be better off without him, I am left to wonder what really went on in his life, on a personal level, that drove him to the things he did, the actions that also brought about his final end, hated by much of the world. I wonder for the pain of the people who actually mourn him, or consider(ed) him highly. What pain have and do they face? Could we ease it?

I see this as a tragedy of what ones life can be: That someone could waste their life as he did, and finally meet a cruel end, which while may be deserved, it is still tragic because his death gives a satisfaction to some in our blood thirsty and vengeful world.

I feel it tragic when I hear a man rejoicing that, he believes, Osama is now in hell. Should you not mourn this rather than to be glad of it?

To have lived a life so full of pain as to wish nothing but to inflict some back upon those he saw as his enemies, is a miserable existence indeed. And further, it is tragic that our world sees only the pain he caused, and not the pain he endured, and without empathy, some are just glad or prideful of revenge, or in our so called supremacy, our so called victory in putting down an abused and violent man.

Why should we be glad when an enemy falls? Should we not feel more sorrow that we perhaps gave cause for him to be our enemy in the first place? Should we not feel sorrow that our presence in this could evoked so much hatred from anyone? Or at least that we should be seen a worthy target for ones malice? Is it not tragic that we did not win our enemies as friends?

I am also saddened by the words of a soldier who said: While this closes one door, it ends nothing, for the war on terror is like the war on drugs, a war without end.

Is it not our weakness and folly to see these things through the metaphor of war? Why can we not have the healing of drugs? Or the healing from terror? The war against darkness is the darkness itself. To us our ends justify the means, which in turn, to our enemies justifies their means and ends against a ruthless and evil enemy who has no scruples. Round and round it goes.

When will it be time to make whole instead of dividing the world into good and evil, where ourselves are always not but good, and from the views of both sides?

Our war on terror, for some is terror itself, and we thus but create the next generation of our enemies, likely to be weaker still than these. What does it say of a culture who must make enemies to defeat from the weak and the poor of the earth? If we wished to become truly strong instead of just feeling strong, and if we must have enemies, should we not face ones stronger and mightier than ourselves? That is a heroes deed. Rather than those whose only real victory against us is to have successfully hidden from us nearly without action for almost 10 years after delivering but one bloodied nose?

No, there is no victory in this. If one were to say this was a victory, it would shame our culture and our values, revealing them to be weak and ineffective for a modern global world.


But this does give me hope. For if I can think in these ways, maybe more people can, or do already, see the world not for what it is, but for what it could be.

Maybe there are those who can see a world in which we empathetically win our enemies to friendship with understanding, sympathy, and care.

Maybe there are those who can see a world in which we challenge injustice first within ourselves, and seek not revenge, but how we might make self improvement when we are bloodied by an angry foe.

Maybe next time we as a people can truly and honestly ask what we have done to provoke this, instead of just believing the answers given by the propaganda.

Maybe there are those who can or still will yet see, that to know ones self we need look no further than they eyes and motives of our enemies.