Corruption and the definition of Insanity

One definition of insanity is “Continuing to do the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result”.

Lawrence Lessig, one of the people behind the creative commons, has a new target.

Both in the US, the UK, and internationally, those interested in the common good, rather than a special interest, fight the same fights again and again against copyright extension, proprietary software “standards”, broadcast flags, and other initiatives designed to help specific companies at the expense of consumers and the common good.

These negotiations are often in back rooms away from the public view, and are based on the advice of people in the room rather than the common interest. When all the people in the room only present the view of their one single employer, unsurprisingly, that’s the view that comes out of the room – cf the Cheney Energy Taskforce.

In the world of software, there are two “open” formats for documents (like Word documents, but standardised so there is a public reference specification that you can check it against, rather than Word documents where it might work…). One developed, designed and heavily promoted by Microsoft (pretty much exclusively), and another which has gone through the standards process and has a wide variety of groups who have looked at it and accepted it.
There is an International Standards body which oversees many technical standards, and to be recognised as a standard, you need enough countries to agree that it’s a standard. In the past, this has been done by interested countries and through consensus. Now, many many countries, which previously have never shown any interest in the body have representatives appearing at meetings. Only these aren’t civil servants, or even just citizens from that country, they’re Microsoft employees in countries where Microsoft has almost no staff presence besides lobbyists. Guess what the new “representatives” are pushing?

In Canada, the MP who is in charge of their department of Heritage, got campaign donations to their campaign fund from the recording and film industries in the US, and then tried to suggest laws to support them at the expense of the local recording and film companies (more).

In the UK, there was an independent review of the UK Intellectual Property Framework, the Gowers review which concluded, based on all the evidence, there was no case for copyright extension, thanks to the open and even handed way the review was conducted and examined the evidence. So those in favour of extension, to increase their own profits, simply ignored it and moved on to Parliament, potentially misrepresenting the Gowers review to get it ignored.

There’s also the “debate” in the UK around ID Cards where Evidence Based Policy is welcomed as long as the evidence supports the policy and those finding other evidence are bullied.

The evolution “debate” in the US where religion is dressed up as science and scientific theories are beaten down by “belief”. The fight that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and friends are currently engaging in.

The examples are, unfortunately, almost endless across the countries, with some areas being worse than others.

Why does it matter? Because special interests will write a bad law in your country and then try impose the same changes on my country in the name of equivalence, what happens in your country has a significant impact on my country.

Continuing on the current tack will mean that those fighting against the special interests will eventually lose – because special interests only have to be successful once and get to pick the battles. Those fighting for the common good have to find out about the battle, fight it (often quickly), and must win every time. While those tactics can continue for a time, a longer term strategy needs to change the war. Which is where Lessig is going.

What happens when the all Environmental, open software, culture, science, reason and other activitists join together to make the playing field level for all those who want to play, irrespective of the size of their pockets?

I have no idea what will happen, but it’s going to be very interesting…

Jun 2007
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