Saturday, November 15, 2008

Duffy, Patents, Copyight, Private Property, Public Domain, Public Enemy and the joys of Piracy

Every so often, Michael Duffy delivers a stand which befuddles and bemuses, and that's why the esteemed columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald and part time token right wing broadcaster for that nest of basket weavers at Radio National is such a shimmering, silken, gossamer web of inconsistencies and incoherence.

It' what makes Duffy the proud Duffster, fierce Quixotic tilter at windmills, and you never know who or what is going to experience his fierce vorpal blade as it goes snicker snack. Last week it was wretched scientists, who had embarked on a vast global conspiracy to conceal the truth about global warming because of their lust for gold and coin and research grants - you know, seeing as how being a scientist is the fast lane to untold wealth and riches, and getting a PhD in physics on $20,000 a year allows for all kinds of mental and physical depravity (in much the same way that blacks living on the dole for a couple of hundred bucks a week are luxuriating in the wealth they rip from the Malcolm Turnbulls of this world by way of taxes).

This week the Duffster has decided that scientists and governments and real estate agents and drug companies and Radio National are all being hard done by - for in his wondrous way, in "Economic and cultural gridlock is creating disastrous detours", the Duffster denounces patents, copyright and private ownership of property.

Yep, one week it's crocodile tears for the good folk of Ku-ring-gai as they experience the ravages of government planning, and the next it's a full on cheer squad shout out for the necessity of government planning. Has libertarian socialism ever had such a pronounced and schizophrenic supporter?

You might almost think the Duffster's gone Communist, but at the least he's starting to mutter the kind of socialist thoughts you'd expect of Wasilla Alaskan natives.

The Duffster cites a couple of disastrous and tragic examples of the way so much of the knowledge boom in recent decades is "locked up in dispersed private ownership". There's patents, which protect biotech drug companies at the expense of inhibiting other drug companies (such as one which had thought it had found a cure for Alzheimer's but was forced to shelve it because it couldn't obtain rights to dozens of patents). And there's copyright which prevents poor old Radio National from streaming music around the world at a whim and via podcast because of nasty copyright owners (well not really but because they get 1% of the market and have no budget and are just too cheap and socialist, they refuse to pay the going rate).

Shockingly this has caused the demise of hip hop and its sampled ways. So there you go, knock me down with a tail feather, the Duffster is a supporter of Public Enemy and hip hop, which as a result of rights restrictions, he thinks has become arguably less interesting. Could this be the reason the Duffster plays torpid musical treats from the nineteen thirties on his show? 

And then there are the documentary film-makers forced to pay squillions to obtain rights to use footage, music and material in their shows, and worse to pay even more when these rights expire (though if you approach the average documentary film-maker and ask them for the rights to their own films for free they seem to take a somewhat intemperant and volatile stand).

But worst of all it seems is private ownership of property, since a couple of landowners in Parramatta are thwarting the Parramatta council's desire to build a massive retail and residential development, including a new library, art gallery and heritage centre. And we all know that packing them in like rats is perfectly acceptable in the west, if not in the north.

The Duffster is concerned at this kind of medical science and cultural and physical gridlock, inspired as usual by his idea of the week, this time obtained from Michael Heller's book The Gridlock Economy (and reinforced by the death of novelist Michael Crichton from cancer after Crichton railed against gene patents, though the Duffster provides no list of gene patents which have prevented a cure for cancer) .

And as usual the Duffster's hint at a solution involves the use of eminent domain, which has become popular in some American circles of the right wing kind, and provides a mechanism whereby government can forcibly acquire property - and in America, as is the way, this often involves government acting for and on behalf of speculators and developers who can't use standard, market-based mechanisms to practise their thievery.

This means of course that eminent domain can be deployed not just in the case of helping that icon The New York Times build a relatively hideous high rise as its new home, but could also be used to benefit any gaggle of private property owners who might decide they have a grand vision for a city block or two, and don't want to have to face down the current private owners. How best to solve this kind of smackdown? Bring in the government and trample on the people! You can almost feel the New South Wales government salivating at the prospect.

The Duffster has, in his usual way, managed to conflate all kinds of issues regarding private ownership in ways that even Stalin might find difficult to accept, though I guess in the long run you can still see a collectivist mind at work in the Duffster's thinking.

Most of the problems originate in the United States, and most could be solved - but won't - by changes in U.S. law. It just so happens that American cultural exports make up the second biggest strand in the economy, behind defence, and copyright, including the Mickey Mouse extension clause, has been re-designed over the years to service the needs of big U.S. corporations.

The term of patents could be cut to ten years - they were once 14 years, then extended to twenty (design patents currently have a term of fourteen years). The term of copyright for individuals could end at the time of death of private holders, thereby protecting the rights of creators during their lifetime but ending the gravy train for family and friends who go on mining their goldmines for ever after. Corporation ownership of copyright could be limited to twenty years. That'd sharpen up the Disney mob. Forget creative commons, let's degut the Mouse.

Of course it will never happen, and that's why piracy is the new way forward. The marketplace has already spoken about copyright, and in terms of digital content, it's simply that information and ideas want to be free and will find their way around the world by other means than the usual channels. A few companies and organisations have already worked this out - hence You Tube deciding to run long form shows with advertising support, hence other companies video streaming content around the world using advertising as a base. 

There are problems with this - the streaming has proven so popular in some cases, advertising isn't covering costs, while others, still unable to understand that there is now a global economy, try to limit their streaming on a territorial basis so as to conform to studio limitations. But in the same way that a region coded  dvd is now a folly, courtesy of a simple act of ripping, so will these kinds of practices begin to feel like Noah's Ark.

So being a pirate is actually and suddenly a noble and ethical stand against unhealthy copyright practices, and will in due course force proponents of the old copyright model to realise that new revenue models are required. The times are rapidly changing.

Private ownership of property however isn't so easily tackled, especially with any power that allows government to override that ownership for whatever collective good is on offer. Where the Duffy suddenly seems to think that property development and governments and speculators are good and wholesome people, only interested in turfing out owners for the common collective good, I have a sudden desire to reach for my shotgun. 

This land is my land, not your land, and if you want my land, you have to pay for it. And if I don't want to sell it, if I want its unencumbered pleasure and enjoyment, that's my right because I own it. That used to be the creed of ownership, which only Ruskies and Alaskans would deny, and now it seems the Duffster is proposing in a socialist way - or is it Napoleonic - that if a street full of peasants gets in the way of a grand development, then they can be swept away out of sight. Well I guess that's how you end up with the grand spoke-like streets of central Paris, and who gives a toss about a few peasants, except for the peasants.

Oh I know, I know, let's face it, putting all the peasants in grand high rises with exceptional city views has worked very well in both Melbourne and Sydney, allowing for the crime rate and graffiti, and it's also allowed the middle classes to colonise the inner cityscape. 

I guess we should have allowed the government to build that motorway right through our front yard instead of suffering from the delusional notion that (a) any motorway promoted by the government of NSW is an exercise in futility and folly and (b) we'd actually prefer a suburb not bifurcated by a motorway and (c) while there's only five feet of front yard attached to the house, it is in the Sydney way a splendid place to grow dicksonia antarctia ferns and monstera deliciosa.

The fun bit is that next week we can look forward to a rant by the Duffster denouncing the development practices of the NSW government in the northern suburbs of Sydney, or a rant on the way government is infringing on the private rights of companies by suggesting that they should share the wealth around, or a rant, a cri de coeur, on the way hip hop has ruined the noble minds of blacks these last twenty years.

But then if the Duffster were to be consistent or logical, he'd lose his charm, because the quark would have been tamed and become the staid world of the atom. Or some such metaphor. Meanwhile, we can feel his pain, forced week in and week out to play Minnie the Moocher when he could be playing Public Enemy.

Power to the people
Put your hands in the air
Peace sign high
Like you really do care ...
Rather be sitting just a gettin it
Power to the people not the governments
Capitalists, Communists, Terrorists
Swear to God I don't know the difference
Makin' new slaves outta immigrants
Wanna know where all that money went
Another trillion spent by the Government
Here the bomb go. Sent by the President.

Yo man, get down and jiggy with it. The Duffster be the man, be cool with it. And so to this week's scorecard, a relatively tame affair as Duffy takes in a whiff of Radio National socialistic thinking without understanding how smelling that weed week in, week out, while lurking behind the mike is slowly turning him into a ganga man.

Capacity for confusing patents, copyright and private property: 11
Capacity for proposing solutions in relation to ownership issues:2
Willingness to embrace the novelty of eminent domain without thinking of its consequences:11
Love of inherent contradictions in thinking:11
Failure to care about the future of Mickey Mouse and the Disney folk: 8
Failure to mention the elephant in the room, piracy, or to consider its relevance to current private ownership practices: 11
Implied endorsement of the NSW government and Parramatta Council's right to trample on property rights, together with the implied benefits of bringing back Michael Costa to run things, and introduce single carriage trains in a system designed for dual carriages: 11

Well maybe that last score is stretching things - maybe the Duffster will tackle City Rail next week - but it's a high scoring, high five time for hipster Duffster, with points on the board every which way we look. But in the world of the Duffster, a high score is actually a low score, because nothing is but what is not, and words mean what we chose them to mean, and when the Duffster speaks of overturning patents and copyright and private ownership, we might only be weeks away from the peasants personning the barricades. Aux armes, citoyens, formez vos bataillons, and keep on downloading.

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