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#opened14 - first day keynote with Larry Lessig

5 min read

The only person that still has the power to get Lessig to talk about copyright issues is David Wiley. He took the chance to think back to the time he worked on this issue - it was the good and the bad together, working with people who want to create things and people who want to stop them.

Aaron Schwartz was a real organiser in the early days, insisted on a focus on "grabbing the theoretical and making it practical".

Around the time of the "Laws that choke creativity" TED talk, he asked "how do you think you are ever going to achieve what you are trying to do whilst government is still corrupt". Lessig said it wasn't his field - but Schwartz suggested it was his field as a citizen.

So the next chunk of his life was devoted to examining this problem. It was like giving up the hopeful part and focusing on the depressing part.

"Tweedism" - a single world to underline the problems with government. "I don't care who does the electing as long as I do the nominating." The question is the whether the filter in between nomination and voting is biased.

Parallel with emancipation - there were all-white primaries before the general election in Texas 100 years ago. So democracy was responsive to whites only.

Again parallels with the Hong Kong umbrella protests. These are protests about tweedism. 0.24% of electorate get to nominate.

We take for granted in the US that campaigns are privately funded. And getting funding is the first stage of the process. Showing the "skinner box" as a metaphor for people knowing how to work the system to get to funding. 30-70% of congress candidates time is spent "calling" for funding,

About 150,000 people in the US (will fall to 35,000) are funders who give important amounts. A tiny fraction of the 1% control the first stage of the system - the "green primary".

Gilens and Page (Princeton) showed that if economic elite or organised interest group preference is high, a policy will pass. But large support from voters has no effect.

Income distribution across cycles is - frankly - terrifying. And the reason for this is changes in government policy. Set by an economic elite.

Lessig was focused on this through the lens of copyright - since the 90s Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act. Did this advance the public good? Economists overwhelmingly said no (even Milton Friedman). But congress passed it because there was a financial interest and lobbying.

People like Hal Plotkin have won important victories in Open Education advocacy in the Obama administration. But in other ways things have got worse. Some blame the revolving door between civil servants and industry trade groups.

Not all provisions in US law are exported, rights holder provisions are exactly copied across, those for users less so.

From "Free Culture", Lessig argued that the difference between fair use and free uses. Fair uses are uses that would otherwise be regulated, primarily around making copies. But in the digital age everything you do produces a copy, so everything is "presumpted" to be regulated. 

Patterson argued that the insertion of "copy" in 1909 was a mistake. But this "mistake" has led to the extreme regulation of "temporary copies". An absurd position in the digital age. The Obama administration is currently arguing to enshrine this in law.

Hollywood lobbyists have argued that not helping Hollywood (eg SOPA) would lead to Hollywood not helping governments.

Could the department of labour require that new education content commissioned ($100m) be CC-BY? There was a clause (124) that suggested that the government should check that no commercial content should exist in these spaces. Was argued down. But we were "Not important" enough to be defeated.

But this is not just about you. It's pouring honey in swiss watch. It's stopping processes working for the popular good, because blocking is easy for economic elite interests.

Fukyama talks about a "vetocracy" - it is easy to block sane policy because of the way funding works. The democracy part just doesn't matter.

The solution would be to change the way campaigns are funded. To pass 1 statute, to decentralise campaign funding. With public funds. The "obvious and first answer".

But what explains the failure? - pundits say that "people don't care". The Mayday PAC focused on proving this, it wasn't seen to work in the 2014 elections.

The question is not "do they get it?" The question is "will they [WE] do something about it?". It's not because we like it, it is because we are resigned to it. What it means to "grow up", to "accept the reality" of modern life and corruption. How do we resist this?

1. Talk about feasible change. (eg a statute first, not an amendment)

2. Focus on ideals that inspire. 

3. Teach.

To recruit the audience, asking for 10% of our effort to focus on this underlying problem. If you want to make the world better - you need to make it possible to make the world better.

Against all odds, we at opened are fighting against a large producer interest for something that makes sense. What we need to talk about, to rediscover, is a special different sense of the word "Hope".

Vaklav Havel - Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.