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Reposting for Tuesday, 11 Feb 2014 — The Day We Fight Back against NSA surveillance. Centralized mass surveillance is incompatible with freedom, as we’ve written about before, and enforcing copyright restrictions on digital networks can only be done through such surveillance.
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Note: Copyright and Surveillance is the third meme in our Minute Memes series. It was animated by Nina Paley, with sound by Greg Sextro, for the 20th anniversary of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

(High-resolution versions available from the Internet Archive. Also available on Vimeo and YouTube.)

In the EFF’s own words:

“Three Strikes” and copyright cops. Entertainment industry bigwigs worldwide want ISPs to monitor subscribers, filter content and kick users off the Internet for file-sharing. EFF is fighting worldwide for the protection of fair use, free expression, and fairness for all Internet users.

Happy birthday, EFF! Keep up the good work.

As long as sharing copies is illegal, people who own copying machines (i.e., computers) will be suspect. Copyright + Internet = Surveillance. At QuestionCopyright.org, we want your computer to work for you. Who do you want it to work for?

The Women+Film student group at Columbia College in Chicago is presenting QCO Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley‘s film Sita Sings the Blues this Thursday at 4:30pm — and Nina will be there for Q&A!  Come see a wonderful film, talk to its director, and get the pre-downloaded DVD in person, straight from the source.

4:30pm, Thursday, 6 February 2014
1104 S. Wabash Ave.
Room 502
(Note: the posters are apparently wrong — it really is room 502, not 302 as the poster says)

Poster for 2014-02-06 screening of Sita Sings the Blues at Columbia College Chicago.

QCO Education icon.Professor Howard Besser of New York University is offering a course at the Tisch School of Arts this Spring entitled Free Culture & Open Access, and he’s released the syllabus online.  It’s such a good list of introductory sources (and speakers) on the free culture movement that we wanted to point to it from here:

besser.tsoa.nyu.edu/howard/Classes/14free-culture-syllabus.pdf

Several QCO articles, and the work of our Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley, are listed in the syllabus.  Also very nice to see is the trouble Prof. Besser took toward the end of the syllabus to define plagiarism accurately and not confuse it with mere unauthorized copying (simply put: copying a song is not the same as claiming you wrote it!).  As we wrote back in 2007, this is not something NYU has always been clear on, though to be fair, the current Tisch School of the Arts Academic Integrity Policy seems to have thought about it more carefully.

We asked Prof. Besser “Will you be suggesting to the students that they release their own papers for the course under non-restrictive licenses?” and got a delightful answer:

Since 1994 I’ve been asking my students to make all their work for my classes publicly available
   http://besser.tsoa.nyu.edu/impact/ (choose “Student Papers”)
   http://www.nyu.edu/tisch/preservation/studentwork.shtml
We are now transitioning into explicit CC licenses.

It appears the students are in good hands!  Best of luck to Prof. Besser and the class.

A while ago, Danny Colligan (author of the wonderfully rigorous & thorough “What We Lose When We Embrace Copyright“) sent us a link to a new short piece he’d written, about public subsidies for artists and how to set them up so they result in more freedom, not more restriction.  It’s here:

thegreatkladderadatsch.blogspot.com/2013/07/addendum-to-what-we-lose-when-we.html

Quoting:

There are many schemes one could create to subsidize artists.  Economist Dean Baker made one such proposal, which relies on a voucher system.  Basically, taxpayers get vouchers that they can use to allocate to whatever artist(s) they want, and artists, as a requirement for receiving money through the system, are forbidden from copyrighting their work. Such a system leverages the already existing tax infrastructure, would be more than sufficient to cover artists’ costs, and does not even require any sweeping changes like elimination of all copyright (besides, of course, passage of law that would bring the program itself into existence).  In short, the proposed voucher system is a relatively unobtrusive reform that could easily be implemented within the context of the current legal and economic system.  The political effort required to enact it, however, is another story, of course.

Yes.  This shouldn’t even be a hard call.  Public money should result in public goods.

(Editor’s note: We’re cross-posting this beautiful essay from ninapaley.com; see also Nina Paley’s similarly-titled interview with Baixa Cultura from April.)


Below are the images and text of a Pecha Kucha talk I gave in Champaign, IL. The Pecha Kucha format is 20 slides x 20 seconds per slide. Hopefully the video will be online within a few months.

Transmission_10fps2

You are an information portal. Information enters through your senses, like your ears and eyes, and exits through your expressions, like your voice, your drawing, your writing, and your movements.

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In order for culture to stay alive, we have to be open, or permeable. According to Wikipedia, Permeance is “the degree to which a material admits a flow of matter or energy.” We are the material through which information flows.

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It’s through this flow that culture stays alive and we stay connected to each other. Ideas flow in, and they flow out, of each of us. Ideas change a little as they go along; this is known as evolution, progress, or innovation.

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But thanks to Copyright, we live in a world where some information goes in, but cannot legally come out.
Often I hear people engaged in creative pursuits ask, “Am I allowed to use this? I don’t want to get in trouble.”

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In our Copyright regime, “trouble” may include lawsuits, huge fines, and even jail. ”Trouble” means violence. ”Trouble” has shut down many a creative enterprise. So the threat of “trouble” dictates our choices about what we express.

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Copyright activates our internal censors. Internal censorship is the enemy of creativity; it halts expression before it can begin. The question, “am I allowed to use this?” indicates the asker has surrendered internal authority to lawyers, legislators, and corporations.

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This phenomenon is called Permission Culture. Whenever we censor our expression, we close a little more and information flows a little less. The less information flows, the more it stagnates. This is known as chilling effects.

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I have asked myself: did I ever consent to letting “Permission Culture” into my brain? Why am I complying with censorship? How much choice do I really have about what information goes in and comes out of me?

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The answer is: I have some choice regarding what I expose myself to, and what I express, but not total control. I can choose whether to watch mainstream media, for example. And I can choose what information to pass along.

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But to be in the world, and to be open, means all kinds of things can and do get in that are beyond my control. I don’t get to choose what goes in based on its copyright status. In fact proprietary images and sounds are the most aggressively rammed into our heads. For example:

“Have a holly jolly Christmas, It’s the best time of the year
“I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer
“Have a holly jolly Christmas, And when you walk down the street
“Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet!”

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I hate Christmas music. But because I live in the U.S., and need to leave the house even in the months of November and December, I can’t NOT hear it. It goes right through my earholes and into my brain, where it plays over and over ad nauseum.

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Here are some of the corporations I could “get in trouble with” for sharing that song and clip in public. I wasn’t consulted by them before having their so-called “intellectual property” blasted into my head as a child, so I didn’t ask their permission to put it in my slide show.

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Copyright is automatic and there’s no way to opt out. But you can add a license granting some of the permissions copyright automatically takes away. Creative Commons, the most widespread brand of license, allows its users to lift various restrictions of copyright one at a time.

15_Paley_pkncu

The problem with licenses is that they’re based on copyright law. The same threat of violence behind copyright is behind alternative licenses too. Licenses actually reinforce the mechanism of copyright. Everyone still needs to seek permission – it’s just that they get it a little more often.

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Like copyright itself, licenses are often too complex for most people to understand. So licenses have the unfortunate effect of encouraging people to pay even MORE attention to copyright, which gives even more authority to that inner censor. And who let that censor into our heads in the first place?

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Although I use Free licenses and would appreciate meaningful copyright reform, licenses and laws aren’t the solution. The solution is more and more people just ignoring copyright altogether. I want to be one of those people.

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A few years ago I declared sovereignty over my own head. Freedom of Speech begins at home. Censorship and “trouble” still exist outside my head, and that’s where they’ll stay – OUTSIDE my head. I’m not going to assist bad laws and media corporations by setting up an outpost for them in my own mind.

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I no longer favor or reject works based on their copyright status. Ideas aren’t good or bad because of what licenses people slap on them. I just relate to the ideas themselves now, not the laws surrounding them. And I try to express myself the same way.

Transmission_10fps2

Like millions of others who don’t give a rat’s ass about copyright, I hope you join me. Make Art, Not Law.

It’s been a little over a month since the November 6th fire that destroyed the scanning center building at the Internet Archive.  No one was hurt, but as Archive founder Brewster Kahle wrote in a blog post from November 6th (emphasis added):

We lost maybe 20 boxes of books and film, some irreplaceable, most already digitized, and some replaceable.   From our point of view this is the worst part.   We lost an array cameras, lights, and scanning equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Insurance will cover some but not all of this.

The Internet Archive is far more important to the long-term interests of Internet users than, say, Facebook, and they’ll make a little go a long way.  If you can, please donate to help them recover and grow.  I just sent in a check for $200 — which really means $800 for the Archive, because…

Donations made before 2014 are being matched three-to-one by an anonymous donor!

So, if you can, please give.  There are few more obvious calls on the Internet right now!

Internet Archive, showing fire damage to scanning center building.

I can’t stress this enough — if you’re still wondering about the connection between copyright and civil liberties, nothing could make it clearer than Eben Moglen’s four-lecture series Snowden and the Future at Columbia Law School in New York City. The fourth lecture is this coming Wednesday, December 4th, at 4:30pm (Eastern US) in Room 101 of Jerome Greene Hall:

If you are in New York City on Wednesday, we strongly recommend going to that fourth and last lecture. Transcripts of the first three are already online (though I found them worth watching on video). Quoting from the third:

privacy is an ecological rather than a transactional substance

Moglen goes on to explain why very eloquently. It is a point of prime concern to copyright resistors: when every email, every post in a social network, every online communication among human beings, is subject to surveillance, then the system will always err in one direction: toward over-enforcement of already overly-strong restrictions. Surveillance naturally serves monopoly: the watcher is centralized, the watched decentralized. Thus, for example, it becomes your problem to fight fraudulent takedowns and other censorship, rather than being the censor’s problem to justify the restrictions in the first place.

Thursday, 12 Dec: Eben Moglen and Bruce Schneier:

Then on Thursday the 12th at 6:30pm ET, Prof. Moglen will be talking with the renowned security expert Bruce Schneier about what we can learn from the Edward Snowden documents and from the NSA’s efforts to weaken global cryptography, and how we can keep free software tools from being subverted. That event is also at Jerome Greene Hall; see here for details.


There is no freedom of thought without freedom of communication, and ultimately there is no freedom of communication without privacy. Privacy means secrecy, anonymity, and autonomy for individuals freely associating.

Monopoly will never argue for this. People have to do it. Copyright restrictions originated in centralized censorship and are increasingly supported by centralized surveillance. No one is analyzing the larger dynamic of surveillance better than Prof. Moglen. If you’re in New York this Wednesday and next Thursday, you know where to go.

(Previous post in this series here.)


Eben Moglen speaking.Eben Moglen will be giving a series of four public talks in New York City, entitled “Snowden and the Future”, starting Wednesday, October 4th (the other dates are Oct. 30th, Nov 13th, and Dec 4th, all Wednesdays).

All talks will take place at Columbia Law School, in room 101 of Jerome Greene Hall (map), from 4:30pm – 5:30pm.  For those who can’t be there, streaming video of the events as they take place will be available from snowdenandthefuture.info.

Why you should go to these talks:

The connection between copyright restrictions and civil liberties violations is clear and unavoidable.  We’ve written about it here (and here and here and here).  It’s been the key to the Pirate Party’s political success in Europe, and the subject of one of Nina Paley’s excellent minute memes.  Eben Moglen,  the founder and director of the Software Freedom Law Center, is one of the clearest thinkers talking about digital freedom today — and one of the most inspiring: a previous public lecture of his led directly to the creation of the Freedom Box Foundation.  He’s also a terrific speaker.  You won’t be disappointed; go, and bring all your friends.

The surveillance state is aided and enabled by information monopolists who assert that watching people’s Internet usage for unauthorized use of copyrighted material is so important that it trumps both privacy concerns and freedom of expression.  That’s why we keep a close eye on surveillance news here at QuestionCopyright.org, and encourage you to as well.

For more information on these lectures, visit snowdenandthefuture.info.

Tupi logo.

QuestionCopyright.org has pledged $500.00 to the Tupi 2D Animation Software Kickstarter campaign, and we’re posting this to help spread the word.

Please join us and the other project backers, with whatever amount you can pledge!  Remember, your pledge is only called in if Tupi reaches their $30,000 goal by September 26th.

Tupi is already runnable code.  They’re on version 0.2 right now, and their goal in this campaign is to reach their 1.0 feature set, including installers for Macintosh and Windows.  (It’s already packaged for Debian and Ubuntu GNU/Linux; I’ve installed it.)

Our Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley (who also backed Tupi’s campaign personally) explained very well why projects like Tupi are important, in her post “It’s 2013.  Do you know where my Free vector animation software is?”.  When you’re an artist, you’re dependent on your tools — and that means when someone has a monopoly over your tools, they can play havoc with your art and your livelihood.  That’s exactly what happened with Adobe’s Macromedia Flash 8.  Read Nina’s post for the details, but basically Adobe decided to remove features from their Flash authoring software, in order to sell those features separately in other programs.  As Nina points out, the problem with this isn’t just the extra expense, it’s the increase in workload and production time.  And the looming threat that they might do it again in the next version.  They can yank the rug out from under their users at any time, and there’s nothing the users can do about it, except refuse to upgrade (which becomes less and less feasible as time goes on, of course).

Free, open source programs can’t do this to their users, because no one has a monopoly over the software.  If one group puts out a version of the software that is missing important features, users will shrug and start using a competing fork that treats them better.  It also means that if enough artists need a particular bugfix or improvement in the software, they have a path to make it happen — they don’t have to be programmers, as long as they can band together and hire programmers.  Users are not vulnerable to arbitrary decisions handed down from management, they way they are with proprietary software.  (Of course, the more likely scenario is that artists would band together and just pay Tupi’s original development team to make the necessary changes.  The fact that the users have the option to go elsewhere is precisely what makes the original authors likely to be responsive to true demand — a free-market ideal that proprietary software is structurally biased against attaining.)

Tupi has another thing going for it: Nina, an extremely experienced animator who knows the major competing proprietary tool very well, has publicly volunteered to test and provide feedback to open source animation projects, including Tupi.  (Nina says “Tupi’s strength is its simplicity; it’s great for kids and anyone new to animation. It doesn’t yet have the power I need to produce feature films, but its development is a good thing for all of us. …”)

So please help spread the word about Tupi’s Kickstarter campaign! (Here are links to retweet or redent our posts about it.)  You can read more about Tupi here, and this is their campaign video:

After an additional year of production work, our free-film project “Lunatics!” is back up on Kickstarter. We have a lot more done – some “finished” animation, voice acting and soundtrack mixing, a lot more completed 3D models, including some of the toughest mech modeling, and several characters. We are still 100% free-culture, using CC By-SA license for everything we release, and we’re still open-source, making our models and other elements available to the commons. We use only music with By-SA compatible licenses, and we are working entirely with free-software, especially Blender, Kdenlive, and Audacity.

The Kickstarter video starts with our recently completed “teaser” demo video, which is meant to show at least one possible rendering and final animation style for the project (though we’re still experimenting). This version is toon-shaded, but lacks outlining — I’m actually pretty happy with the way that looks. The limited PoV/hyperreal concept for this trailer was originally conceived to minimize the number of 3D assets we’d use (originally it was all PoV and didn’t show even show the character). However, as the video goes on to show, we actually have quite a few other models, including the Soyuz exterior completed now.

As I outlined in my update on licensing and business models, “Lunatics!” is entirely under the same free CC By-SA 3.0 as Wikipedia and other bastions of free culture. Unlike several other “free” film projects, we’ve actually decided to be strict about the music licensing as well — every piece of music we use is under a By-SA compatible license so that we can release it to you under By-SA.

An important part of our business model — creator-endorsed post-release sales — is a concept born right here on QuestionCopyright.org.

We’re also part of a growing group of projects relying on and promoting free-software tools like Blender, Kdenlive, Audacity, Inkscape, and Gimp to realize our concept.