Looks like censorship, smells like censorship... maybe it IS censorship?

QuestionCopyright.org (c)ensorship shirt (men's)QuestionCopyright.org (c)ensorship shirt (women's)

Perfect symmetry: J. D. Salinger complains that his book is censored, then J. D. Salinger turns around and censors someone else's book.

He probably wouldn't see it that way. He'd probably say he's "protecting his property" or something like that. But in fact what he has done is ban a book — a sequel someone else wrote to Salinger's book The Catcher in the Rye.

Salinger had other options. For example, if he doesn't like this particular sequel, he could simply not endorse it. In fact, given the extraordinary powers current copyright law grants him, he could even insist that the sequel be marked as "unauthorized", so that his name and reputation wouldn't be associated with it. (Of course, in a world where people didn't assume that a sequel must be authorized, even that step wouldn't be necessary.)

But instead of choosing an option that respects the freedom of readers and of other authors, he's suing to ban the new book. The usual pieties about freedom of speech ("the best antidote to bad speech is better speech") somehow melt away and magically don't apply for him, even though if he were asked, he would probably claim that he agrees with them. What is it about copyright, that it manages to sink so deeply into people's worldview that they cannot see censorship when it's right in front of their faces? When they're the ones doing the censoring?

On the other hand, the author of this sequel, Fredrik Colting, gets it:

"I am pretty blown away by the judge's decision. Call me an ignorant Swede, but the last thing I thought possible in the U.S. was that you banned books."

His lawyer, Edward H. Rosenthal, raises the free speech issue too:

"...members of the public are deprived of the chance to read the book and decide for themselves whether it adds to their understanding of Salinger and his work."

Though really, why should it even be necessary that the book add to anyone's understanding of Salinger's work? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. Either way, it still shouldn't be censored.

What can you do? Well, wear one of our ©ensorship shirts (women's and men's available in various sizes), and when someone asks you about it, tell them how copyright leads some authors to ban other authors' books. The back of the shirt has our web site address and logo:

QuestionCopyright.com (c)ensorship shirt, back.

Wearing them really works, by the way. I wore one on a train recently and wound up having a great conversation about copyright with two people, one of them a musician coming back from a gig, after they asked me about the front.

At the Open Video Conference

QuestionCopyright.org table in the Exhibit Hall.View of the Exhibit Hall from the QuestionCopyright.org table.

We're at the Open Video Conference in New York City right now, and it's terrific: a gathering of creative people who are dedicated to building freedom into both the technical and the legal infrastructure of the Internet. Today I heard a great talk by Prof. Gabriella Coleman of New York University: The Politics and Poetics of DeCSS, on the connection between computer code and legal theories of free speech, and how the kind of Internet we get depends in part on how that connection fares in courts.

If you're at the conference, come stop by the QuestionCopyright.org table the exhibit hall. We've got shirts, stickers, DVDs, and more. The stickers are free, and they fit on a laptop — there's even one for netbooks.

Saturday we're on a panel (I say "we" because either Nina Paley or I will be a panelist, depending on logistics) at 5pm entitled "Who Owns Popular Culture? Remix and Fair-Use in the Age of Corporate Mass Media":

Our shared popular culture is driven by Hollywood movies, television shows, video games and the latest musical hits. Due to its ubiquitous nature, it is entrenched in our everyday lives, becoming part of the language we speak to each other and also shaping how we see the world around us. Since pop culture is largely created, distributed and owned by a few major media corporations, copyright laws restrict its public use. Given the tight control of these powerful institutions, how can remixers, artists, educators, youtubers and filmmakers find ways to speak using our shared pop cultural language? How does fair-use intersect with copyright regarding our artistic rights to create, criticize and build on the past? This panel will attempt to demystify fair use and re-imagine what a truly public popular media culture might look like.

I'm looking forward to it a lot; the other panelists have all been doing very interesting work:

See the conference schedule for what else is happening Saturday.

Then on Sunday (the Hack Day), there's a showing of Nina Paley's film Sita Sings the Blues at 2pm in the Tishman auditorium at the conference venue, Vanderbilt Hall at New York University. Anyone can download the film, since it's released under a totally free license, but it's much better to see it on the big screen with a lot of other people. Come if you can; you'll be glad you did.

Swedish Pirate Party makes it into European Parliament!

Rick Falkvinge celebrating with Swedish Pirate Party after EU Parliament win.

Sweden's Pirate Party has just won at least one seat in the European Parliament, and possibly two if Sweden's delegation to the assembly expands (through ratification of the Lisbon treaty).

This is great news for European civil rights. The Pirate Party's platform spells out the link between copyright restrictions, censorship, and surveillance. If the government is watching your downloads to make sure you don't "pirate" anything, the crucial fact is: the government is watching your downloads. And when copyright law prevents information and culture from flowing freely, well, that's censorship. You can't enforce copyright restrictions without infringing on civil liberties. The Pirate Party gets this, and apparently a lot of voters in Sweden do too — thanks to the Pirate Party's relentless campaigning on these ideas over the last few years.

Congratulations to the Party and to Rick Falkvinge, who has been working hard for this for a long, long time. The decisive popular lift came from the conviction in Sweden of four operators of the Pirate Bay filesharing site, but it was the Party's careful preparation for this moment that allowed them to take advantage of it.


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