Friday, March 20, 2009

The ties that bind

Three things popped into my line of sight this morning, two via blogs and one by email.
Somehow they are all related to freedom (and restriction) of thought, artistry and activity.

What started me thinking was a short article by Cory Doctorow writing for Harvard Business publishing blogs.
The High Priests of IT — And the Heretics gives a very brief history of corporate IT departments, and how power/control (access to information and resources) has swung back and forth between IT departments and users, as resources moved from mainframe computers to desktop PCs. These paragraphs sum up where I see a lot of organisations currently are at:

The dirty secret of corporate IT is that its primary mission is to serve yesterday's technology needs, even if that means strangling tomorrow's technology solutions. The myth of corporate IT is that it alone possesses the wisdom to decide which technologies will allow the workers on the front line to work better, faster and smarter — albeit with the occasional lackluster requirements-gathering process, if you're lucky.

The fact is that the most dreadful violators of corporate policy — the ones getting that critical file to a supplier using Gmail because the corporate mail won't allow the attachment, the ones using IM to contact a vacationing colleague to find out how to handle a sticky situation, the incorrigible Twitterer who wants to sign up all his colleagues as followers through the work day — are also the most enthusiastic users of technology, the ones most apt to come up with the next out-of-left-field efficiency for the firm.

Because of that article, somehow these next two posts about copyright and Creative Commons resonated with me more strongly than usual - I usually only follow discussions about copyright and creative commons by skimming the surface, pausing now and then to dip in to an article to get a better understanding of a particular issue or development.

Sita Sings the Blues - story on story by Paul Reynolds tells the story of an animator who spent three years making a film, only to find she can’t distribute it because of music licensing issues. says:

It's a classic example of how today's copyright system suppresses art, effectively forcing artists to make creative choices based on licensing concerns rather than on their artistic vision.

To read more about the issue, visit How Copyright Restrictions Suppress Art: An Interview With Nina Paley About "Sita Sings The Blues"

The very next post in my blog aggregator was by Neil Infield (British Library)
Professor James Boyle and the fight for Creative Commons . In his short post (visit the site for links to some valuable links), Neil writes about a talk that Professor Boyle gave to staff at the British Library.

One of his most memorable points for me was the deafening silence from the US Copyright Office when asked how he could make his work copyright free. His point being, that the law has been extended to cover all creative works with no regard to the views of the authors who want to allow access.

I have no answers or insights to contribute to this discussion, but I am left with a lingering doubt, maybe even sadness that a vibrant, exciting section of our culture is being restricted. But then I am reminded of a quote (which I have not been able to find – it is attributed to a former IBM executive I think) along the lines of “networks are designed to find ways around roadblocks”. So perhaps the creative community will find a way…


Karl Fogel said...

Another version of that quote (one of my favorites) is from John Gilmore: "The Net interprets censorship as damage, and routes around it."

Neil said...

Professor Boyle used that exact quote during his talk.

The positive story is that Creative Commons is the answer to restrictive IP laws. And has grown exponentially in the few years since Professor Boyle helped to get it started.