Happy IED Day!

IED stands for “Idea/Expression Dichotomy.” The idea/expression dichotomy is one of those core concepts of common law that for some reason eludes the anti-copyright organizations behind so-called “Fair Use Week.”

So I take it these raw elements of punk are firmly in the ideas rather than expression category. What do they consist of? Rhythmic motifs? Maybe note sequences? Punk is fairly atonal and perhaps not the best example. I’m reminded of this anecdote that I read years ago in Wikipedia:

[Stephen] Schwartz uses the “Unlimited” theme as the second major motif running through the score. Although not included as a titled song, the theme appears as an interlude in several of the musical numbers. In a tribute to Harold Arlen, who wrote the score for the 1939 film adaptation, the “Unlimited” melody incorporates the first seven notes of the song “Over the Rainbow.” Schwartz included it as an inside joke as, “according to copyright law, when you get to the eighth note, then people can come and say, ‘Oh you stole our tune.’ And of course obviously it’s also disguised in that it’s completely different rhythmically. And it’s also harmonized completely differently…. It’s over a different chord and so on, but still it’s the first seven notes of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow'”.

It does say it’s an inside joke, so perhaps he wouldn’t have been sued for “stealing” a ninth note, or is that where “fair use” (maybe in scare quotes?) comes in? Is a specific note sequence copyrightable? What about a player piano roll? Or a MIDI file? What about sheet music? Certainly the copyright notice on P/V/G editions sold to the public contain dire warnings that it is illegal to use the sheet music for public performance. Is there no irony if it is a well known fact (as is commonly enough the case) that the band whose song is marked thus in some P/V/G or guitar tab songbook, happened to start out as a “cover band?” Is the very concept of a cover band illegal?

What about fanfic? I’ve heard horror stories about people in the Star Trek fanfic community being ceased and desisted because Paramount (or CBS, or whoever is the rightsholder this round of acquisitions) owns not only the TV series, movies, books, merch, but the core concepts such as the Federation, transporters, communicators, etc. Perhaps that’s why the new series The Orville makes a belabored point about having an alternative terminology for every organizational or technical concept in its particular universe–the Planetary Union instead of the Federation of Planets, quantum drive instead of warp drive, dysonium instead of dilithium, synthesizers instead of replicators, etc. Perhaps the “raw elements of science fiction” are less developed in the realm of expression and consist simply of facts about science.

Then there’s the ongoing Disnification of culture. What will be this year’s Disney blockbuster, with the happy meal tie-ins, the Hallowe’en costume tie-ins, the doggie chew toy tie-ins, etc.? This year, will it come from folklore, or classic literature? Maybe the latter, a dead-long-enough-to-be-out-of-copyright author such as Hans Chistian Anderson, perhaps? When re-telling of stories take place, I take it, the stories are ideas and the re-telling are expression? What about the characters of the stories? Certainly the particular visage of the (now) Disney character is a very hot intellectual property, but what about the image of the same character that forms in your mind as you read the dusty copy of the old book (or download DRM-free from a classic literature repository such as Project Gutenberg)? What if you saw the movie before you read the book? Does Disney then own a few of your brain cells?

One thing you probably remember if you watched any broadcast television during the DVD era (what, basically 10-20 years ago?) was the frequency with which movie studios (particularly Disney) would announce the DVD release of some blockbuster feature with the ad copy “buy it to own this Tuesday.” I’m not sure whether there is some business model reason that DVD release day was always on a Tuesday. I’m also unsure whether it was necessarily the case that the DVD’s were released to the “buy it to own” market prior to being sold to stores such as Blockbuster that existed back in those days, where one could rent DVD’s. CD’s and DVD’s are an interesting type of cultural artifact in that they’re clearly digital technologies, but they’re also clearly physical objects that one can carry around, eject from one player and insert in another, get autographed by the artist, sell into the used market, pretty much toss around like any other physical object. Thing is, even back then, the distributors of these media knew that the content, being digitally encoded, was basically one large binary number. So, while the ad copy giveth the impression of a thing you can “buy to own,” the fine print on the box states, circuitously but unambiguously, that the purchaser is purchasing license, not content. Same with the clickwrap boilerplate on boxed software titles, which were also an actually-existing thing during the DVD era.

Because the digital representation of an expression is literally nothing other than a large integer, creators are between a rock and a hard place. There is literally no way they can get paid reliably or fully if their distribution media are things, because the things can be pirated, thanks to original creations such as DeCSS. The inevitable end result is that what’s offered in the consumer market (and probably other markets) is not only a license rather than a copy, but is billed on a “per use” basis. If not on a “per use” basis, then a “per month” basis or some other basically finite license to access the content. Publishers of periodicals knew this decades ago; hence higher subscription rates for libraries than for individuals.

So it is that today’s fair use advocates misapprehend the idea/expression dichotomy. But there’s another dichotomy. This is also a true, rather than false, dichotomy. It is rooted not in legal precedent but in mathematics itself. You can have authorial rights over digital content or you can have general purpose computing. Pick at most one. It really is that simple, and it really is that starkly and truly dichotomous.

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Never, ever take progress for granted

Not just gig economy but even piecework pay is making a (big) comeback, after a good century of dormancy. There’s no natural law that says progress is permanent. Eternal vigilance, folks! One can never be too aggressive when it comes to beating back Social Expectations Rot.

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Capitalism is to capital as monarchism is to monarch.

Myself, I’d like to see cooperation supplant competition as the main organizing principle. I do recognize that that’s a tall order. Some scenarios that fall short of #FullCommunism that nevertheless would be seen (by me) as an improvement over the status quo, might include:

  1. Building the new allocation mechanism within the shell of the old (the old one being the market). I call this approach Angel Economics (check out FB group by that name).
  2. Take the “checks and balances” approach to politics, characteristic of the United States, but treating the business community as a de facto “branch of government” and therefore a power center to be kept in check.


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Quotebag #121

If I thought I could personally win the popularity game and didn’t care about those who couldn’t, then maybe I’d be a market anarchist.
Ana Kata:
Homeowners in the US (as compared to other countries) have absurd amounts of power and influence over aspects of the community and planning they should have nearly zero input into.
Tim Wolter:
Where partisan politics, the fabled but probably real “deep state” and the intelligence world meet its a dark, creepy place.
Michael O. Church:
Perhaps we are not totally alone in the universe, but all those other supposedly intelligent civilizations are mired in thousands of years of user stories and TPS reports. Seems unlikely, right? Sure. But it’s even more absurd, if we could send a man to the Moon using 1969 computers, that we’re using supercomputers to run Jira and do “user stories” in 2017.
Rick Falkvinge:
The Snowden documents, more than anything, showed the brutal truth of today: if a type of data collection is technically possible, then it is taking place right now. That’s all that matters. If it is technically doable.


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Quotebag #120

The expression “a liberal education” originally meant one worthy of freemen. Such is education simply in a true and broad sense. But education ordinarily so-called– the learning of trades and professions which is designed to enable men to earn their living, or to fit them for a particular station in life–is servile.

Henry Thoreau, 1859

There are good reasons for young kids to want to go to the best school possible, but careerism is not one of them.
Michael O. Church

Tim H. said…
Just guessing, the new tax bill will not imperil the jobs of accountants, can’t let the riff-raff get out of hand…

Midboss57 said…
The reason why people will always have a hard time believing in the idea of reciprocity in transparency is that it that knowing the elite’s misbehavior is completely useless unless you have some way to punish them. Or to put it in this little dialogue:
Elite: I can know everything about you, peon, including your treasonous thoughts.
Peon: I also know everything about you, including your treasonous actions.
Elite: That’s cute. I also have a death squad. What you gonna do about it, insect ?
Peon: Oh… Forgot about the death squad.
Without some way for mister peon to counter act the traditional strengths of elites, ie: money, power, lackeys, brute force, he is going to be very reticent to give up his one advantage of stealth.

“For information to be free, the coordinates of the information must be free.”—James Alexander Levy

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Can UBI be done statelessly?

I asked a minor variant of that question (Is full unemployment…statelessly doable?) back in 2011. Lexi Linnell asks, Does universal basic income require a state? This is C4SS, so of course “without a state” means voluntarism-friendly. The whole way Linnell approaches the basic income question differs from mine at almost every turn. Her first question is whether basic income can be distributed without taxation. Mine is whether the level of economic development is sufficiently post-scarcity to make universal survival provisions feasible. Basically Linnell’s main concern is whether we have to participate in something so involuntary as paying taxes to a state, while my main concern is whether we have to participate in something so involuntary as pounding pavement, possibly for years on end, asking for permission to contribute to the production of products and services. Free market types have a strange sense of what is and isn’t voluntary.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not pro-taxation. All other things being equal, I welcome any efforts to abolish taxation, or even to create a “voluntary” form of “taxation.” Please note that by “all other things being equal,” I mean that favoring someone’s “voluntary” alternative to taxation doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice something of comparable or greater value from my value system. To people who derive the entirety of their value systems from something like the Non-Aggression Principle (as if it’s a mathematical axiom or something) I suppose, all values are, by definition, of lesser magnitude than “voluntarism,” so it’s automatically a no-brainer that creating a “voluntary” or “stateless society” alternative to anything is a step in the right direction. For me, the real world is more complicated and questions of values contain more subtleties.

For me the main pain point in endorsing the Resilience brand of basic income is the centrality of incentive. My particular brand of anarchism is rooted more in rebellion against human nature essentialism than rejection of (I honestly don’t see any signs of a rebellious streak in market anarchism) the state per se. The whole “humans are necessarily creatures of incentive” talking point strikes me as a statement of Skinnerian behaviorism. At best, it’s a statement of Freakonomics; a belief system I find dubious at best.

In particular, the Resilience brand of basic income relies on incentivizing businesses to participate in their scheme. The logic seems to be that businesses, by paying Resilience “taxes,” wouldn’t be just giving money away, they’d be buying access to the Resilience market, which is desireable, if nothing else, because it’s a population that has some level of economic security. The catch (and there’s always a catch) is that you generate tax revenues by spending money. “This means you have to pay the ‘taxes’ you have told the system you are willing to pay.” How is this “enforced?”

To solve this problem, one final rule is created: Anyone who sends money to an account that isn’t in the Resilience network is temporarily disconnected from the network. This has the effect of freezing their BI, as well as discouraging anyone from sending money to them. In other words, participants in the network are strongly disincentivized from transacting with anyone outside the network. The upshot is, in order for businesses to have network participants as customers, they must join the network themselves.

Therefore, businesses are incentivized to join the network because they gain access to a new base of consumers. However, since participants can set their own tax rate, why can’t businesses set their own rate to zero and avoid paying anything? While they could do this, it turns out that their customers’ BI would increase with a higher tax rate. A business which set its tax rate higher would have customers with higher BIs, so consumers will generally look for businesses with high tax rates. Presumably, this will reach an equilibrium where businesses are paying fairly high taxes but not so high that they don’t make a profit. In a sense, the tax rates themselves are set by the market.

Honestly, this sounds like the actually-existing economy. The survival of the people is contingent on the success of participating businesses. Basically, trickle-down economics.

What really depresses me about pro-market ideologues, even “left libertarians” and “market socialists,” is their knee-jerk rejection of those economic concepts that are Keynesian in nature. I think “alt currencies” may have some value to efforts to build less authoritarian (or even more “voluntary”) ways of living, but why should we gravitate to those in the blockchain family (which seem to be “hard currencies” by design, hence their attractiveness to libertarian and other “gold bug” types) rather than decidedly soft-currency approaches such as demurrage or Ripple? Why work with rather than against the idea of spending-driven economic growth? Why work against rather than with the idea that secular stagnation might be an actually-existing problem? And even if you do go with a “let’s spend our way to prosperity” model, inflation (decay of the value of “money”) seems a more simple and direct incentive to spend that cash than a set of contractual obligations. So why go with a currency that is extremely inflation-resistant by design if the system you’re seeking to create rests on some kind of “you gotta spend money to get money” logic that frankly sounds to me like some kind of pyramid scheme (as does Bitcoin).

As I read this description of Resilience, I can’t help but think, this so misses the point as to why I might see basic income as a possibly positive development in the first place. The main reason why the idea of basic income appeals to me at all is because if I have a known future positive cash flow, I can make plans (more plans than I can without such an annuity). Even if the amount falls pitifully short of a livelihood, I have the knowledge that if somehow I can budget myself to it through some combination of extreme frugality and extreme punk DIY ethos, I can cross off the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (basically the rawest of raw necessities; “the grossest of groceries,” to quote Thoreau) in a more or less definitive way, and have the sheer luxury of even thinking about the “higher” needs without the constant intrusion of thoughts of whether tomorrow’s efforts to sell myself in the competitive market economy will prove fruitful. But here’s the thing: I pursue punk DIY ethos, not only to “…[study] rather how to avoid the necessity of selling…” (another Thoreau-ism) but also to be as independent as possible from the for-profit sector (from both the buying and selling ends, frankly). What really nauseates me about the Resilience brand of basic income is that not only am I expected to accept that the profit motive and the for-profit sector will always be with us, but I must actively support some combination of businesses. Sounds to me like the motivation for inventing Resilience is one part “create proof of concept for ‘voluntary’ basic income” and thirty seven parts “kill the dream of socialism forever.” Same as goals as “bleeding heart libertarianism,” it seems, but with very different methods, of course. Which is cute, because the only reason lack of basic income is problematic in the first place is because the working class has utterly failed to gain control over all the means of production.


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Quotebag #119

Rick Falkvinge:
Information hygiene means that you’re aware not of what somebody claims to do with your data, but that you understand what they are able to do.
Michael O. Church:
Value capture: people who are good at creating value tend to be below average in the social skills involved in capturing value. So, the hardest-working and best people see most of their efforts enrich other people. This is a depressing social problem that I don’t expect to see solved in my lifetime.
Duncan Cairncross:
There is NOT a tiny creative minority!! — we — the creative — are the bloody MAJORITY!
Kira Nerys:
If all your little advertisements aren’t purged from our systems by the time I get back from the Gamma Quadrant, I will come to Quark’s, and believe me, I will have fun.
In basically all cases, a conservative NLRB will want to reduce the ways workers can coordinate with one another, and increase employer discretion to terminate employees. When I raised this point on Twitter, someone said that this might be different under Trump because wouldn’t such a ruling feed into the political correctness and whatnot that he hates. And to that I can only laugh: at the end of the day, what conservatives want to do is shift power to bosses over workers, and they are really good at keeping their eyes on the prize.
If cracking Nazi heads is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Colin Keesee:
Own and defend your belief that coding classes will lift the working class out of poverty faster than demand side economics.


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