The pendulum swings. Again.

Posted by on Saturday January 16 2010

One of the advantages of no longer being 20 is that one has the fun of seeing things come and go, and come around again. You used to have to be really, really old in order to experience this. Things move so fast now that one only has to be, say, 32.

The latest shift in direction, the latest new thing, is the rebound from the open source / crowd source hype.

It had to happen.

A recent New York Times article is an eye-opener:

In the 1990s, Jaron Lanier was one of the digital pioneers hailing the wonderful possibilities that would be realized once the Internet allowed musicians, artists, scientists and engineers around the world to instantly share their work. Now, like a lot of us, he is having second thoughts.

Mr. Lanier, a musician and avant-garde computer scientist — he popularized the term “virtual reality” — wonders if the Web’s structure and ideology are fostering nasty group dynamics and mediocre collaborations. His new book, “You Are Not a Gadget,” is a manifesto against “hive thinking” and “digital Maoism,” by which he means the glorification of open-source software, free information and collective work at the expense of individual creativity.

He blames the Web’s tradition of “drive-by anonymity” for fostering vicious pack behavior on blogs, forums and social networks. He acknowledges the examples of generous collaboration, like Wikipedia, but argues that the mantras of “open culture” and “information wants to be free” have produced a destructive new social contract.

“The basic idea of this contract,” he writes, “is that authors, journalists, musicians and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.”

Just when you knew which side of the fence the good guys were on, the fence moves. Typical.

That’s what had some people so surprised when Cory Doctorow came out in defense of copyright in a Radio Berkman talk recently, available as a Berkman Center for Internet & Society Podcast. Of course, there’s more to that talk — energetic, flippant, and deep all at the same time — than meets the eye. Or ear, rather. Copyright protection in defense of authors’ and readers’ rights against DRM might be putting it better.

But while many in the publishing industry might argue for copyright restrictions to protect the future of the book from download happy readers, Cory is actually arguing for copyright as a means of protecting the existence of books from the hands of overly litigious publishers.

There is a distinction, he says, between the kind of licensing that publishers use to prevent readers from sharing, copying, or even permanently owning a text – and theview of copyright that would actually safeguard the rights of the reader…

It’s must listening.

Filed under: Random Musings

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