May 09, 2005

Liberals vs. Radicals, copyright version

Derek Slater writes "The Commoners' Common Platform" (echoed Donna, Ernie, my emphasis below):

It gives me an opportunity to talk out some things I've been thinking about lately in regards to what the Commoners'/Free Culture common platform should be - that is, what planks, from the array of diverse interests involved in the copyfight, can we synthesize into one common cause.

My view: To a good approximation, we can't. Or rather, welcome to The Movement, try not to get shot by all the in-fighting.

Whenever there's a problem affecting a system (doesn't even have to be a crisis, just a problem), there's always liberal and radicals giving their perspective. The liberals write policy papers, "How we must balance competing rights to achieve comity in the modern era". The radicals hold demonstrations where they chant "Burn, baby, burn! Up against the wall! The revolution is here!". As a rule, liberals and radicals hate each other. They're often more destructive to each other than the nominal common enemy, in a way ordinarily misattributed to "personal" or "ego" (which means stop thinking about it). Rather, they're competing for the same resources, and attacking a competitor is viewed as a good strategic move.

In specific, no radical will ever change their mind from being criticized by a liberal. There might be some small value to a liberal in terms of positioning, to publicly denounce a radical. The key to doing this maneuver well seems to be to pick some very weak, unsupported, radical, who can't retaliate. That gives the benefits with no cost.

But, overall, I think history shows such denouncing simply doesn't go far to convince the overall public of one's reasonableness. I see this in, for example, the number of times I've had to explain to interested people how, e.g. Larry Lessig is almost painfully moderate. It's an extremely frustrating aspect for an intellectual to wrap one's mind around. But empirically, when lying works in attacks to smear one's view, no matter how hard one works at distancing, the mud just doesn't come off. So I think, counter-intuitively, worrying about being tarred with extremists is not a function of the extremists - if they didn't exist, they'd be invented.

In the few media interactions I've had regarding censorware, whenever I'd get a question about whether or not I agreed with the alleged wild-eyed radicals of Peacefire, (sorry Bennett :-)), I'd decline the invitation to play let's-you-and-him-fight. I would say something along the lines that I thought so-and-so, and I could talk about what I thought, but not anybody else. It worked for me. Maybe it was just that I was sympathetic and at too low a level, while higher-level people would have more pressure. But I actually didn't feel I had to carry any burden of ensuring moderation in everyone in the whole cause (heck, truth be told, I think Peacefire's radicalism eventually worked for them overall, much better than my attempts at a pseudoprofessorial presentation).

Overall, I think the copyright battle is coming down to basically which of two content business models can be made to work overall, both of which are proving very difficult in practice: The lock-down DMCA/DRM/INDUCE maximal model, or the loss-leader model (alternative compensation systems are interesting and worthwhile, but haven't been implemented in the smallest way). In none of these systems is there a desperate need to herd cats.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on May 09, 2005 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Ah, shades of Phil Ochs, "Love me, I'm a liberal." What a great essay--certainly food for one of my future pieces of copyright-related blather.

As one who seeks a middle ground (or maybe I'm just an independent here as well), I can see the tendency to veer away from common ground. Now, excuse me while I do a post pointing to this one, a tendency I normally try to fight...

Posted by: Walt Crawford at May 10, 2005 11:22 AM