Tag Archives: Protect IP

Before you point a finger, remember ‘Everything is a Remix’

When I was a teenager, I read a story by Orson Scott Card that made a big impression on me. “Unaccompanied Sonata” tells the story of a young prodigy in a future society where talented musicians are isolated and forbidden from listening to the music of others, to prevent their work from becoming derivative.

I don’t want to give too much away, but he rebels, listening to a beautiful piece by Bach. He is forbidden from making music. He does it anyway and is repeatedly punished in horrible ways that ultimately make it impossible for him to make music again. In the end, he becomes part of the very establishment that tormented him so.

I thought of that story when I discovered Everything Is a Remix, a blog about the video series by the same name by New York filmmaker Kirby Ferguson (the one who produced this video about Protect IP, mentioned previously on my blog). The first three videos in the series have been produced and a fourth one is on the way. They can be found on Ferguson’s Vimeo channel as well as Youtube and I recommend them highly. They are fascinating.

The video series points out – very effectively – that very little if any of the entertainment we enjoy is truly “original.” Everything borrows from something else. Movies, music, ideas. And that’s not a bad thing. Bits and pieces of art can recombine and become fresh and new again. I love the old blues music Led Zeppelin ripped off, but I also love Led Zeppelin, can’t imagine what my teenage years would’ve been like without them. Amazing powerful stuff. And much of it purloined.

Same thing with hip hop. That used to be one of my complaints about hip hop before I learned to enjoy it: “It’s just someone talking over someone else’s song.” Sometimes that’s all it is, but in the hands of someone creative, it becomes something much more.

Anybody remember the outlaw album DJ Danger Mouse put out in 2004? He took Jay-Z’s Black Album and mixed it with songs from the Beatles’ White Album, to create The Grey Album. Modern, streetwise rap music, mixed with some of the most beloved classic rock there is. It took off like gangbusters. The studios’ reaction to that very pirate project was predictable. EMI tried like hell to get it off the Internet, even though Paul McCartney and Jay-Z were fine with it, but there was no stopping it. The album went viral and was a very hot topic in the music press for a while.

Something else that will freak you out… Sometime watch Zero Hour, a movie about a plane trip that goes awry when the crew gets sick and a passenger – a washed up, nervous ex-pilot – has to take the controls. Sound familiar? That’s because they borrowed the same exact plot for the comedy Airplane!

Watch the Everything Is a Remix for plenty of other examples. Here is the first installment:

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

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Stop SOPA/Protect IP – Don’t let Congress censor the Internet

I think my mother considers me to be something of a computer expert. News flash: I’m not. At all. I know just enough about computers to know when it’s time to call in someone who really knows about them so I don’t break something important.

That’s what I wish Congress had done before they decided to take on Internet piracy. Two bills — SOPA in the House of Representatives and Protect IP Act or PIPA in the Senate — claim to be about protecting intellectual property, but they were written with the help of Hollywood lobbyists who just did not understand how the Internet works. They did not get enough input from the technical experts who might have helped create laws that worked, and are fair.

If these bills make it through Congress, the Internet will end up being severely disabled. Legitimate websites will go out of business and many businesses of the future will be stillborn. And the pirates will go right on pirating.

If you haven’t heard much about these bills it’s understandable. They have barely been mentioned by the mainstream media. Luckily, the Internet has a bit of sway as well. The word is starting to get out. Today, some high profile websites, including Reddit and Wikipedia are blacking out their websites to protest the proposed legislation and get people to call congress. Google has posted an anti-censorship message and plea to contact congress. That ought to carry some punch.

I don’t think I can actually do a “blackout” on a WordPress.com blog, but I’d like to pitch in. These bills need to be stopped.

The legislation is complicated, but this article does a pretty good job boiling it down and explaining how it could hurt the Internet. I found it to be a pretty easy read:


Once you’ve read that, if you haven’t yet contacted your congressman or senator, I would urge you to do so.

Also check out Google’s petition.

Edit: It looks like RateYourMusic.com, my favorite album rating site, is also having a blackout today to protest SOPA/PIPA. Good for them. Site owner Hosseign Sharifi gives a great explanation of how his perfectly legitimate, non-pirating website could be shut down by this legislation. Click that link and read it for yourself.


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The ‘Washington Wives’ of the 1980s: The last time the censors almost won

Americans who depend on the Internet are worried about censorship lately, and with good reason – SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the House and Protect IP in the Senate will likely be serious threats to freedom of speech on the Internet if they pass. But these threats are nothing new.

Right now, the boogeyman the folks in charge and the companies that lobby them use to try to restrict the free flow of information is Internet piracy – It’s a real problem with real consequences, but the proposed solution is akin to curing the disease by killing the patient.

In the past, the boogeyman was obscenity. America has always had a tug of war between cultural conservatives and people who like to push boundaries through art and music.

In the 1960s, all it took was a few bad words to get you in trouble. Censorship wrecked the career of stand-up comedian/spoken word artist Lenny Bruce, who was arrested a number of times on obscenity charges. Most of the charges were defeated in court, but fighting them ruined him financially. TV and radio were heavily censored and musicians had to be careful to disguise themes such as sex and drugs in metaphor. There were others who paid a price as well.

After a period in the ‘70s when the culture lightened up about topics like sexuality and drugs, there was another crackdown in the ’80s as evangelical Christians and clergy suddenly found themselves with some serious political power and decided to throw their weight around. Tipper Gore and the PMRC went after heavy metal, punk rock and rap. In 1985, representatives of the PMRC, musicians Frank Zappa, John Denver and Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and Senators Paula Hawkins and Al Gore testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on the subject of record labeling and obscenity. (Check out the Wikipedia page. It’s a pretty good read.)  Snider in particular shocked a lot of people by not being the dummy they expected and putting the moralizers on the defensive.

The push to censor and control the sale of music with explicit lyrics continued into the ’90s. Store clerks got arrested for selling the rap record “As Nasty As They Wanna Be.” A record store owner in Florida was put on trial and convicted (overturned on appeal) and the rappers themselves were put on trial for obscenity (acquitted). I bought a copy of 2 Live Crew’s album after I heard about the arrests – I wasn’t even into rap at the time, but I couldn’t abide that kind of censorship and I wanted to know what the fuss was about. Turned out to be nasty as you would expect and also damn funny.

It’s hard to even remember what the mindset was back then. Check out this excerpt from the TV show Quincy (which incidentally featured a performance from bona fide punk group Mayhem). It’s funny today, but it was dead serious at the time.


America has changed since then. Rap has become mainstream. Formerly scary rappers Ice Cube and Ice T have acting careers (Ice Cube has been in a kids’ movie and Ice T played a cop on TV). The country lost its fear of heavy metal, thanks in part to the parody “This is Spinal Tap.” Punk rockers grew up and went mainstream. Henry Rollins of Black Flag is working on a show for National Geographic. How mainstream is that? History tells us that sooner or later we’ll get another moral crusade, however.

Check out Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys taking on Tipper Gore on the Oprah Winfrey show in the ’80s. I think the PMRC folks thought they were getting a punk rock moron like Sid Vicious when they took on Jello, but he turned out to be anything but. He gives Tipper a pretty good shellacking in this clip.

Fear is a powerful tool, one that politicians can’t resist. Whenever anything new pops up in the culture that they find threatening (the Occupy Movement for example), the folks in power will appeal to our moral sensibilities to try and stop it. And it might actually work, for a while… But sooner or later change will come, whether they like it or not. Americans are very adaptable and I think the country will evolve into something better than what we have now — but that doesn’t mean the process will be painless.

I am just wrapping up a post about goth pop artist Jonathan Scott of the Doleful Lions, who was personally affected by the PMRC and is working on a fascinating musical project to remind people of that era.


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2012 could be a very bad year for the Internet. Did the Mayans foresee SOPA?

Imagine riding in a car and the driver smashes through a sign that says “Bridge Out!” You try to warn him but he tells you to shut up. “This road will take us to grandma’s house. It says so right here on the map that nice man gave me! Stop bothering me, I know what I’m doing.” When you remind him the sign said “Bridge Out!” he not only tells you to shut up, he steps on the gas and goes even faster.

That’s what it felt like, watching the Judiciary Committee hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) on Wednesday night. They are “debating” a bill that could make radical changes to the Internet and they don’t seem to have a grasp what the Internet even is. (If you want to know more about what SOPA and the related Senate Bill Protect IP are about and what they could do to the Internet, check my blog post from a few weeks ago.)

Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post compares it to amateurs getting ready to do heart surgery on someone – amateurs who don’t understand the difference between a valve and a neuron.

For a while it looked like discussion on the bill could be delayed till after the holidays, but no, SOPA is essentially being rushed through, and the final hearing or “markup” will take place on Dec. 21. After that it could go to the House floor for a vote.

I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach the other night as one after another, amendments were brought up that were intended to make SOPA less horrible, and the committee shot them down one by one, by large margins. The lobbyists (mainly entertainment industry organizations like the MPAA) have told them what needs to happen and they want to get on with it. They don’t want to hear about technical things like DNS or IP addresses.

On Thursday, Congress got an open letter from the engineers who helped invent the internet, warning about the damage SOPA will do if it passes. Based on what I saw of the hearing the other night, I am afraid congress won’t listen. They’re just “nerds” after all. They MIGHT listen if they get enough phone calls, e-mails and letters from constituents, however.

There are already some restrictions aimed at stopping piracy and limiting copyright infringement. Maybe we need more. Bring the experts in and find out what can be done.

But the kind of Internet SOPA would lead to is just horrible. It would basically become a top-down media device like radio or TV. You wouldn’t have any more of these wonderful bedroom recording artists like the Venopian Solitude who manage to get known and get fans through social media.

You wouldn’t have all the web-based dramas and comedies. No one would know about Zach Anner, who used social media to win a show on Oprah’s network.

And of course, more importantly, social movements and political protest would be shut off. Police could go back to beating the shit out of people without worrying about the video turning up on Youtube.

This guy from a gaming website gives a pretty good explanation of SOPA and PIPA:

The Internet as it is now is not ideal for creative people, but the Internet SOPA would create would be a disaster for them. Much worse. Maybe not worse for the big labels and studios, but for creative people who want access to the world without a filter, it would be the end of an era. We can’t let it happen.

I know this is an inconvenient time as we all prepare for the Christmas holidays, but it would be a very good idea to call, e-mail and write your representative this week and tell them to think twice about voting for SOPA – or at the very least postpone things and listen to the people who understand how the Internet works. Stopping Congress from destroying the Internet as we know it is about the best Christmas present you could ever give.

If you’re not sure who your representative is, this website will help you figure it out and give you an easy way to contact him or her. I just fired off an e-mail to my representative. It only took a couple of minutes.

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Do you like blogs or social networks like Facebook? SOPA and Protect IP could make them all go away

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Have you ever seen a video or image in a forum get taken down because of of a complaint over copyrights? There are probably a few Youtube embeds in this blog that are dead because of that. It’s annoying, but not the end of the world.

What if the copyright complaint didn’t just get the clip taken down? What if it resulted in the entire website being taken down? What if Google and other search engines were legally forbidden from taking you to that website ever again? What if it became illegal for Visa or Mastercard to process any payments to the website? What if putting a video of yourself singing a pop song on the internet became a FELONY, punishible by up to 5 years in jail?

Do you think a social network like Facebook could survive under those conditions? With millions of users, could they afford to risk allowing any of them to post ANYTHING?

That scenario could be imminent, thanks to the lobbying efforts of media companies and organizations like the RIAA and MPAA.

Legislation is being considered in both houses of Congress – SOPA (Stop Internet Piracy) in the House of Representatives and Protect IP in the Senate – that would drastically change the way the Internet works.

Allowing user-based content will become so risky if this becomes law, that the Internet will change into something top-down, more like TV. You’ll get whatever some company decides to give you and like it.

This post on Reddit – one of the popular social networks in danger of being wiped out – has a list of SOPA’s sponsors and a link that makes it easy to send a note to your representative.

And of course using social networks like Facebook and Twitter for political protest would no longer be possible, which I’m sure would suit Congress – now about as unpopular as communism – just fine.

I am embarrassed to say that I kind of let SOPA and Protect IP sneak up on me. I knew something like this was being discussed in congress, but it sounded so ridiculous I didn’t think anything could possibly come of it. Well I was wrong. It’s VERY close to passing right now. Internet businesses like Google, Facebook, Reddit, etc. are pushing hard to stop it, but they kind of got a late start too.

Don’t take this lightly. There was a US House Judicial Committee hearing about this today and they only let ONE person opposed to the bill talk about it. That should give you an idea how much influence the media lobby has.

Here’s an infographic, courtesy of AmericanCensorship.org, showing


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