A recent article titled, "In the Copyright Wars, This Scholar Sides With the Anarchists," showcases Professor Siva Vaidhyanathan's book, The Anarchist in the Library. His first book, Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity was published in 2001 (and can be found if you scroll down the left side of this blog). His new book has received great reviews and looks to be a very interesting read. Donna Wentworth at Copyfight recently blogged on a new profile of Professor Vaidhyanathan.
Professor Vaidhyanathan's blog contains a FAQ section about his book, The Anarchist in the Library. It gives some interesting insights into his motivation for writing the book as well as previews some of his theories and arguments about the forces controlling the flow of information and culture.
Professor Vaidhyanathan describes the current cultural and informational dilemma as a struggle between anarchists and oligarchs. The anarchists are those who want to let data and culture flow freely around the globe, and the oligarchs are big media companies, powerful governments, and police forces who "have an interest in making information scarce so they can charge more for it," and label it "as contraband so they can limit conversation and deliberation."
Increasingly, the formats and delivery systems for cultural products are highly controlled and he says that this sparks an arms race. He uses the example of the DVD and how it has created a "situation through this combination of excessive copyright laws and strong technology." This leads to the obvious conflict between the media companies, the oligarchs, and the hackers, the anarchists, and the idea that anything that the media companies can encrypt, the hackers can hack better. The arms race escalates and escalates and those of us who don't necessarily support either side pay the price for the excesses of both sides.
One of his more interesting points is that even though most of us don't realize it, we participate in anarchist practice more and more every day by using the Internet, text messaging, and communicating globally. Because these mediums of sharing information have become prevalent in our ever day lives, we don't realize that we are straying from the middle ground and siding with the anarchists without even knowing it. And he says that the solution to this problem is recognition of civic republicanism. "Even though we will allow a high measure of freedom in our information worlds, we must have a rich discussion of values and virtues." But American political culture makes this unlikely. And rather than taking this path, all industry leaders have done is suggest radical technological moves or simplistic legal moves. He credits this approach as sending the message to the consumer that those who run the music industry don't respect him. And as a result, the consumer denies respect right back (ie file sharing). This idea seems correct. One of the most common justifications for p2p is people say that they are tired of spending $18 per CD. People feel ripped off so they don't feel there is anything wrong with taking advantage of technology and, I don't know if this is the correct term, ripping off the music industry.
I am really interested in reading this book and seeing what Professor Vaidhyanathan has to say about these issues in more detail. It is painfully obvious that our current system of copyright control and technological restrictions has created this arms race that is showing no signs of slowing. And the more the two sides are separated the worse it is going to get. How to avoid this porblem is the real issue, and it looks like Professor Vaidhyanathan has some good ideas.