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Police in Your Brain II

Why do people cripple culture with copyright laws? Because they can. By Thomas Götselius.

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A few years ago when I was working on a book that collected the works of Michel Foucault we stumbled on a speed bump. The philosopher had once upon a time donated an important article to a couple of professors in the US who published it as an epilogue to a monograph about him. Typical Foucault who found happiness in collective thought rather than individual ownership of it. Unfortunately the professors in the US hadn't learned much by this: they made considerable effort to prevent the article from being published again - that is to say if it were not in English and in a book they themselves published.

How can a couple of renowned humanists at one of the leading universities in the US suppress an important work of philosophy? The answer was easy: because they can. Copyright legislation makes this possible.

That's when I became a pirate.

A bit of an exaggeration there: we didn't steal the article. But we should have stolen it and in so doing started making the case that copyright legislation as it functions in the international book market does not serve freedom of speech but serves instead to make speech a little less free.

That's the dichotomy found in all copyright discussions right now. And that's what makes the debate on file sharing so contradictory and difficult. Copyright is good because it protects the copyright holder's interests. At the same time it's evil as it can place a dead hand on the entire cultural loop. The core issue in the file sharing debate is therefore how to form a future model that balances the interests of the copyright holder with the public interest that's the cultural loop itself.

I don't have any suggestions. But I venture to state that it's not spelled 'I-P-R-E-D'. If we previously suffered because of crimes we now will suffer because of laws, wrote Tacitus somewhere. And that hits the nail on the head for this situation today. Reports last weekend of a dramatic drop in Internet traffic show how quickly the loop can be weakened. At the same time IPRED has taken us a step closer to the surveillance society where everyone is under suspicion until the contrary is proved. And it's a great tragedy that the law lets corporations and organisations assume the work of the police - because that makes us all the more afraid. Welcome to police in your brain, as Isobel Hadley-Kamptz so aptly put it last week. But it sounds like something she might have nicked from Foucault, doesn't it?

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.
 - George Orwell

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Rants: Police in Your Brain I

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