Friday, September 14, 2012

Intellectual Property Matters: Are We Becoming A Digital Essau?

As the economy rapidly shifts to an information based one, the importance of intellectual property rights law becomes increasingly important.  He who controls the digital controls the future.  Sadly, it is the megacorporations and the government who are on a wild, mad grab for all the goodies at the expense of the populace at large.  Cell phones like the iPhone have the ability to track your every move and report it back to Apple.  Microsoft installs back doors which allow them or the government to track what you are doing.  Amazon uses DRM, or digital restrictions management, to ensure that when you buy a book, you are merely buying a license to read the book, not the book itself.  The traditional freedom to share a book with a friend, give it to your family, or keep it indefinitely are controlled by the corporation.

Steve Jobs was the ultimate American.  He was essentially America's greatest hustler.  We loved Steve Jobs because he is us--hell bent on making a buck no matter what the cost.  We hate a guy like Julian Assange, however, because he is obsessed with telling us the truth, and we don't like that.  Only Jobs could turn the unveiling of an iGadget into a near-religious event.  Stephen Fry, the British intellectual, was quoted as saying that the iPad has "changed his life."  Waiting in line for the new iPhone is like a religious pilgrimage. In this age of techno-nihilism, the most we can hope for is what the megacorporation has to offer us next.  We are more than happy to trade away our basic freedom of privacy to have a little extra techno glitter.  The main problem with Apple products is that they are designed to minimize your ability to alter them.  They are designed to alienate you from the things you use most.  Your cell phone is an intimate item--it brings you closer to your friends.  Some teenagers even sleep with their phone near their beds so as not to miss a text.  In this context, the locked down iPhone represents a form of digital chains.  It is designed to control you and how you use it.  It tracks where you go and what you do.  If you try to jailbreak it, Apple will send out an "update" that will brick your phone, making it worthless.  If it becomes broken, you cannot fix it without having special tools and voiding the warranty.  With the Macintosh computer, you can't even change the battery without having big brother Apple do it.  The entire Apple product line, like the Amazon Kindle Fire, is like a cigarette--a delivery device for bittersweet poison.  Movies are locked down with DRM.  You are encouraged to use the "cloud", which controls your computing, to stream media onto your device.  This puts your computing in the hands of the corporation, who controls what you own.  At least when you buy a DVD or Blu Ray, you can share the physical disk by lending it to a friend.  You can keep it.  You can watch it on any working DVD or Blu Ray player.  You aren't limited to just one computer.  You aren't alienated from your neighbor in this way.

The PR industry has been going whole hog on selling the notion of "cloud computing" to us. Every advertisement is practically another propaganda commercial for this "service."  Between Netflix, Hulu Plus, and cable TV, we are becoming a nation of digital sharecroppers. The problem is that if you don't encrypt your data, this is information that is vulnerable to cyber criminal attack.  It is also subject to governmental snooping, which according to the Patriot Act, is common.  Big corporations cannot wait to collect everyone's data and use this to sell marketing data for huge profits.  I'm sorry, but I refuse to pay a corporation to make money off my data.  A 3 TB hard drive is now $130.  A hard drive this size is immense.  You can hold hundreds of thousands of photos on it, and hundreds of hours of video.  And best of all, you control what happens to the data.  Even if you don't encrypt it, if it is in a safe location, you don't have to worry.

Contrary to popular opinion, our current economic system is totally inefficient.  We have thousands of people who are homeless, but at the same time we have millions of foreclosures.  We have millions of people without work, yet the need for goods and services is higher than ever.  We have the technological capacity to feed everyone in the world three times over.  We have millions in the world who are hungry.  Yet we pay farmers NOT to grow more food.  We have the city of Detroit and parts of Cleveland literally falling apart, but construction jobs are scarce and no one is getting paid to fix up the blight ridden areas.  We have a world of knowledge that can be delivered digitally to anyone. This information can enrich the lives of all, yet we use DRM technologies to exclude others from reading, viewing, and accessing information.  Medical journals are locked behind paywalls.  This information could be used by researchers to find the cure for cancer, yet it is locked away.

People believe that capitalism brought us prosperity.  The facts of history beg to differ.  As Noam Chomsky has laid out, the standard of living was increasing in slave societies, yet we don't use that as an excuse to justify slavery.  Russia was a peasant, Third World nation prior to the USSR.  Joseph Stalin's reign of terror and his process of collectivist industrialization brought the nation into the First World.  The standard of living increased exponentially.  It was unprecedented.  Yet it was also tyranny and hellish for the inhabitants.  Red China today is a major violator of human rights.  Yet its economy is growing at 10% per year.  We must first recognize that capitalism is not the cause of the increased standard of living.  It is the increase in technology that has made life better for most people around the world.  Indoor plumbing, sanitation, vaccines, the Internet, computers, lasers, and other technologies have made life easier.  Modern agricultural methods that have made food production more efficient have done wonders for improving the standard of living for all.  Many of these technologies have been funded by the government.  The polio vaccine, computers, lasers, and the Internet were all funded by the government because it would not have been profitable enough for corporations to fund this kind of research.  It is only turned over to private corporations for profit once the technology works and is proven at taxpayer expense.

When the government creates a new technology that works, it often hands it over to the private corporations to profit.  This is what happened for Steve Jobs.  Once computers and the Internet were well underway, Apple and Microsoft were able to market these technologies successfully.  Medicine, in the form of biotechnology, is rapidly becoming a huge economic force.  He who controls the basic information of life becomes very rich.  Corporations are now able to patent not only drugs, but life forms and genes as well.  This is truly scary.

Yet we are in a kind of techno-drunkenness.  We are too worried about what features the next iGadget might have to see what is happening.  Unless we demand our rights be preserved, we are essentially fucked.  We cannot be so quick to permit Apple to get away with what it does.  We shouldn't be happy to let Microsoft install backdoors in Windows.  And we certainly shouldn't buy anything with DRM on it.  If we do, we are like Essau from Genesis 25: 29-34, who sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup and bread.  Let's not become that kind of society.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are becoming the next Jay Dratler.