Intellectual Property vs. Piracy. Security vs. Openness. Online Freedom vs. Internet Totalitarianism. Two examples of essentially the same tech—the PirateBox and the FreedomBox—capture the cognitive dissonance of our Information Age.
First up: the jihadists of the copyleft, who have designed PirateBox: a portable device for the purpose of creating ad-hoc file-sharing networks. Never mind that it looks like a goth kid’s lunchbox. From the project wiki:
Inspired by pirate radio and the free culture movements, PirateBox utilizes Free, Libre and Open Source software (FLOSS) to create mobile wireless file sharing networks where users can anonymously share images, video, audio, documents, and other digital content.
…PirateBox is designed to be private and secure. No logins are required and no user data is logged. Users remain completely anonymous – the system is purposely not connected to the Internet in order to subvert tracking and preserve user privacy.
…using the PirateBox is easy. Simply turn it on and transform any space into a free file sharing network. Users within range of the device can join the PirateBox open wireless network from any wifi-enabled device and begin uploading or downloading files immediately.
That tracks with what some of my associates, including producer/professor Sandy Pearlman, have been saying for some time: intellectual property enforcement is futile due to “the paradise of infinite storage” and soon-to-be ubiquitous micro networks. (Along these lines, I’ll be moderating a conversation called “The Future of Music: Is There One?” with Mr. Pearlman and other geniuses at both Canadian Music Week and SXSW in March.)
Put free software into the little plug server in the wall, and you would have a Freedom Box that would decentralize information and power, Mr. Moglen said. This month, he created the Freedom Box Foundation to organize the software.
“We have to aim our engineering more directly at politics now,” he said. “What has happened in Egypt is enormously inspiring, but the Egyptian state was late to the attempt to control the Net and not ready to be as remorseless as it could have been.”
This fits squarely with what the American government has been saying about the importance of open communications platforms to the cause of democracy. Yet the inspiring words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are seemingly at odds with other administration and legislative efforts to expand the government’s powers to combat intellectual property infringement. (The Department of Homeland Security has its ICE web domain takedowns; there’s also a bill in Congress that would expand Department of Justice powers to do much the same.)
Reminds me of that ancient Chinese proverb/curse: “may you live in interesting times.” And as one of the biggest infringers of intellectual property on the planet, they should know…