• March 31, 2004 | 11:00 AM ET
Continuing our series of entries from guest blogger Lawrence Lessig:
Crazy copyright wars
If you want a clue about just how crazy the "copyright wars" have become, two events this week map the field fairly well.
Inside Washington, the subcommittee of the House of Representatives charged with policing intellectual property is considering a proposal to further criminalize peer-to-peer file-sharing. Anyone who makes 2,500 copyrighted works "available" with "reckless disregard" for the risk of infringement commits a felony under this proposal. Yet another felony your daughter can commit from the safety of her own bedroom. (And does a blog not licensed under a Creative Commons license, with 2,500 posts and comments make the blog owner liable? After all, those are 2,500 copyrighted works, posted openly and freely on the net, making it easy for others to "infringe" the copyright.)
Outside Washington, the first extensive economic study of the effect of peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing has begun to circulate. Felix Oberholzer of the Harvard Business School and Koleman Strumpf of UNC Chapel Hill have completed an extensive empirical analysis of p2p sharing (pdf), by monitoring a massive quantity of data about what was being downloaded on p2p networks, and what effect that had on the sales of the albums being downloaded. Their conclusion: "Downloads have an effect on sales which is statistically indistinguishable from zero." Or again, "even in the most pessimistic specification, five thousand downloads are needed to displace a single album sale."
This economic study confirms what many have suspected for a long time. The effects of p2p sharing on the demand for a product are many. Some are negative. Free content can cannibalize proprietary content. Some are positive. Free content can spur demand for that, or related content -- as I'm discovering with my book, Free Culture, which is available for free on the Internet.
The relevant question for policymakers should be what, on balance, is the effect. And if a new technology provides great new efficiencies for many new ways of distributing and selling content (as p2p sharing does), then the fact that it has no statistical effect on sales of legacy products should at least be relevant in the debate over whether we need to lock up more of our children.
This fact would be relevant in any rational debate. But Washington, of course, is rarely the location of such debates.
• March 30, 2004 | 11:18 AM ET
Continuing our series of entries from guest blogger Lawrence Lessig:
Amazon helps free culture
In the few days since Free Culture was published and released free online, I've received scores of e-mails from people across the world asking how I convinced my publisher, Penguin, to allow me to release the book for free.
No doubt the questions will increase now that Amazon is also offering the book for free. How is it, most ask, a publisher would agree to give away what it wants to sell? And now, how is it that a bookstore would give away what it wants to sell? (As Jack Valenti has said, "There is no business model ever struck off by the hand and grain of man that can compete with free. It can't be done.")
The argument is simple. We'll see if it is right. The basic assumption is this: (a) ebooks are a poor substitute (just now) for printed books. If that's true, then there are only two numbers you need to think about to decide whether giving a book away for free makes sense: (1) those who would have bought the book but won't because the book is now free, and (2) those who would never have seen the book had it not been available for free, but now because they see it, and given assumption (a), they buy it.
The only question a publisher needs to decide is whether (2) is greater than (1): If there are more who will buy it because they see it because it is free and will now buy it because it is free, then making it free makes sense for the publisher.
It also makes sense for the spread of culture and knowledge. For the single most important consequence of being able to make my book available for free is that the ideas in the book can spread broadly. Many can't afford the book. Many come from countries where it is not now, nor will it ever be, sold. And so if we can find a way to both increase sales and spread the book more broadly than it could ever have been spread otherwise, then we should try.
That's the idea behind the Open Access Movement in scientific publishing. Groups like the Public Library of Science are committed to finding a way to publish high-quality scientific research in a form that everyone, regardless of income or access to a library, can get access to. No one knows whether this is possible. But the key is to experiment: to see what works, and to see what works better. Penguin, perhaps taking inspiration from the penguin that has come to symbolize the free software movement, is a powerful force for good in allowing this experiment to happen.
(This is a lesson that Baen has been teaching for a long time.)
• March 29, 2004 | 10:26 AM ET
The free culture phenomemon
Larry Lessig, professor of law at Stanford and expert in intellectual property, has a new book out. I highly recommend it, especially as he's making it available for free. He'll be guest-blogging here for the next couple of days.
Intellectual property is likely to become, in many ways, the most important form of property in the 21st Century. So pay attention to what Larry has to say:
On Thursday last week, my book, "Free Culture," went on sale in bookstores across the nation. At the same time, my publisher, Penguin Press, agreed to allow it to be released free online under a Creative Commons license. That license gives anyone the right to use my copyrighted work for any noncommercial purpose, so long as they give me attribution in the process. Thousands of copies of the book have been downloaded so far, and the book broke the 100 mark at Amazon within a day.
There is lots to think about in this experiment, but there's one part I hadn't expected. The freedom granted by that Creative Commons license included the right to make derivative works -- meaning works based upon the original work, so long as those derivative works are for noncommercial purposes as well. Within a day, the Net had used that freedom and produced 9 different formats for Free Culture, from an HTML format to a format for Microsoft eBook readers. (I discuss these alternative formats in a post on my blog.) That step was expected, though not as quickly. But I never imagined what happened next.
On Friday, AKMA suggested on his blog that bloggers make an audio version of the book. People would volunteer to record a chapter in mp3 format, and release them back to the web. Within 24 hours of that post, 11 chapters had been claimed. And the first I listened to, by Doug Kaye of ITConversations, was as good as anything I had ever heard on Books-on-tape. Click here to listen to Chapter 1 -- Creators.
The lesson in this is one our tradition has taught, but we seem to have forgotten. Copyright is important. Some range of exclusive rights is key. But just because one needs to reserve some rights, it doesn't follow that even a commercial venture need reserve all rights. By exercising less control over the work whose copyright I hold, we have at least spread the work more broadly and quickly than it otherwise would have spread. And we have assured that those who wouldn't otherwise be able to get access to the work -- because they couldn't afford to buy it, or because their library didn't buy it -- now can. And finally, as I'll explain tomorrow, exercising less control should in fact sell more books. Stay tuned.
• March 25, 2004 | 10:39 PM ET
THE LUCK OF GEORGE W. BUSH
George W. Bush is a very lucky man. His biggest luck is in the selection of his enemies. This has been demonstrated repeatedly, but the latest example is with former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, who has lately been all over the airwaves promoting a book whose central theme is that Bush didn't take terrorism seriously.
Well, as I've said here before, there's plenty of room to criticize the Bush Administration for not taking terror seriously. Unfortunately for Clarke, he's not the guy to do it.
Why? Because Clarke's public criticisms contradict his own statements, both in a press briefing from 2002 -- before he had a book to sell -- and, for that matter, in the very book he's pumping today.
Back in 2002, Clarke was pretty high on Bush. Here's some of what he said:
JIM ANGLE: So, just to finish up if we could then, so what you're saying is that there was no — one, there was no [Clinton] plan; two, there was no delay; and that actually the first changes since October of '98 were made in the spring months just after the [Bush] administration came into office?
CLARKE: You got it. That's right.
Then there's this:
JIM ANGLE: You're saying that the Bush administration did not stop anything that the Clinton administration was doing while it was making these decisions, and by the end of the summer had increased money for covert action five-fold. Is that correct?
CLARKE: All of that's correct.
This makes Clarke's current claims that the Bush Administration dropped the ball on terrorism kind of hard to maintain. But wait, there's more -- Clarke's claims today don't even match the ones in his just-published book, as Time Magazine notes:
Perhaps Clarke's most explosive charge is that on Sept. 12, President Bush instructed him to look into the possibility that Iraq had a hand in the hijackings. Here's how Clarke recounted the meeting on 60 Minutes: "The President dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this'.....the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said, 'Iraq did this.'" After Clarke protested that "there's no connection," Bush came back to him and said "Iraq, Saddam — find out if there's a connection." Clarke says Bush made the point "in a very intimidating way." The next day, interviewed on PBS' The NewsHour, Clarke sexed up the story even more. "What happened was the President, with his finger in my face, saying, 'Iraq, a memo on Iraq and al-Qaeda, a memo on Iraq and the attacks.' Very vigorous, very intimidating." Several interviewers pushed Clarke on this point, asking whether it was all that surprising that the President would want him to investigate all possible perpetrators of the attacks. Clarke responded, "It would have been irresponsible for the president not to come to me and say, Dick, I don't want you to assume it was al-Qaeda. I'd like you to look at every possibility to see if maybe it was al-Qaeda with somebody else, in a very calm way, with all possibilities open. That's not what happened."
How does this square with the account of the same meeting provided in Clarke's book? In that version, Clarke finds the President wandering alone in the Situation Room on Sept. 12, "looking like he wanted something to do." Clarke writes that Bush "grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference room" — an impetuous move, perhaps, but hardly the image that Clarke depicted on television, of the President dragging in unwitting staffers by their shirt-collars. The Bush in these pages sounds more ruminative than intimidating: "I know you have a lot to do and all, but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way." When Clarke responds by saying that "al-Qaeda did this," Bush says, "I know, I know, but see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred....." Again Clarke protests, after which Bush says "testily," "Look into Iraq, Saddam."
Nowhere do we see the President pointing fingers at or even sounding particularly "vigorous" toward Clarke and his deputies. Despite Clarke's contention that Bush wanted proof of Iraqi involvement at any cost, it's just as possible that Bush wanted Clark to find disculpatory evidence in order to discredit the idea peddled by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Baghdad had a hand in 9/11. In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush rejected Wolfowitz's attempts to make Iraq the first front in the war on terror. And if the President of the United States spoke "testily" 24 hours after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, well, can you blame him?
Clarke's liberties with the text don't stop there.
There's much more, and you should read the whole thing. Are there legitimate criticisms of the Bush Administration's approach to terror that can be made? No doubt. Is Clarke making them? Nope. If Bush political advisor Karl Rove were paying Clarke as part of a campaign to discredit the opposition, he could hardly do better.
And Clarke's self-discrediting comments go way back. Here's what he said in a 1999 interview, when he was part of the Clinton Administration:
Assessing U.S. counterterrorism policy to date, Clarke said it's no accident that there have been so few terrorist attacks on American soil.
"The fact that we got seven out of the eight people from the  World Trade Center [bombing], and we found them in five countries around the world and brought them back here, the fact we can demonstrate repeatedly that the slogan, 'There's nowhere to hide,' is more than a slogan, the fact that we don't forget, we're persistent -- we get them -- has deterred terrorism," he said.
We know now, of course, that Al Qaeda didn't find the limp U.S. response to terror nearly as impressive as Clarke made it sound. Was he, despite his elevated stature, that ignorant of al Qaeda's views? Or was he spinning to make his boss look good? Either way, Clarke comes off badly.
Of course, it's not just Clarke who's busy discrediting Bush's opponents. As Evan Coyne Maloney demonstrates in a new video, it's the opponents themselves who are working hard at that task.
When it comes to his opponents, Bush is a lucky man. I wonder if his opponents realize just how lucky he is, or how much they're contributing to his success?
• March 23, 2004 | 9:44 PM ET
Applying the lesson of 9/11
"9/11 COMMISSION FORCING BUSH TO ATTACK IRAN"
That's the headline on an e-mail from a reader, commenting on the chorus of voices at Tuesday's 9/11 commission inquiry wondering why Bush didn't take stronger action against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan sooner. We know Iran is behind international terrorism, and wishes the United States ill, so why wait until after an attack?
Makes sense to me. And if it was wrong not to attack Afghanistan before the intelligence community linked it to a major specific act of terrorism, then it was obviously right to attack Saddam before he could launch an attack on America. Er, but isn't that what Bush has been saying all along?
Personally, I'm all for regime change in Iran, and Syria too -- and for that matter, in Saudi Arabia, the wellspring of violent Islamoterrorism worldwide. I wonder, though, what all the people currently excoriating Bush for not invading Afghanistan soon enough would say if we sent troops across the border tomorrow toward Damascus or Tehran?
I also wonder what they would have said if Bush had invaded Afghanistan in February of 2001. I think it would have been pretty controversial. It probably wouldn't have prevented the 9/11 attacks -- which were already in motion at that point -- and if those attacks had happened anyway, I suspect Bush would have been blamed by many of the people criticizing him now, for "stirring up a hornet's nest" by taking precipitate action against Osama, and leading to the loss of thousands of American lives. That seems rather unfair.
I'm willing to believe that the Bush Administration dropped some balls where terrorism is concerned. I'm certainly unimpressed by Administration claims that terrorist plans to crash airplanes into buildings were unforeseeable, when in fact quite a few people foresaw just such a thing. And I think that quite a few people probably should have been fired -- though when you see the kind of books that canned Administration officials like Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke write, you can understand why Bush may have been reluctant to do so. But let's be honest: There wasn't the necessary degree of political support before 9/11 for any very decisive action, and many of today's critics would have been the first to criticize the Bush Administration had it done anything dramatic in early 2001.
The real question, of course, isn't what we should have done three years ago. It's what we should be doing over the next three years. Once the obligatory recriminations are over, I'd be interested in hearing some ideas on that subject.
• March 23, 2004 | 11:00 AM ET
THE ONGOING ANTI-WAR MELTDOWN
I was out of the country over the weekend and -- quite deliberately -- paying no attention to the news. That's a healthy thing, and I'm sure I should do it more often. But one thing that I missed was the rather lame effort at nationwide anti-war protests. Fortunately, others were paying attention.
Blogger Scott Koenig, an Iraq War veteran better known by his pseudonym of "LT Smash," attended the San Diego protests and filed a report, as well as an account of a speaker who called for U.S. defeat. Here's an excerpt from her speech:
And the first thing is that we need to support the Resistance of Iraqis in Iraq. (applause) Right. These are people who are risking their lives to get the United States out of their country. And we have to see them as our allies. We have to see them as our main allies.
People sometimes hyperbolically call anti-war protesters treasonous. There's nothing treasonous about opposing the war. But calling for the other side to win, and regarding the enemy as an ally is, yes, treason. (Koenig also managed to interview her. Read the whole thing.)
James Lileks meanwhile, notes a photo of a protester who cheers the destruction of the World Trade Center and observes:
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a traitor. He may be an idiot, a maroon, a 33rd degree moonbat, but he’s still a traitor. That is a man who celebrates the death of Americans (and others) and supports the people who killed them. Oh, sure, he’s nuts. But he fits right in. So what were all these people against, exactly?
A free press in Iraq. Freedom to own a satellite dish. Freedom to vote. A new Constitution that might actually be worth the paper on which it’s printed. Oil revenues going to the people instead of Saddam, or French oligopolies. Freedom to leave the country. Freedom to demonstrate against the people who made it possible for you to demonstrate.
"Traitor." A word so strong we're reluctant to use it. Even when it fits. But for some people -- arguably a small minority of the anti-war crowd, but undoubtedly its public face, not least because those who disagree have been anemic about distancing themselves -- it's a word that fits. They're not "anti-war." They're just on the other side.
Benjamin Smith writes in The New Republic that it may be a problem for the Democrats:
Picking out anti-American whackos on the fringe of an anti-war protest is a cheap, unsporting form of journalism, and one I hadn't planned to indulge in. But Saturday, they weren't on the fringes--they were on the podium. Of course, the anti-war movement was, in its infancy, hijacked by the hard left. And on Saturday, despite the efforts of a more traditional left-wing group, United for Peace and Justice--they sympathize with Castro, but not Milosevic--to control the stage, the group leading off, and setting the tone, was Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER). ANSWER is a remnant of a totalitarian left that it's hard to believe still exists. The group's sympathies run to Kim Jong Il, and its website says the anti-war movement "must give its unconditional support to the Iraqi anti-colonial resistance."
All of which could be safely ignored if this was just another protest. But this was also a dress rehearsal for a moment that could affect the outcome of the election in November. "This is run-through for the convention, for us and for the cops," said David Lerner, a publicist working with United for Peace and Justice. Everyone expects the demonstrations at the Republican National Convention to be far bigger--organizers are touting them as the biggest since the Vietnam War. And few expect them to be as peaceful.
Siding with the terrorists, and with Kim Jong Il. Call them Karl Rove's useful idiots. I've been writing for over a year that the Democrats, and the left generally, need to distance themselves from a "peace" movement marked by its support for genocidal dictators and its enmity toward Amerca. So far, it hasn't happened. Will Kerry confront these folks in a "Sister Souljah moment?" He'd better.
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