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Author: Amy Kapczynski

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What Are the Limits to What Hackers Produce?

I’m writing this from an airplane somewhere over the US-Canadian border. I forgot my copy of Coding Freedom at home, and was cursing my ineptitude. But then it occurred to me that, given the subject, I could probably find a copy online. Sure enough, I downloaded a pdf via the airport wifi. (For free! – those Canadians…).

This, in the most mundane of ways, is a simple reenactment of what Gabriella Coleman writes of so compellingly in her new book. Gabriella, inspired no doubt in part by her years of exposure to hacking culture, struck a deal with her publishers. The resulting CC license gives all of us who might want to read the book more freedom to do what we want with it – read it on any device, search it, and even pull it up in an airport so we can file a nearly-too-late contribution to a terrific online discussion. Gabriella didn’t know I’d forget my book at home when she decided to negotiate the license. But she did have the sense – I assume – that she needed something more than copyright law to help her achieve what she wanted from her book. Which was in part to give to the rest of us more freedom than standard copyright law would allow.

But how far does that freedom go? This is surely one of the most important and interesting questions about this new form of making software, and the new legal forms that attend it. So that’s what I want to focus on here. One of the book’s great strengths is the spectacularly detailed and clear-eyed account that it provides of hacker culture, or at least a certain hacker culture. As it points out, this is a culture that is built upon a deep commitment to the pleasures of technology (like Ed Felten, I loved the bit on hacker humor), a ferocious conception of self-help and meritocratic ordering, and also to an overt aversion to things “political.”

As a few others have in the course of this discussion, I wonder too about the limits of a form of practical revolution that starts here. How far can this new mode of production take us, if it is characterized by technoelitism, an aversion to politics, and by a subject position that is decidedly fairly privileged and high-skilled? After all, you can’t be part of this crowd and lack access to a computer and internet connection, or be bereft of free time.

 

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A2K Symposium (Post by Michel Bauwens): From A2K to Guaranteed Access to True Peer-Based Communication Infrastructures

By Michel Bauwens

A2K cannot just mean access to content, but also full capacities to share and build knowledge with one another, and recent events around Wikileaks and in Egypt have shown us how fragile the internet is to governmental and corporate disruption.

What have internet democracy activists been doing in the last few years, and what should they be doing next?

Here is a list of major undertakings, some well under way, some barely begun. All need to be done, are interdependent on each other, but need to be done ‘at the same time’, though there is a certain maturation effect which may need to take place to move from one phase or priority to another. Finding out these interdepencies and choosing amongst those priorities is a matter of debate, strategising, and practical experience.

* use the existing infrastructures for immaterial exchange for personal and social autonomy

We started by creating an infrastructure that allowed for peer to peer communication. Out of this striving came the internet and its end to end principle, web 2.0 and its possibilities for participation, and social media allowing for intense relational interaction, and tools such as wikis which allow for the collaborative construction of knowledge. Read More

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The A2K Symposium: Introduction and Contributors

Many thanks to Frank and the Concurring Opinions crowd for hosting this symposium about access to knowledge and intellectual property.  I’m very much looking forward to the discussion, which begins tomorrow and will continue through Thursday.

We’ve lined up a great list of people, and asked them to react to ideas or themes in our new edited book, Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property (pdf and purchase here), or to comment on emerging issues or debates in the domain of access to knowledge. For those who are new to it, a brief introduction to “A2K,” as many of us have come to call it, may help. To cadge from the book’s preface,

A2K is an emerging mobilization that includes software programmers who took to the streets to defeat software patents in Europe, AIDS activists who forced multinational pharmaceutical companies to permit copies of their medicines to be sold in South Africa, and college students who have created a new “free culture” movement to “defend the digital commons”—to select just a few. A2K can also be seen as an emerging set of theoretical commitments that both respond to and reject the key justifications for “intellectual property” law and that seek to develop an alternative account of the operation and importance of information and knowledge, creativity and innovation in the contemporary world.

We’ve lined up a stellar group of contributors for the symposium. We’ve enlisted some of the sharpest thinkers and bloggers on the topic of the “commons,” including David Bollier, who blogs here; Michel Bauwens who blogs here; and Lewis Hyde, the well-known author of The Gift, and more recently, Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership (purchase here).

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