Two recent articles, Google & the Future of Books and « Tout le monde a intérêt à transformer Internet en Minitel, » talk about the threat the Web is under of losing its capability for innovation. The first, by Robert Darnton, starts with Google's book scanning legal monopoly and defends the ideas of the Enlightenment, e.g., on the issue of copyrights. The other, an interview with Benjamin Bayart, takes the new (draft) anti-piracy law in France “Création et Internet” as starting point and argues for a more distributed and symmetric network.
I don't have much to add to them. I just want to express my support and highlight some points.
The interview with Benjamin Bayart by Astrid Girardeau (Libération) is in French (but try Babelfish's translation). It's title is « Tout le monde a intérêt à transformer Internet en Minitel » (including the quote marks) and it first appeared on-line on February 6, 2009. A longer version was published in the paper version of the Libération newspaper on March 7.
Bayart is CEO of non-commercial Internet provider FDN. Here are some interesting quotes:
“On sait que la bibliothèque
d'Alexandrie, ça finit toujours par brûler.”
(“We know that the library of Alexandria always ends up
burning.”) The metaphor refers to the dangers of
centralizing all information, instead of letting it be copied
and distributed. In particular Bayart refers to the idea of a
digital library and he is probably thinking of Europeana, a European
government initiative to provide a counterbalance to Google Books. A laudable
project, but if all the content cannot be copied freely, one
cannot do much with it. Plus one can only hope the machines
don't crash and the money for maintenance doesn't run out.
(Moreover, the site is at the moment (March 2009) of
layouts. Some content is returned in unidentified proprietary
In answer to the question
“Et créer des supports
“Ce n'est pas tellement le problème. Les
tablettes en marbre des Romains étaient pérennes. On en a
pourtant perdu la majorité. La conservation, à l'ère
du numérique, ce n'est pas la pérennité du support, c'est
forcément celle des données. Et pour ça, il n'y a que
les standards ouverts qui le permettent.” [my
italics] (“And create durable media? That is not really
the problem. The marble tablets of the Romans were durable.
We nevertheless lost the majority of them. Conservation, in
the digital age, is not the durability of the media, but
inevitably that of the data. And for that, there is only open
standards to make it possible.”)
This question only appears in the paper version. Open standards allow multiple implementations and their definitions remains accessible after the inventors disappear (if, of course, the definition itself is written in an open standard format and copied sufficiently.)
“Techniquement, un modem SDSL
coûte le même prix à fabriquer qu'un modem
ADSL.” (“Technically, an SDSL modem costs the
same to manufacture as a modem ADSL.”) The author
explains that the choice for ADSL over SDSL is a marketing
one. The providers decided that the average person wanted to
consume, not produce. And thus people have had to adapt,
leading to centralized services (such as blog) and the fact
that sending photos by e-mail takes an eternity.
“Si les législateurs
font passer le filtrage sur la pédo-pornographie, vous
pouvez être certain qui huit jours après, on s'en prendra
à la musique. Et ensuite on traitera les gamins sur les
mêmes textes de loi que les terroristes.” and
“On va avoir une multiplication de résaux
clandestins où on ne pourra rien repérer, avec 99 %
de gamins qui téléchargent et 1 % de terroristes et
de pédophiles.” (“If the legislators let the
filtering on child pornography pass, you can be sure that
eight days later music will be added. And subsequently they
will “We will see a multiplication of clandestine
networks where nothing can be traced, with 99% of children
downloading and 1% of terrorists and pedophiles.”)
This is part of a question that also only appears in the paper version. It explains the history of the plans for filtering (the terrorist attacks in New York of September 11, 2001) and that the real reasons have since long changed. Commercial interest is to filter the competition and government interest is to keep the people silent. But in practice, filtering will not work.
“L'économie, c'est la
gestion de la rareté. Or à l'heure du numérique, il n'y a
pas de rareté à partir du moment où on peut fabriquer un
infinité de copies pour un coût marginal nul.”
(“Economy is the management of scarcity. And in these
digital times there is no scarcity from the moment we can
make infinitely many copies for zero marginal costs.”)
In this answer from the paper version, Bayart makes reference to a funny text (and translated into English) by an 19th century economist pretending to demand legislation against the sun, because its free light competes with the non-free light of the candlemakers. If something is intrinsically abundant and free, it is foolish to try to make it costly and rare.
Of course creators of content must be paid, but there are better ways than forbidding copies. Allow people to pay for the copies, e.g., via the “global license” idea or based on statistical measurements of the popularity of content.
The other text is in English and called Google & the Future of Books. It is written by Robert Darnton, a cultural history professor at Harvard and regular contributor to the New York Review of Books. Some quotes:
“We could have created a National
Digital Library—the twenty-first-century equivalent of
the Library of Alexandria. After Bayart's remark that the
library of Alexandria's faith is to burn down, this seemingly
opposite statement is an interesting echo. And one that needs
explanation. The author in this case isn't referring to the
aspect of centralizing, but to the essence of a library (as
intended by the Enlightenment): making knowledge available to
all for free or very little cost. The author deplores that
the state didn't take that initiative (accompanied by proper
income for authors, of course) and left it to commerce and a
private lawsuit, viz., the one establishing Google as the de
facto monopolist in digital libraries.
“I acknowledge the importance
of copyright, although I think that Congress got it better in
1790 than in 1998. The American constitution established
copyright for “for limited times” subject to the
higher goal of promoting progress. A law then set the term at
14 years, renewable once. Since 1976, successful lobbying by
media companies caused several new laws, the latest of which
(1998) sets copyright at the author's lifetime plus seventy
years. Clearly, copyright isn't for protecting the author
anymore, nor is the interest of society taken into account.