What have you done?

Lawrence Lessig’s talk at OSCON 2002 addressed the changing world of copyright law and the suppression of individual rights by content producers. It fuelled a long discussion at the LUG meeting last night. Lessig took as the central thread of his talk something that he called a refrain: a key summary, the point of it all.

  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.

He moved on from discussing the problem of the dominance of copyright law and the growing digital rights management nature of the world, which everyone in the audience and, I suspect, most (although not all) of the people reading this know about and sympathise with, to asking the audience what they had done. In the two, three, four years since it became apparent that the world was going to go this way, and in the two, three, four years that hackers everywhere have been complaining about this, *what had anyone done* about it? Even on the audio version of the talk, even reading the *transcript* of the talk, you could practically hear, you could certainly imagine, everyone in the audience looking down at the floor. Shuffling their feet in embarrassment. Murmuring, well, I was going to do it. I was going to complain, but then I had some code to write, and then I went out for a drink, and I didn’t get around to it. I’m going to do it tomorrow, though, promise. Or the next day. Sometime soon, anyway. > Then they came for me > and there was no one left > to speak out for me. > *Martin Niemöller* >

Now, I’m aware that I’m just as guilty as anyone else. I faxed my MP about the European Union Copyright Directive (and I harangued the whole LUG about not having done it, with one exception who did listen to me and did do it); I try to stay in touch with what FIPR are up to; I try and explain the issues to people who I think will care. But, basically, I’ve done nothing. I haven’t donated to the EFF. I haven’t actually confronted my MP in any way. I haven’t donated to FIPR. I haven’t helped the CDR. I feel guilty about this. I’m exactly the constituency that does care. I’m the archetypal person who should be opposing the ceaseless march of law taking away our rights. If I’m not doing anything, how can I expect people who don’t know about the issues, who don’t think they care about them even if they do know, to do anything? I want to speak out for someone else before there’s no-one left to speak out for me. ——-

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