By Amatesiro Dore 19 July 2013
“Eyitemi biri eyitene e tse okan”
Aaron Swartz was twenty-six when he killed himself. He lived for the free distribution of knowledge (science and culture). He pioneered the Rich Site Summary (RSS) and co-owned Reddit; two popular platforms for creative communism. He was an internet activist: he hacked into JSTOR and “liberated” 4.8 million scientific and literary papers from hard earned intelligence. He opposed the “Stop Online Piracy Act” in the US Congress and campaigned against the private ownership of technology, media, and communication intelligence. The Laws of the United States opposed his beliefs and cramped him with thirteen felony charges worth thirty-five years in prison. He pleaded not guilty and didn’t want to pay any jail time. Federal Agents pressed him with a few months in jail, so he hung himself with a belt in his Brooklyn apartment. He was very intelligent but medically depressed; he didn’t even leave a note. He probably believed in free love, the food is for “all of us”, and the right to harvest your neighbour’s farm.
This is the principle of consent and ownership: consent can only be obtained by the will of the owner, for a fee or for free. The right of choice resides with owners. Trespassers, rapists, and thieves enjoy a mutual blind spot called ownership. They ignore it, it’s irrelevant to their view, the hit-and-run driver and the old woman never see eye to eye.
It’s easier to relate with tangibles: the invasion of Iraq by George Bush troops, the bus rape of that Indian lady, Governor James Ibori and the Delta State treasury. But how do you manage the invasion of your mind? What about the vicious rape of your brain? And the robbery of your head by a passionate burglar, how?
Intangibles like air, ideas, faith, and words are free. These are not for free, they’re owned: air on Mars, the Facebook idea, the Preacher’s sermon on a tape, and the art of an artist. Intellectual property is the copyright of the mind and creative thoughts, from the rape of copycats, pirates, and thieving activists (hackers).
Prior to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs et al, computer programmers and creative artists were eating the same chicken. The quintessential programmer and artist were bohemians, joint heirs of poverty, and boring fellows of the geek club. Programmers made the world go round from the basements and garages of their homes. Most shared their inventions for free and continued in poverty; a few licensed their creations and earned capital for better ideas. When programmers adopted capitalism, it created a new world for science geeks. Parents supported their kids to drop out of school for their nascent software dreams. Talent became enough, venture capitalists invaded Silicon Valley, and ideas were given the chance to fail or break the bank. Facebook was funded to change the world; Mark Zuckerberg and friends became billionaires.
The church and her ministers were once an impoverished crew. Salvation was free but the good news was expensive. The love of God was not sufficient to feed, clothe, and live under a roof. Tithes and offerings were not enough; the church needed love offerings, donations, and special gifts of appreciation. The church abandoned communism and fell in love with capitalism: sermons in digital formats, the anointing for cash, special prayers for bank cheques. These days, Pastors own aircrafts and other comforts needed to spread the good news.
All our mates in the free world have left us behind, only the artist still grovels for bread. And we’re proud of it, to suffer for art sake, to fill our pockets with stones and walk into the river. “Look at me, I’m an artist, and therefore I suffer,” we seem to sing to the world. And people like Aaron Swartz want us to remain prize seeking and grant hungry desperadoes. Artists do not live on art alone, we eat bread, and bread has a price. Nothing is free, why should art be free? Is art nothing?
Education has never been free, teachers don’t feed on chalk. What do you mean by cultural freedom? You don’t want to pay for songs or films, everything should be online, open to free download, because Harvard and MIT are free of charge, and artists were born to suffer? It’s like all these advocates of Open Source are smoking the wrong end of the w**d.
Lawrence Lessig wrote “Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lockdown Culture and Control Creativity”. He argued against the duration of copyrights (thirty-two to ninety-five years), the scope (from publishers to virtually everyone), the reach (almost every view on computers), the control (including derivative works), and the concentration (it integrates the media industry). He wrote 345 pages of communist propaganda and gave it out for free. This is his major premise: the control of knowledge distribution is stifling “the progress of science and useful arts”. He gave many examples, many which made me believe something has sucked the air out of his a**. There was one about the impossibility of creating another Mickey Mouse, why do you want to create another Mickey Mouse? Create your own mouse and leave Disney alone, where were you when they were creating Mickey? Now you want to make money off another man’s head and say he shouldn’t have the right to control derivative works? I’m sure he also wants the right to write the sequel to “Americanah”, anything against that is stifling the progress of “useful” art. Someone should tell Lessig to get out of here!
JSTOR is a digital curator of intelligent papers, a global library of scientific and cultural writings from academic journals. When I needed material for my final year thesis, “Achieving Vision 2020: Nuclear and Atomic Laws for Nigeria’s Power Sector”, I found some of articles on JSTOR, but I couldn’t access them. They were locked up for a fee. I didn’t have a JSTOR subscription, neither did my private university. My father bought most of my project material from US bookshops.
Was it the fault of JSTOR that Nigerian universities didn’t invest in books and research materials? Is JSTOR the Nigerian government? Or are they my parents? Why didn’t my university pay for a JSTOR subscription like Harvard and MIT? The truth is: nothing is free. The collation of accurate data doesn’t come cheap. Good education costs money, because teachers aren’t bankers. JSTOR pays for rights to absorb content from academic journals. Cash from these rights funds the publication of these journals. Printers do not print for free, and children of scientists and artists do not live on the words of their parents. I would appreciate a campaign for free education, not open source and free culture. What does that even mean? It sounds like monkey dey chop and baboon dey work. Aaron Swartz took advantage of American capitalism and flew the banners of intellectual communism. He used MIT’s JSTOR subscription to hack into the database of a private company and “stole” millions of research material. There is global competition for knowledge and writing is not a cheap adventure. My parents are praying to God that I abandon this “nonsense” that I’m writing and join them to make “proper” money. And someone out there is saying what I created is for “all of us” because “we” wrote it. Holy Ghost Fire!
Somebody has to pay for content. The programmers at Facebook and Google do not work for free, artists should also maximise the gains from their sweat. Aaron Swartz and his partners sold Reddit to Condé Nast for undisclosed millions of US dollars. I don’t know how much Aaron made from the deal; I’m surprised he didn’t bequeath his shares in Reddit to the general public.
At the moment, JSTOR’s “Register & Read” allows free online-reading access to over 1,300 journals. Users can read three items from the archive, every two weeks; about 4.5 million articles for free. They can save three articles at a time, for a minimum of two weeks, before accessing other articles. If JSTOR had this feature during my university days, my final year project would have been a mind bomb. Though I scored an “A”, probably for title and efforts, God knows my thesis was a piece of s**t. Yet JSTOR has the right to dictate if and when it wants to undertake charitable adventures, no one should be forced to give up property.
Another truth is: awoof dey purge bel-le. Internet freebies are mostly intellectual garbage. If it’s free, it’s probably worthless. Wikipedia and Google have spread more ignorance than facts. Remember all those stupid answers on Answers.com? And how Google Map made you drive round Lagos for a restaurant? Ever wondered why Encyclopaedia Britannica went out of print? What about the numerous How-To sites that make people think they don’t need professionals and have aided the dangerous art of medical self-prescriptions. Think about the free anti-virus software that crashed your system and those torrent sites that are striping Hollywood of deserved profits. Freebies have killed many creative industries and have driven great minds into mere commercialism. Remember the Bangladesh garment factory disaster, that’s what “cheapatico” have done to the world.
The conspiratorial fact is: open source and free culture is a scam by internet gurus to control creation. Free culture is an illusion perpetuated by robbers of intellects. They use codes to rob minds and brand it “liberation”!
I believe robbers should be frustrated by the state, until they get it in Itsekiri: “my own” and “our own” isn’t the same thing!