The Web is Agreement

November 7, 2007

The Web is Agreement, originally uploaded by psd.

Someone posted a link to this on the AoIR list today. It is worth looking at full size (the A2 PDF is good). I love “Mordorsoft” and the Pol Pot pile of skulls in front of DRM, and of course the moral compass.

Currently (yes, still – my chronic lifelong health condition has not been behaving this semester) I am writing up a research piece on internet governance. While I love this drawing as it is, and will be printing a copy for my study, I could add lots more to it.

The web is governed by code, lots of different kinds of code as we see here. It is also governed by legislatures, lots of conflicting legislatures all of which want the final say – an impossible situation, as Michael Geist explains. Corporations have a huge say in what happens on the web, and we have to remember that just as corporations are not democracies, the social spaces they architect are not democracies either.

Open Source community platforms are something I want to see (and be in). That way we will reclaim community governance of web spaces.

When I am done with my assignment I will start drawing…


The end of the internet as we know it – again

October 23, 2007

It looks as though there is yet another way to end the internet as we know it. Italy is doing it this time, by drafting a law which will, if enacted, make it compulsory for every blogger to register, to pay tax (whether or not the blog is for money-making), to form a publishing company that will hire a registered qualified journalist to be the director of the blog…

Which would wipe out upwards of 99% of blogs – and that is probably the idea. For more, see Beppe Grillo’s Blog.

Some folks don’t seem to like the fact that citizens are currently able to publish what we like, and to sometimes contribute significantly to public affairs. Fixated on that, these legislators also forget that most blogs are innocuous expressions of people’s daily lives. I mean, what about knitting blogs? Will they have to do all that too? What a farce. The Italian legislators are starting to resemble Senator Ted Stevens I am afraid.

[I know knitting blogs were unfairly bagged out during the Aulstralian Blogging Conference, and I defended them. I promise I will post some of my knitting soon.]

my political views, or lack thereof

October 9, 2007

It has been suggested by an academic colleague that we post our political views online. Could be a good way of making sure we never get that job we are after, but never mind. Let’s not be silenced by that kind of intimidation… After all, the silences we participate in can be damning.

Anyway, having been through 1960s radicalism / revolutionism, a few years ago I wryly came to the conclusion that contrary to orthodox left opinion, the revolution actually did happen, but most of the lefties were looking the other way at the time. The revolution of our era is the one you are looking at now – the digital revolution, the networked society. It is mind-blowing, and at the same time it isn’t all good. It is a stupendous collaborative achievement, but it is so far from doing everything and righting every wrong.

My brain hurts (mostly) when I have to listen to conventional politics. It reminds me of when my mother used to participate in market research. She’d be given two packets of laundry powder, one yellow and one blue. She had to use them both, and answer a questionnaire about the differences between them. But she wasn’t dumb. She knew they were both the same, and they were testing the color of the packaging. Nonetheless she kept it up for free stuff. But I get sick of “Brand A” and “Brand B”, same-shit-different-bucket, especially when it’s not just washing powder – and people’s lives and our entire habitat is at stake.

But I can’t fix it all by myself, in fact there is very little any of us can do. So then I start thinking that if each of us does our little bit it might be good. For this reason I have decided that while I will no doubt support some political issues and causes as they come up (e.g. I’m attending a memorial vigil for the SIEVX in late October), my civic engagement is going to be mainly with the politics of the internet. I’m well placed to do that, as I am working toward a Master of Internet Studies.

Most people aren’t aware of internet politics, so I have a lot of work to do (along with all the others who are doing this) in a limited time frame, because the structures being developed now will have a decisive impact. Our collaborative tasks incude educating the public, and all decision-makers, about the social and economic importance of a neutral internet; curbing the excesses of digital copyright so that creativity can flourish; and maintaining the networked public sphere free from undue political or corporate pressures. Of course, there’s an endless list really. Just like everywhere else, it is about ownership and control, and the social implications of that.

So there, good people, are my political views. If you expected something along the right-left dichotomy, go to politicalcompass and see why I don’t think like that. Who will I vote for in this year’s election? Wishing the Liberals would listen to Malcolm Fraser but they hate him; wishing the local Labor guy wasn’t a speedbump; wishing the local Greens hadn’t expelled some people I trust; keeping an eye out for a Climate Change Coalition candidate… sigh.

copyright and surrealism/dadaism

October 6, 2007

Some of my recent research was about the effect of digital copyright laws on the practice of dadaist photomontage. That involves appropriating images, often from popular culture, then juxtaposing these images with other images and/or text to create new meanings. Often those new meanings are satirical, but there are no rules about that. Needless to say, on image-sharing web sites this art form cannot be practiced. Yes you can do photomontage, but keep it to your own images and don’t enter into visual dialog with mass culture.

I was seeing that as one of the excesses of the digital copyright regime, but something has happened this week that makes me wonder if indeed those who I thought were fascist copyright freaks are not actually surrealist conceptual artists working with society as their canvas.

So what happened? The Canadian Mint has declared that it owns the words “one cent”, and it owns the image of that coin (also called a penny), and needs to be paid money for the use thereof. It has actually sent a bill for over $47,000 to the OneCentNow campaign, which is a good start. Think of the scope of this one: all the coinage of all countries using decimal currency could fall under this copyright claim, and every time anyone advertises the price of their goods they should pay a royalty to the Canadian Mint, and so on. And it is cheap at the price, compared to what happened to Jammie Thomas over her music downloads.

I’m so glad my name is not Penny.

That’s my two cents worth anyway (uh oh).

thoughts after the Australian Blogging Conference 2007

September 29, 2007

Despite the state of my blog, I went along to this “unconference” where lots of bloggers conversed in real life instead of online.

It exceeded my expectations and has led to a shift in the way I am thinking about my blog. This new perspective came from two sources, at the beginning and the end of the conference. The first was Melissa Gregg, an academic who blogs at Home Cooked Theory both what she is researching and what is happening in her life, making a point of not separating the two. Later, Mark Bahnisch made the point that blogging in this way can offer something richer than “hi I’m Mark and I write serious stuff about politics”.

So having gone to the trouble of focussing my blog, and having found that it is difficult to regularly post in such a focussed manner, I am now adopting Melissa’s and Mark’s strategy. From here on, expect to find my thoughts on whatever I am thinking – you’ll get a more complete idea of me. Expect to find the stuff I am researching, even though it isn’t always specifically about the collective nature of creative process.

The session on research blogging has given me the confidence to adopt this approach. Some academic institutions frown on, or don’t permit, blogging about research but I know my university is fine with that. Someone (Anne Galloway) has already done a PhD through a blog. Jean Burgess at creativity/machine used her blog to collect things relevant to her thesis. Through the blog she ended up with a complex network of people in her field, and in related fields. And Sarah Xu is doing her Doctorate of Creative Arts through a blog (which has just been moved to WordPress).

So I won’t have to have two blogs, drawing a neat boundary between divided selves.  This feels fine.

Cultural dialog – how to get away with it.

September 27, 2007

There’s a fun page over at The Adventures of Accordion Guy, about scenes from The Simpsons and the movies that they parody. It isn’t complete, and as the titles of the movies aren’t listed yet the source can be a bit obscure. But the visual connection comes across straight away. Down in the comments, someone has noted that Citizen Kane is the movie most often parodied, to the extent that almost the whole thing could be assembled from clips of The Simpsons. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that if I want to include Bart or Lisa, or any Simpson’s character, in an artwork I can’t. I actually do want to use Nelson, saying har-har and pointing, and Mr Burns would come in handy at times.

Jonathan Lethem describes the artist’s predicament well in an interview in Salon

I could write a whole book detailing the plot of a “Simpsons” episode, describing Homer’s yellow skin and protuberant eyes, and no one would ever be able to block my choice as an artist there, or make it too expensive for me to do it. But if a visual artist or a filmmaker or a digital montage maker tried to capture that image, which is just part of a visual language that is floating around, they don’t have my freedom.

How to get away with it: a) work for a Hollywood studio b) format shift in such a way that it is difficult for copyright owners to get you. Adapt a film clip to a cartoon, adapt a cartoon to a novel. But if you want to simply speak the language of the culture around you, even just to provide context and background, the price is beyond reach.

Edit: Dario says this content comes from a Spanish site called and has asked me to give credit to them:

Edit: I so wish I could read Spanish. That site looks so good – apart from the usual copyright takedowns from YouTube. How long will it take for Hollywood to learn that this promotes their stuff?

Breakfast of Champions…

September 2, 2007

Breakfast of Champions…, originally uploaded by maharetr.

A friend sent me a link to some delightful photos of the evolution of a “conversation” that was (past tense) on a toilet wall at Curtin University. I am a Curtin student, but have never set foot on campus, so it is nice to be able get a feel for the place through Flickr. I have also never met the photographer.

The series started with a drawing. Then someone added something else, and more was added and so on. Eventually the whole thing was painted over leaving a clean wall for the next round. Here’s the last shot of “the rabbit that wanted to be a toad, and other tales” (before it was painted over).

One word links this to popular culture on the internet – “bunneh”. That is in a distinct grammatical form known as “kittah”, the language of LOLcats. If you don’t know LOLcats I can fully explain that another day. Might be a few days, as I have to put my computer in for service for an unknown period of time.

(edited because the connection between Flickr and WordPress stuffed up mightily)

p.s. click on the image to go to the original image, and then to the series itself

permission culture

July 26, 2007

I’m not sure if people are able to comment yet. I’m working on that bug, which I believe has something to do with Edublogs’ need to counter a recent deluge of comment spam.

However, I am aware that I need to talk more about what “permission culture” is and why it matters.

It hinges on a discursive shift that has recently taken place in relation to copyright. Originally copyright was enacted to encourage the publication of creative works. However, copyright term has been repeatedly extended, and there is a real prospect that it may become effectively permanent. The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 has criminalised much of what once was cultural dialogue (this is one of the reasons I write this blog). So-called “Free Trade Agreements” are extending US intellectual property (IP) law to many other jurisdictions throughout the world – sometimes even without the protections the USA itself has (e.g. South Korea was recently forced to give up fair use).

The sum of these things has led to stifling of innovation, creating situations where for example “the lawyers decide what’s allowed in a film” (Lessig, 2001, p4) and “creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators of the past” (Lessig, 2004). I believe that it was in one of Lessig’s works that I first saw the term “permission culture”, describing this situation.

This is reminiscent of Derrida’s satirically imagined world (Striphas and McLeod, 2006, p128):

where every idea or nuanced turn of phrase is private property, where ownership of a cultural text is divided up and assigned to various stockholders.

The opposite of permission culture is free culture. Lessig has written a book about that. As in a free market, a free culture does not mean that nothing has a price, or that people shouldn’t get paid. As Richard Stallman famously said in relation to the development of the Free Software Foundation, “it is free as in freedom, not free as in beer”.

My hope is that the paranoid bureacratic resposes to The War Against Terror (TWAT) as described in the two previous posts will, by their bizarre impracticality and institutionalised absurdism, actually end up helping to counter permission culture rather than adding to it. But then again, they might not…


Lessig, L. 2001. The Future of Ideas. New York: Random House.

Lessig, L. 2004. Free Culture – How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. Penguin Press.

Striphas, T. and McLeod, K. 2006. Strategic Improprieties: Cultural Studies, The Everyday, and the Politics of Intellectual properties. Cultural Studies Vol. 20, Nos 2/3 March/May 2006, pp. 119/144. can be downloaded via

The terror of censorship

July 24, 2007

I live in Australia, where the Attorney General Philip Ruddock wants to enact a law whereby the Office of Film and Literature Classification must identify in advance the books, films, symphonies, news broadcasts, sitcoms and sermons that “might lead a person (regardless of his or her age or any mental impairment) to engage in a terrorist act”. He bases that on the shooting of Ronald Reagan by a crazy guy who was obsessed with Jodie Foster.

That’s like knowing in advance that J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” would lead to the assassination of John Lennon – which it did, via the delusions of a paranoid schizophrenic reader obsessed with that book and with Lennon. People have raised practical objections, but he says the Board can seek the help of psychiatry professionals if they need to.

The point Ruddock is missing (if he is genuine) is that people with mental health problems such as paranoid schizophrenia will incorporate whatever cultural material is to hand into their complex delusional systems. And, arguably, the Bible is the one that is most frequently encountered there. So that should be the first to go, in his great book-burning spree.