Scripting News: 3/30/2005

It's always fun watching my good friend Dave Winer develop an argument. It starts with a big contentious statement that is obviously missing the justification. In this case, this would be "The problem with the EFF psosition is that in order to remain consistent, they have had to say that copyright doesn't exist" This looks and smells like a traditional usenet troll.

So rather than dive in and flame Dave unmercifully, I've become used to waiting for him to get to the point and elaborate a little. So today we get a pair of test cases ad absurdam. Both involve taking content from the EFF and Cory Doctorow and suggesting...

I'd add links to their content, and see if they object. If that isn't a problem, I'll start changing the words, and see if that works for them. Then I'll put my name on their work, I imagine that would be okay too. Why not? I'm just being creative! Then I'll change their positions to be more in tune with the entertainment industry. Somewhere in there, there's got to be a line.

I'm thinking of mirroring Cory Doctorow's Creative Commons-licensed book and crossing out his name and replacing it with mine. Then I think I'll go to a printer and print up a bunch of copies of my book and stand on a corner in Times Square and sell copies. Maybe a book publisher will offer to distribute it for me. I'll be interested in talking with them.

So I thought I'd check the licenses on each. The main page of the EFF has an "Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0" license. So Dave is not just allowed but encouraged to produce derivative works of their content. Just as long as he provides attribution and doesn't attempt to sell it. So the only problem with his suggestion is "Then I'll put my name on their work". And this is only a problem if and only if he removes their's.

Cory's Eastern Standard Tribe is licensed with Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial 1.0
This again is completely clear and it's completely clear that every suggestion Dave makes is completely against Cory's wishes. In fact, Cory goes to pains to spell out what this means well beyond the Creative Commons license.

Now hidden away in these two posts is an inkling of what might be happening and what the real issue is. "add links to their content", "Cory". So really, I think this is about Dave's dislike for Google's Auto-Link toolbar and Cory's noisy defence of it.

Over time I expect this to rise to the surface and for a real argument to emerge. So rather than argue about whether the EFF want to destroy copyright or not (I think they don't), let's go back to arguing about what happens when you put text on the web in plain old html. My position is that the moment you do that all bets are off. You may want to have it seen in only one style, but by the time I've changed all the proper nouns to wikipedia links, all ISBNs to amazon links, changed the style sheet, used a different browser, blocked all the ads, taken the result and scraped it into RSS so that I can read it offline on my ipod it will be completely unrecognizable[1]. And there's not a damn thing you can do about it. If you really don't like that then lock it up in PDF at which point I'll simply stop reading you.

But even when I've said all that, why were MS Smart tags evil and Google's auto-link not? Is it just that a few years have past and we understand a bit better what's possible and what isn't? Dave keeps talking about a line as though there is some qualitative difference between adding a link and changing a style sheet for accessibility. I keep seeing quantitative changes in bits sitting in someone else's computer and little more. But then I don't have the reverence for the written word and free speech that Americans seem to have. I prefer the situationists, post modernists and detourne. Derivative works? Hell yes! Tag it, photocopy it, spray paint it and slap it with glue on the side of the Bastille.

[1] Yesterday had a great example of this. Start with, view it in Firefox, add the greasemonkey extension, add some custom javascript accessing web services. And what you get is auto-suggest layered on top of the form that Josh wrote.

ps. To any #joiito denizens reading this, I apologise unreservedly for invoking He Who Shall Not Be Named. I'll just have to blame the Imp of the Perverse sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.

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