Tuesday, May 29, 2012

is there actually a freecult manual?

My posting from yesterday - the cult of free - a user's guide - looks to be well on the way to shattering all records on my site for readership. Either that means a lot of people are reading and sharing the posting because it speaks to their own growing sense that something has gone terribly wrong with our ability to support cultural creation in the age of gimme, or it means a bunch of folks are google-searching for an actual user's guide to the freecult because they want to sign up and start advocating against artist's established human rights.

Well, I send my heartfelt thanks out to Quentin Burgess, an artist rights compatriot in the music business who sent me a link yesterday to Winning the Web, an actual freecult activist's manual that is just a fascinating head-shake of a read. I don't know how many times I've been accused by freecultists of exaggeration and embellishment when describing their movement. Usually, they just deny that the movement even exists. There is no organized freecult; what you're seeing is just a natural social evolution in which individual citizens are realizing that copyright really harshes their mellow.

Well, I guess I get to permanently call cow pie on that little gambit. Winning the Web is hosted on the site of the Open Rights Group, a tech-sector lobby that describes itself like so:

Open Rights Group exists to preserve and promote your rights in the digital age. We are funded by hundreds of people like you.
Not by hundreds of people like me, I can tell you. On the ORG Board of Directors sit eight well-connected members of the technology sector in Britain... and not a single professional artist.

Winning the Web was written by a former Executive Director of ORG, Becky Hogge and is, in essence, a training manual for future web-activists interested in undermining the rights of professional creators. The advice it has to offer is eerily similar to how I characterized the freecult in yesterday's critical analysis. Of course, it goes well beyond, likening the movement to some sort of political force for good that will stop the privileging of knowledge workers (because... I guess... knowledge is bad?), and painting the freecult as some sort of civil rights movement protecting free speech and battling surveillance.

The logical gymnastics one has to go through to tie the economic realities of professional artistic creation to censorship and domestic spying are astonishing, but that's the freecult. No somersault too extreme to stir up righteous anger about copyright.

This is a cold-blooded document. Anyone who has ever doubted that there is a concerted effort to deceive governments and courts and the general public in the fight to destroy copyright need only read this manual. Here are some highlights:
...campaigners are often faced with simple, instinctually [sic] appealing messages from the other side (“artists need to get paid”) that are difficult to beat with a focus on the IP mechanism. Fair Copyright for Canada successfully employed a consumer rights message...
Did you catch that? Artists need to get paid is an idea that needs to be beaten, and Canada's own Michael Geist is good at beating it by focusing on consumer concerns. In fact, a lot of Winning the Web has to do with Professor Geist's leading freecult strategies for intimidating politicians, leveraging insider information and spreading misinformation. It's all there in black and white:
Geist used the Facebook group, as well as allied bloggers like BoingBoing.net, to encourage people in the Minister’s riding of Calgary to attend an open event being held for constituents at the riding office. Between fifty and sixty people showed up.
I remember that event well. I wrote about it on this blog. I also remember that at the time, Geist contacted me directly to deny any involvement in encouraging this flashmob to show up and surround Minister Jim Prentice. Which version of events is true, I wonder - Geist's denial to me, or his seeming admission to Becky Hogge?

One of the things I wondered about back when this Prentice protest occurred was "how did these protestors feel so confident they knew what was going to be in a government bill no-one had yet seen?" Winning the Web provides the answer:
The success of the Fair Copyright for Canada campaign relied to some extent on inside information Geist was able to get from his stakeholder contacts. Geist identifies government relations officers for major corporations as good sources of information.
Remember how the freecult is all about battling the evils of corporations? Yeah, except when they're corporations with a vested interest in weakened copyright laws, and can access government inside information for you. This admission, so plainly stated, is just an astonishing revelation of the hypocrisy of the freecult. And yet, they sink even lower:
Advocates can take advantage of differences in opinion between [government] departments with shared responsibility for IP policy, to delay new legislation, or to ally with the department with the more reformist agenda in order to get inside information.
This passage, appearing where it does in Winning the Web can only refer to the shared responsibility for copyright policy between Canada's federal Department of Canadian Heritage and the Industry Ministry, and it can only be referencing an actual strategy actually implemented by the freecult.

Delaying legislation in order to destroy it? Obtaining inside information from government departments? This is despicably undemocratic behaviour used in the name of robbing artists of their rights.

There's more - so much more - in Winning the Web that proves everything I wrote yesterday about the existence and aims of the freecult.

Don't take my word for it; read it yourself. They intentionally target librarians and teachers to carry their message for them, using these well-meaning professionals as cover. They happily discard their own values around privacy in order to gather as many unwitting "clicks " and "Likes" as possible through social media. They "play" to the grassroots with one message while sliding another message along "the inside track."

I'm going home to have a shower now. This is the greasiest bit of reading I've done in a very long while.

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