In 399 BCE, for the crime of “corrupting the youth” and undermining belief in the customary gods of Athens, Socrates was sentenced to drink a cup of hemlock. If the goal was to silence Socrates’ voice, it’s safe to say that plan backfired in a big way. The story of Socrates stands second in the Western tradition only to the judicial murder of Jesus as a symbol of martyrdom to corrupt authority.
If anything can be said to be the “gods of the city” in our civilization — which is dying as surely as the classical civilization of the 4th century BCE was dying in the shadow of Macedon, Carthage and Rome — it’s the phantasm of so-called “intellectual property” — the central form of legal monopoly, or artificial scarcity, from which our corporate and financial ruling class derives its trillions of dollars in rents. And the American state, like the Athenian state, is using its full resources to defend these dying gods. But in this case it’s the youth themselves — for whom file-sharing is an unremarkable and unquestioned party of daily existence — who are undermining belief in the gods.
As information freedom activist Quinn Norton noted in July at the NetHui2013 conference in New Zealand:
“…when you ask why is the government pursuing this man so doggedly, without… going after the people who caused the financial collapse, I would say it’s because they understand the people who caused the financial collapse. Everyone understands bank fraud. Nobody understands why one of their boys would do this really weird thing. What has the Internet done to these people? What is it doing to their own children? See, that’s the thing. If you’re part of traditional power right now, this thing that’s spreading over the earth, that’s changing everything. … If you were the MPAA a few years ago, or the RIAA, this Internet changed everything it touched into this weird thing. … And if you wonder why they fight so hard, why they chase the Snowdens and try to shut down The Pirate Bay so much more than traditional criminals, it’s because it looks so much like the Zombie, and possibly Media Apocalypse — and we already have their children.”
The first kids to try out Napster fourteen years ago are the older siblings, parents, uncles and aunts of downloaders today. The under-35 generation believes overwhelmingly that the State Department and NSA are the bad guys, and that Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are the good guys. And they take a similar view of informational politics: The bad guys and good guys are the record industry and The Pirate Bay.
To be sure, the proprietary content industries — which have no better sense than the Athenian Assembly 2400 years ago — have resorted to martyrdom. This has served to make them not only the objects of outrage, like the Athenian Assembly, but of ridicule and contempt. Every single file-sharing service shut down since Napster has been more distributed and resilient against state and industry attacks. And police state tactics only drive file-sharers to encryption and offshore hosting. As Cory Doctorow notes, the Chinese police state couldn’t even stop him from accessing the Falun Gong website in a Beijing hotel room — and these RIAA clowns seriously think they can stop us downloading songs?
But this time the proprietary content industries are attempting to go one better than their Athenian counterparts: They’re organizing special kindergarten and elementary school classes to teach the youth of Athens (er, America) that “sharing is mean, mmmkay?”
The California School Library Association and the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, working with the Center For Copyright Infringement (whose board includes MPAA, RIAA, Verizon, Comcast and AT&T executives), has developed a pilot propaganda program for California elementary schools. Even setting aside principled considerations of the validity of copyright law itself — which is morally reprehensible — most of what the course teaches about copyright law is a flat-out lie. The concept of Fair Use isn’t introduced until the fifth grade course (the little tykes aren’t yet able to understand that level of complexity, see). All that kids age ten or younger are told is that if someone else created it, you have to get permission to use it — period. And it’s illegal to make copies of a copyrighted work, that you already paid for, for your own use.
In any case, it doesn’t matter. The RIAA and MPAA are writing propaganda for a war that’s already been lost. Unfortunately for Big Content, they can’t outlaw schoolkids’ older siblings and peers telling them what a load of horse-hockey this material is. I predict Proprietary Content’s anti-sharing propaganda will meet the same level of incredulous hilarity as the movie Reefer Madnessenjoys among potheads.
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