How to Feel Good About Garbage

Figure 1: carbon in the earth, oxygen in the atmosphere

Primitive species turned carbon from Earth’s earlier, carbon-rich atmosphere into more of themselves:

early primitive life (procaryote cells) modified our planet by converting CO2 and H2O to organic matter and releasing oxygen to the environment. As a consequence these organisms moved carbon from the atmosphere to the rocks (Figure 11) and broke down water molecules releasing oxygen to the ocean and eventually to the atmosphere. Life therefore is a powerful force controlling the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere which in turn exerts a powerful control on our planet’s climate. http://eesc.columbia.edu/courses/ees/climate/lectures/earth.html

Now we’re taking that carbon out of the earth and spewing it back into the atmosphere…

Figure 2: digging up carbon and burning it into the atmosphere

…creating a climate suitable for bacteria and prokaryotes, but not for the complex life forms we cherish today (such as ourselves).

Figure 3: Carbon in the atmosphere good for some bacteria, bad for us.

Figure 3: carbon in the atmosphere good for some bacteria, bad for us.

To restore climate balance, we must put carbon back into the earth.

We should throw carbon into large holes, cover them up with layers of rock and soil, and allow them to compress for millions of years, over which time they will again form a viscous underground carbon sludge safely distant from our preferred oxygen-rich air.

Figure 4: Trees fix atmospheric carbon

Figure 4: trees fix atmospheric carbon

In other words, we should be putting our carbon waste (paper and plastic) in landfills. Not recycling them.

Figure 5: Put the carbon back in the earth

Figure 5: put the carbon back in the earth

Paper comes from tree farms, which are carbon sinks. In an ideal climate-restoration system, farmed trees would fix atmospheric carbon, become paper, and get buried back into the ground, with earthbound carbon accumulating every year as atmospheric carbon diminishes.  By this logic, the junk mail industry is helping the environment, as it converts atmospheric carbon to bury-able waste, paid for entirely by advertisers.

Plastic is made of carbon humans dug up from deep within the Earth as petroleum. If it’s buried it can become petroleum-like again in several million years. If petroleum is burned as fuel, more carbon goes into the atmosphere. Petroleum is more valuable as a plastic source than as a fuel; solar energy can power vehicles but it can’t become plastic (without the intervention of billions of years of photosynthesis and compression).

So bury your paper and plastic (carbon) waste. Bury it in a good landfill.

But recycle metal. It’s much more efficient than mining anew. Metals aren’t carbon. And recycle glass. It’s silicon, not carbon.

 

Based on numerous conversations with Theodore Gray.

 

Note: none of this is going to fix the world. We’re all doomed for many reasons. It does however take some air out of the sails of “recycling paper and plastic helps the Earth!!!” The ritual of recycling paper and plastic is mostly just that – a ritual which eases denial of environmental catastrophe in progress. I’m suggesting we can abandon that ritual now.

 Update from Theo* (via email): 

The thing everyone keeps missing is that none of that matters. The only thing you have to understand is that ALL carbon that can be dug out of the ground in any form, will be. The economic pressure to do so is simply overwhelming, and no one is going to be able to stop it. The ONLY question is whether it will be burned, or made into plastic and thrown away (which keeps it out of the atmosphere).

And the only thing that matters in answering that question is whether there is more money to be made in burning it, or in making it into plastic. What is the relative price of fuel vs. feedstocks for plastic, and what is the relative demand for fuel vs. for plastic. Right now it’s evenly enough matched that a lot goes into both, but if something tips the balance towards it’s being worth much more for plastic, there would be a massive worldwide switch away from burning it. No need for demonstrations, it would just happen.

Things that can tip the balance in that direction are:

  1. Cheaper alternatives for fuel, so wind power, hydrogen from solar, etc, etc.
  2. Things that increase demand for plastic.

It’s in item number 2 that recycling comes into play. If you recycle paper, that lets people make more paper packaging instead of using plastic. If you recycle plastic, that keeps it out of the landfill (where it belongs and can do some good) and returns it to the market to compete with virgin plastic, thus reducing the demand for oil to make new plastic, thus diverting more carbon into the atmosphere.

Burying paper also has the side effect of removing even more carbon from the air because it’s made out of carbon from the air, but that’s only one reason for doing it. Helping increase the price of plastic is at least as important a reason.

No questions about how much fuel it takes to do any of these things is relevant. The fuel is going to get burned. Exponential growth has no mercy: The carbon IS going to be dug out of the ground, nothing can stop that, all we can do is try to re-bury as much of it as fast as we can.

 *Please note Theo’s opinions are his own; I’m sharing them here because I think they’re interesting and worth discussing.

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Copycamp Talk

“40 Years in the Desert,” a talk I gave at Copycamp in Warsaw, Poland, on November 26 2012. Audio is a bit messed up until 02:49, so just start there. I talk a bit about Questioncopyright.org and Minute Memes, liberally quote Rick Falkvinge, mention Fair Use and Creative Commons before getting into Intellectual Disobedience. Toward the end I discuss Seder-Masochism’s release plan.

A Jewish State

Last night I finally watched Exodus, as research for my Seder-Masochism project. It was actually a much better movie than I expected. The film is mainly about showing a very hot young 1960 Paul Newman from various angles, mostly in sexy profile but sometimes portrait, but it’s also about the pressures that created Israel, and very sympathetic to the desire for a Jewish Homeland.  Today, fortunately, we have this excellent alternative:

 

I’d move there.

Copying Is Still Not Theft

Over at Techdirt.com, pro-SOPA/PIPA commenters continue to call copying “theft.” Since their main argument for breaking the Internet is fundamentally erroneous, now seems like a good time to re-post this riposte:

Please share.

 

The Highest Praise

Some people love Sita Sings the Blues enough to devote time and energy (and probably money!) to protesting it in public. My movie is now in the same league as the paintings of the late M. F. Hussein. I have arrived.

Article: Troll Sena protests Sita Sings the Blues in San Jose

Related: Aseem Chhabra on Sita Sings the Blues and free speech, in the Mumbai Mirror.

Success! Sita Sings the Blues Once Again Viewable on German Youtube

After one or two (or more?) years of being blocked on German Youtube, the full-length noncommercial Sita Sings the Blues movie is once again viewable in Deutschland:

I assume this is because last week I posted this video, complaining about why my 100% legal and painstakingly and expensively licensed movie was blocked in Germany:

Apparently many Germans are none too pleased with GEMA themselves, as indicated by interesting comments here. Some industry shills weighed in as well, but it looks like popular sentiment is against them. The story was shared widely, including in Der Spiegel and the New York Times online editions.

It’s not clear how an American YouTube user is supposed to contest takedowns in Germany. When I was in Berlin recently, it was suggested I find a German lawyer to take some sort of action. At the very least, I would need someone in Germany to contest the takedown on my behalf. I imagine that would have been a slow and possibly expensive process. Then I thought of making this video. Although it took some work (writing a statement – yes I know it’s an imperfect statement, I did the best I could with the knowledge I had – shooting the video, recording the audio via a separate mic, transferring files, editing, compressing, etc.) it was less work than managing an international legal process. And it got results fast! Better still, it contributed to ongoing debates about GEMA and Intellectual Pooperty in general.

My thanks to everyone who helped spread the word about this, and especially people in Germany who checked the Sita Sings the Blues URL and confirmed when the movie was blocked, and when it was unblocked.

RANTIFESTO

Adapted from a talk and slide show I presented at the Open Knowledge Conference in Berlin on July 1, 2011. –NP

Why are the Freedoms guaranteed for Free Software not guaranteed for Free Culture?

Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The Free Software Definition

These are the Four Freedoms of Free Software. They are foundational principles, and they are exactly right. They have served and continue to serve the Free Software Movement very well. They place the user’s freedom ahead of all other concerns. Free Software is a principled movement, but Free Culture is not – at least not so far. Why?

1. The No Derivatives (-ND) Restriction

If you tinker with software, you can improve it. You can also break it or make it worse, but the Freedom to Tinker is one of the foundational 4 Freedoms of Free Software. Your software may also be used for purposes you don’t like, used by “bad people,” or even used against you; the Four Freedoms wisely counsel us to GET OVER IT.
Unfortunately, The Free Software Foundation does not extend “Freedom to Tinker” to Culture:

Cultural works released by the Free Software Foundation come with “No Derivatives” restrictions. They rationalize it here:

Works that express someone’s opinion—memoirs, editorials, and so on—serve a fundamentally different purpose than works for practical use like software and documentation. Because of this, we expect them to provide recipients with a different set of permissions (notice how users are now called “recipients,” and their Freedoms are now called “permissions” –NP): just the permission to copy and distribute the work verbatim. (link)

The problem with this is that it is dead wrong. You do not know what purposes your works might serve others. You do not know how works might be found “practical” by others. To claim to understand the limits of “utility” of cultural works betrays an irrational bias toward software and against all other creative work. It is anti-Art, valuing software above the rest of culture. It says coders alone are entitled to Freedom, but everyone else can suck it. Use of -ND restrictions is an unjustifiable infringement on the freedom of others.

For example, here I have violated the Free Software Foundation’s No-Derivatives license:

The Four Freedoms of Free Culture:

1. The freedom to run, view, hear, read, play, perform, or otherwise attend to the Work;
2. The freedom to study, analyze, and dissect copies of the Work, and adapt it to your needs;
3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor;
4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes.
(link)

Without permission, I’ve created a derivative work: the Four Freedoms of Free Culture. Although I violated FSF’s No-Derivatives license, they violated Freedoms # 2 and 4, so we’re even.

1. The Non-Commercial (-NC) Restriction

The Freedom to Distribute Free Software is essential to its success. It has given rise to many for-profit businesses that benefit the larger community.

 

 

 

Red Hat, Canonical – would the world be better if such companies were forbidden? Would Free Software benefit from a ban on those businesses?

Yet the Cultural ecosystem is stunted by the prevalence of Non-Commercial restrictions. These maintain commercial monopolies around works, and  – especially for vocational artists like me – are functionally as restrictive as unmodified copyright. Yet they are widely  mislabeled “Free Culture,” or even “Copyleft.”

Which of these things does not belong?

 

 

 

This is a still from the mostly excellent and popular documentary RIP:a Remix Manifesto. This film is many peoples’ introduction to the term “Free Culture” and “Copyleft.” But as you can see, the Non-Commercial restriction is lumped in with actual Free license terms.

See that dollar sign with the slash in it? That means Non-Commercial restrictions, which are most definitely NOT Copyleft. (I’ve posted about Creative Commons’ branding confusion before, but it’s only gotten worse since then.)

NC stands for Not Copyleft

This film is itself licensed under unFree Non-Commercial restrictions. As an artist and filmmaker, I have found confusion is rampant among my creative colleagues. Some filmmakers are beginning to think the term “Free Culture” is cool, but they still want to restrict others’ freedom and impose commercial monopolies on their works.

This doesn't help either

 

 

The book Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig its itself not Free culure, but it is widely looked up to. It sets an unfortunate and confusing example with its Non-Commercial license. It illustrates the absence of guiding principles in the Free Culture movement.

I have spoken to many artists who insist there’s “no real difference” between Non-Commercial licenses and Free alternatives. Yet these differences are well known and unacceptable in Free Software, for good reason.
Calling  Non-Commercial restrictions “Free Culture” neuters what could be an effective movement, if it only had principles.

 

So what do I want?
I want a PRINCIPLED Free Culture Movement.

I want Free Software people to take Culture seriously. I want a Free Culture movement guided by principles of Freedom, just as the Free Software movement is guided by principles of Freedom. I want a name I can use that means something – the phrase “Free Culture” is increasingly meaningless, as it is often applied to unFree practices, and is also the name of a famous book that is itself encumbered with Non-Commercial restrictions.

I want a Free Culture ecosystem that allows artists to make money. I want anyone to be able to accept money for their work of remixing and building on Culture – just as a trucker can accept money for driving on a road. I want money to be among the many incentives to participate in building culture. Without the freedoms to Tinker and Redistribute without restriction, there is little incentive to build on  and improve cultural works. There is little reward to help your neighbor, when you are guaranteed to lose money doing so. “Free Culture” with non-Commercial restrictions will remain a hobby for those with a surplus of time and labor, and those who only accept money from monopolists.

I want commerce without monopolies. I want people to understand the difference.

I want a Free Culture ecosystem that includes equivalents of  businesses like Red Hat and Canonical. I want cultural businesses that give back to their communities, that work with their customers instead of against them. Only if we refuse to place Non-Commercial and No-Derivatives restrictions on our works will a robust Free Culture ecosystem be able to emerge.

I want the Free Software community – those who currently best understand the Four Freedoms – to champion the rest of Culture, not just Software. I want Freedom for All.

We don’t like ignorant jerks either

It seems the same people who can’t tell the difference between fraud and copying, also can’t tell the difference between anti-social disregard for authors and copyright reform. Folks invoking my name in the Cooks Source scandal are as clueless as Judith Griggs.

As usual, Techdirt has the best article on the topic:

…Cooks Source Magazine copied one woman’s blog post and published it as an article, without asking her permission or letting her even know about it. They did put her name on it, but she only found out after a friend spotted it and told her about it. Where the story takes a bizarre twist is after emailing with the editor of the magazine, Judith Griggs, asked the original author, Monica, what she wanted. Monica suggested a public apology (on Facebook) and a modest $130 donation to Columbia’s journalism school. That’s when Griggs responded like this:

“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

That response not only shows a rather confused understanding of copyright law, but also suggests someone who’s kinda sorta heard arguments about why copying can be beneficial, and jumbled them all together in her head. Now, we’ve spent plenty of time over the years showing how content creators can be better off allowing their works to be copied, but even so, Grigg’s response appears totally tone deaf to what Monica’s actual concerns were. But here’s where social mores and reputational value take over. Monica’s story made it onto Reddit and it got picked up by tons of others, leading the Facebook page of Cooks Source to be filled with angry comments from people supporting Monica.

Read the rest here.

WNYC today at 2pm, 93.9 fm

Smackdown: Open Source or Closed Doors? (click here to listen)

The director of Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley, had to pay $50,000 to use old songs in her animation movie. She then put the movie online for free and turned herself into a free-culture activist. Composer Jaron Lanier was a digital pioneer in the ’90s, but in his new book he claims that open-source is destroying creativity and fostering vicious behavior. They join us to debate the pros and cons of free love in art-making.

Sita Sings the Blues site
More about Jaron Lanier [NY Times]

Ban “Sita Sings the Blues” from the Internet!

Seriously, I could use the publicity. What would happen if thousands of people signed this petition? Has a movie ever been banned from the Internet before? I want to see how it’s done. You can leave a message with your signature. They only have 367 so far – do your part, people.

Nell Minow: Film Reviewer, “CEO Killer”

So there I was reading an old New Yorker, and came across this article about a lawyer who exposes overpaid corporate CEOs. The name and the picture looked familiar. Could it be the same Nell Minow who interviewed me about Sita Sings the Blues? Why yes, it is! Turns out the “Movie Mom” is kicking ass and taking names in CEO land.

“I believe that what we’ve seen recently is a corporate takeover of the capitalist system, to the benefit of certain actors in that system and to the detriment of everybody else.” –Nell Minow, aka “the Movie Mom”

Filed under awesome.

Public Knowledge

Here’s a rather feisty and spirited interview I did with Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge, a “D.C.-based public interest group working to defend citizens’ rights in the emerging digital culture.” It’s very low-res and gritty Skype video, but the message comes through loud and clear.

My Wikimedia Rant

Note: Please, please continue uploading my comics to WikiMedia Commons, beloved uploaders! Nina’s Adventures is next. I completely endorse and support this work! Thank you! I love you! I post the rant below because, well, it’s on my mind now, and life isn’t perfect.

Continue reading My Wikimedia Rant

More (C)ensorship

Amazon erased purchased e-books from consumers’ Kindles. Wait’ll you find out what books. This is an inevitable consequence of Digital Restrictions Mongering.

Meanwhile, US courts banned a book using ©ensorship law!

©ensorship men’s tshirt

Now’s as good a time as any to plug QuestionCopyright.org‘s ©ensorship T-shirts. They’re actually quite inexpensive, and wearing them does a huge public service as you educate people around you.

“Wearing them really works, by the way. I wore one on a train recently and wound up having a great conversation about copyright with two people, one of them a musician coming back from a gig, after they asked me about the front.” -Karl Fogel

With a name like AWESOMEPEDIA, it’s gotta be AWESOME