“Information Wants to Be Free”

by prokofy on 15/06/07 at 8:55 pm

iDubrovnik and ibackofCoryLinden’sneck.

By Prokofy Neva, Wender of the Way Through the Tekkie-Wiki Woo

So I drop in on the iCommons Dubrovnik summit — virtual version — on the Annenberg Island (still more tomorrow), and Judy Collins is drooning on the sound track. Granola crunches under my feet and what’s that — patchouli scent on the air? covering up a doobie? People are speaking at least 5 languages.

Cory Linden — the *real* Cory Ondrejka — rezzes into view with his mouth moving about 3 seconds before his words are heard, like Bells & Spurs — his avatar is there with the title “Cory Linden” bouncing below a videocast of his typist talking at a panel in Dubrovnik, looking terribly metrosexual. The walls behind him are those kind of sweaty, earthen East European walls that have been splashed with blood and wine and piss for centuries — Sitearm Madonna and the gang have done a bang-up job of capturing just the look and feel of said buildings in SL, and the chicken-scratch dirt of the core sims was the perfect ground texture. Cory is saying matter-of-factly, “We just want to make a platform.” The servers will fall under the jurisdiction of whatever country they’re in, he adds. I IM a question to Jean Linden: “What will Linden Lab do if a given country or entity seizes the servers on which Second Life is streaming?” “We’re wrapping up soon,” she tells me. I’ll bet!

Real Cory fades and Virtual Cory bobs about for awhile, then falls offline. I listen to girls chatting in French and hear a dweeb sidle up to them and warn them that he has Babblefish open! I study the program, and decide I definitely need to turn on the sun and fire up another Diet Coke.


A brightly-back-lit Sitearm Madonna springs into view in a brilliant flowing red flexiprim dress — and what’s that peeking out from her hem? Sneakers?! “Moopf skates,” she explains cheerfully. “Modded to match my dress,” she adds proudly — the very model of a modern mash-up!. I sample the hors d’oeuvres, all Mediterranean-looking, all made by Casandra Jackson, who used to be in The Sims Online (and in the SSG!). “Those TSO people always know how to make good food,” I comment. I make my way to yet another table with — get this! caviar! with hardboiled eggs! and toast points! — and a Croatian phrase chart. I remember the days when I got off the train in Zagreb and they called the language back then “Serbo-Croatian” as one tongue. Some things mashed-up cry out to unmash, I guess…


Everywhere, information was wanting to be free. Just like those Balkan states in the former Yugoslavia! Notecards, videos, instructions, chat. I sat through what felt like an interminably long instruction video called “Good Copy, Bad Copy” — get it? Yuck yuck. I think the story went like this. Some rich white guys bankrolled some black dudes who had hip-hop records that then got “sampled” — bits of them got swiped to be replayed in other songs — and then the swipers got nailed and then everybody thought that bogus that The Man did that. So then the reporters — who were definitely biased on the subject — went around the world following “copyleft” — which is what you get when you don’t have “copyright”. so they showed more black African dudes in Nigeria who are talking about how they will be getting right in ur black culture in America, and some Russians and Swedes selling pirated CDs. (My contribution here in the great Metaversal Mash-up was to point out that the sub-title claiming that the Russian said “Oh, Fuck!” had actually said, “Oh, pancake!” which is a euphemism for the Russian word “whore” people swear with.)


So…more films and more clips and more stuff and then we are delivered to a poor neighbourhood in Latin America, where this chubby guy has a state-of-the-art studio to make CDs — and the narrator tells us the musicians never make anything, the producers never make anything, only the CD sellers make anything. Puzzling why this would be a *good* thing in a poor country (and how it’s really an emulation of the evil record companies anyway lol), my avatar starts to wander and fly about and then whoops, I’m lost, and I can’t get back to that movie theater again. I find it again, but SL working as it does means I have to start watching the movie all over again — there’s no way I can see to fast forward it. Well, a movie like that? It’s probably free, up on Youtube or sumpin. OK…so thinking about one of the really crystal-clear statements in the movie delivered by a Nigerian official who is saying, “People need to be paid for their work,” I head back to the snacks table, zooming in this time to see a fabulous lace tablecloth. Sitearm has no doubt been up nights knitting and tatting and photoshopping…but tells me she bought it at a texture joint.


Nothing says Old Europe like a lace tablecloth! As I admire it, Sitearm swipes a copy, SL-style, and pops it into my inventory — for free! “You should charge,” I begin. I then hand her a Wearable Pinwheel, which was an idea I had for a friend, Darling Valentine, who makes and sells them — they’re great! The sculpties finally enabled her to realize this idea, which was a bit difficult — there didn’t ever seem to be one in SL before. “See, I give you value, and you give me value,”Sitearm starts in. “But I *pay for* these items to be able to give them to others; you’re giving away work for free,” I explain. I sense that I need to be indoctrinated more by Lawrence Lessig, but I have to chose between him and two Linden office hours where I hope to raise some issues.


Then back again, less Lessig, to the art show. A disc jockey is spinning platter after platter of American jazz tunes from the 50s and 70s, and to the tune of Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” he’s cracking SL jokes, like saying the slogan, “Your World, No Imagination” about the “Popular Places” list. See, that’s what happens when folks like this get to talking “information wants to be free.” The first thing they do is want to take away YOUR information’s freedom. I ponder the slogan for the conference, remember?

“to make sure that, at its crossroads, we guide the world along a path that will enable the kind of free culture and decentralized innovation that has characterized the early years of the Internet.”

Guide…along a path…free culture…decentralized…why is this all sounding suddenly like Tito?

And here’s where I really drill down on the t-shirt that is the emblem for the conference. It’s called “Molotov Man,” and it’s a painting of a famous picture of a Latin American revolutionary type in a Che Guevera cap sporting a cross flying off his neck ready to pitch a Pepsi bottle with a Molotov cocktail. Hey, what a mash-up, Amerika, Communist Russia, the works!


I meander over to a sort of monastery cell at this Evropa sort of building where the art work utterly fills it, like a griefer prim-litter attack on one of my rentals. Inside, I experience the Secondlifeyness of it all — here we are, the Mediterranean sea air wafting back the scent of roasted Balkan pig somewhere in the back yard, some sort of flying Is and Cs that Sitearm said the artist was going to try to do in RL too (now how will he do that?), all kinds of little mind-maps and memes and stuff.


Beating a retreat, I go and try to see if anybody is talking, but it’s all a dance break and people are dancing on the ceiling — or rather, unable to control their avatars due to a bad patch yesterday and wicked lag for some.

“How do you feel about having a symbol of urban guerilla terrorism serve as the t-shirt for this conference held in the Balkans about information wanting to be free, Sitearm? Is this supposed to be about like blowing up record companies and stuff?” I queried.

A guy with too many consonants in his name — he must be from here — sidles up and smirks with one of those “XDDDDD” type of grins, and tells me we need to blow up Microsoft due to Vista, too. I contemplate Balkanization and its discontents for a moment.

The artist, Joy Garnett, made it from a RL photo, explains Sitearm patiently, and I zoom in on a notecard.

“New York based artist and blogger Joy Garnett frequently used images depicting natural and technological disasters she finds on the web, as a staring point for her paintings. However, the real objective of her work is not to make political commentary, but to reveal the malleability of meaning within these images. Garnette is famous for her painting “Molotov” and she runs the popular and often political reblog NEWSgrist.”

The icommons website also explains:

“Joy is well known for her involvement in a copyright fight called “Joywar” which began when the well-known photojournalist Susan Meiselas threatened to sue her for the use of part of a photograph she had taken in 1979, as the basis for her painting Molotov. Joy removed the image from her website, but by that time artist members of Rhizome.org had already copied it in protest inspiring countless online permutations of the painting.”

You can see the Harper’s article about the controversy here, and Susan’s original photo here, where the fellow looks a good deal more angry, and you learn that he’s in Nicaragua.

How did it happen that a leftie photojournalist covering a symbol of the Sandinista revolution that was to become iconic come to clash with a mash-upper (we used to call them forgerers!)?

Rusin Arkadi Victorovich Rusin: “Lenin’s Arrival at the Finland-Station in Petrograd in Spring 1917″. Virtual Museum of Political Art.

Of course, both gals are stealing from an earlier meme called “Socialist Realism,” sponsored by Lenin and Trotsky and the gang, showing violent revolutionary paintings in a certain pastoralist style.

Soooo….the t-shirt you can buy at iCommons not only celebrates the copying of a photograph taken by a famous photojournalist and a celebrated controversy about copyright and copyleft, it echoes the celebration of a later-discredited cause of Sandinista glory, itself predicated on the Bolsheviks (yes! Prokofy is writing about the Bolsheviks again!!!).



I spot an SLNN reporter, comment on her lovely Jackie-O dress, and urge her not to hijack my story, but she assures me that nobody will, ah, have quite my take on things….

So what does this have to do with SL? Well, in the land of Copybot, of course you can copy anything and mash anything and make anything — and a lot of it was already swiped off the Internet at large anyway.

Everyone will mash and sell and resell and mash some more!

However, somebody always has to pay the tier! Who pays the tier for iCommons? It’s hard, studying their site, to find any mentions of “sponsors”. That’s in part because they really don’t like the idea of rich people being patrons of the arts and the civil discourse. They like to think that you will put out tip jars in SL and make it back that way.

Walter Annenberg, founder of the Annenberg chool of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania in 1959. Annenberg was a media mogul who made his fortune with TV Guide, which used to be sold by every single supermarket cash register in America.

Old media money still funds this new media stuff — and I always ask: ok, but what happens when Dad’s trust fund runs out? You sample, you mix, you match, you hate on the record companies, you say Microsoft Vista is evil, etc. etc. — but then who will pay for what comes next?

Somehow, I think we all will.

8 Responses to ““Information Wants to Be Free””

  1. Information

    Jun 15th, 2007

    I want to be free

    Stop infosecuting me

  2. urizenus

    Jun 16th, 2007

    Ha, great report. Makes me wish I could have made it, and you know, the online version sounds like more fun than the Dubrovnik version. And yeah, Cassandra is one excellent chef of pixelated food.

  3. Ian Betteridge

    Jun 17th, 2007

    Great report? Bull. You could have reported on why LL hasn’t been able to implement Creative Commons licenses in software (so that, for example, you could set “share alike” or “non-commercial” flags on objects and scripts you create). But that would have required Prokofy to (a) pay attention to what’s going on, and (b) understand anything about copyright or licensing.

    Which she blatantly doesn’t.

  4. Prokofy Neva

    Jun 17th, 2007

    Yes, it *is* a great report, if I do say so myself. You’re evidently just jealous?

    I already pay attention to what’s going on, dumbass — hence this article.

    I’m not drinking the CC Kool-aid. I don’t *agree* that it would be a good idea to start ideologically characterizing all sorts of objects in SL as “commercial” or “non-commercial” when there’s already a way to do that, duh: put $0 or put $100 in the price tag space? That would do it.

    Why should Linden Lab hobble the interface or the objects with sectarian, cult-like “licenses” with ideologically-driven notions like “not for commercial use” that not everyone wants to opt in to? This isn’t the “norm” — it’s just a hippie cult that *some people who generally are in the minority* which to construct as their “copyright” regime.

    The general public didn’t even get to discuss it, understand its ramifications, or decide on it, through publishing opinion or voting.

    Why should a bunch of copyleftists and hippies and extremists who have this point of view be allowed to *force a system* on everyone else? If they think copyright in the old style is “forcing a system,” it’s at least a system backed by democratic societies’ *law* that is democratically debated. Their system is merely a cult, and one they try to put over on people with comments and argumentations like we’re seeing from Ian Betteridge here.

    I fail to see why those who are so fired up about having these kinds of “licenses” can’t just make them themselves. Slap whatever interaction or text or whatever on your object you wish, without invading the entire client with it.

    So…um, I do understand these issues, as much as any intelligent, educated person can understand them, having read about them. If these are some sort of arcane secret in a secret cult, well, gosh, I guess I missed the memo.

    There *are already* flags on SL objects. They’re called “copy/mod/transfer”. The Lindens were already well-attuned to all this copyleft stuff at the get-go. The other little button is called “no copy/no mod/no transfer”. More people concerned about the sale of freebies should turn that OFF and stop expecting the rest of the tier-payers in SL to uphold the representations of their “freebies” and contribute to their viral marketing and reputation enhancement campaigns.

    The check-offs already enable “sale/transfer” with “no copy” and “no mod” — all you need, pretty much, to have a world where people can decide to create artistic works and sell them and retain the rights to them so that pretty much (of course barring exploits) people can’t copy them easilier.

    If you are a CC cultist, you can always stick a CC card or stamp or interaction with a hover text on the object and not require everybody to endure the granulation of CC stuff enforced on them as “tools” when all it is is *ideology*.

  5. Ian Betteridge

    Jun 18th, 2007

    “I’m not drinking the CC Kool-aid. I don’t *agree* that it would be a good idea to start ideologically characterizing all sorts of objects in SL as “commercial” or “non-commercial” when there’s already a way to do that, duh: put $0 or put $100 in the price tag space? That would do it.”

    I don’t *care* about your opinion, you egotistical waste of space. Your constant belittling of content creators and their concerns bores me, and demonstrates both how out of touch you are with the reality of Second Life and how petty and stupid you are.

    This rambling, idiotic so-called report is simply a waste of words, as is most of the crap you churn out under the guise of “journalism” – like you’d know what journalism is.

    But then again, I suppose it fits in with the new “griefer-friendly” Herald, with its constant courting of the *-Chan crowd. Having the forum griefer-in-chief Prokofy “Banned” Neva writing fits in perfectly.

  6. Reality

    Jun 18th, 2007

    Hmm, Prokofy you are so out of touch with reality it really is not amusing anymore.

    A ‘freebie’ is just that, regardless of permissions that are set. It is free, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Want to sell something? Make it yourself and then sell it – or obtain explicit permission to sell an item that you did not create and hold no rights as to how it is distributed.

    Of course, that would require you to do some actual work – something you are apparently unable, unwilling, or simply too lazy to do.

  7. Anonymous

    Jun 18th, 2007

    If you don’t want your freebies resold, don’t check off “transfer.”


  8. Coincidental Avatar

    Jun 18th, 2007

    Dear Proky,

    >Why should Linden Lab hobble the interface or the objects with sectarian, cult-like “licenses” with ideologically-driven notions like “not for commercial use” that not everyone wants to opt in to? This isn’t the “norm” — it’s just a hippie cult that *some people who generally are in the minority* which to construct as their “copyright” regime.

    Maybe it is not an ideology but maybe the law says so? I think that they have the legal right to write, enforce and spread their own EULA terms, which they call copyleft, on their own products.

    There is a plethora of copyright versions nowadays. Some make sense, some don’t and some are simply illegal or otherwise useless.

    I don’t care a shit of the copyright development of consumer items, but I’m interested in following the liberalization of production tools. It might lead the RL economy from the capitalism to the market economy because of diminishing capital requirements of a business. The last time people owned their production tools was when people lived on agriculture. (Later they became serfs when they outsourced the defense.)

    What comes to art and money. Well, if somebody can’t feed himself as an artist, I suggest the change of profession. The scope of art has always been somewhat limited and will be. It is a tough person who still can wander around in SL after three months all this so called creativity around.

    But what am I to give advice to an American Anarchist who is telling other people how to organize copyright issues. Modern anarchists are always busy telling other people how they should live “truly free”.

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