Joanne Knight

November 15, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan and the Economics of the Spectacle

Those who heard the impassioned plea of the Naderev Saño, head of the Philippines climate delegation at COP19 in Warsaw, could not fail to be moved. The Philippines has been battered by record breaking typhoons twice in the past year. Climate scientists have shown that such extreme weather events are brought on by climate change. The IPCC report earlier this year announced that global concentrations of CO2 emissions had reached 400 ppm. The threshold for catastrophic climate change is 350-450ppm. The paralysis of the international community in relation to the clearly accelerating instability of the global climate is extraordinary. This inability to act is another side effect of the society of the spectacle.

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November 8, 2013

Image Warfare and the Civilian Drone Deaths in Pakistan

Former Air Force pilot, Brandon Bryant, has now added his name to the growing list of whistle blowers on US government overreach. His story highlights the ways that the “society of the spectacle” interacts with the media and the image escapes the control of the government. Bryant humanizes the victims of drone bombings when the military would rather they remain distant inhuman enemies. Similarly Amnesty International’s report brings the area of northwest Pakistan from the realm of image into reality and provides a picture of people caught in the middle of warring forces Taliban, war lords, the armies of Pakistan and US attempting to scratch a living from the earth and avoid running afoul of these powers.

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December 4, 2009

A Little Bird told me

Twitter breaks the Jakarta bombing and provides first-hand accounts on the ground, protesters in Iran get their side of the story out to the world via Facebook and You Tube.

It seems the most up-to-date news is to be found on Twitter, a social networking site. When the standard news services must compete with this sort of immediacy (news presented in 140-characters or less), one begins to worry about the quality of journalism and the future of the media. Journalism is generally perceived to have been deteriorating since the advent of television. (Jurgen Habermas put it somewhere in the mid-nineteenth century.) Movies such as Broadcast News, Wag the Dog and the wonderfully satirical ABC show, Frontline, have explored the commercialization of the media and its attack on the ideal of journalism devoted to accuracy.

The impact of the internet has been blamed for deteriorating social relations, isolation, superficiality and suicide. With no quality control on the information, of course, there remains a great deal of misinformation (intentional or otherwise), a great deal of celebrity and sports commentary and hoaxes which can always find someone who hasn’t seen it before. One movement which seems to be bucking the trend is the Free Software Movement. Its conscious culture of collaboration has led to a number of permutations such as Indymedia and the, now ubiquitous, social networking sites which build on this model of participation.

Indymedia formed in 1999 in response to the ‘Battle for Seattle’, the protests against the World Trade Organisation negotiations. The software was developed in Australia. It was the first internet site which allowed users to post their own content. Its slogan was ‘Don’t hate the media, be the media.’ Later came You Tube (the seeming Internet equivalent of Funniest Home Videos) but which is used by people to share a great deal of content which is important to various social identities thus encouraging diversity. This tool is extremely creative for those who wish to post there own video work, and is even used for mini documentaries.

The use of these sites to post copyrighted content represents a serious challenge to corporate control of information. The idea of a contributing community which freely distributes what they create confronts business control of copyright law.

In recent years, major U.S. and EU copyright industry rightsholder groups, such as the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, have sought stronger powers to enforce intellectual property rights across the world by negotiating an agreement, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). In 2006, Japan and the United States launched the idea of a new plurilateral treaty to help in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy. The aim of the initiative was to negotiate an agreement that enhances international co-operation and contains effective international standards for enforcing intellectual property rights.

These efforts have been underway in a number of international fora, including the World Trade Organization, the World Customs Organization, at the G8 summit, at the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Advisory Committee on Enforcement, and at the Intellectual Property Experts’ Group at the Asia Pacific Economic Coalition. The World Copyright Summit in July furthered these negotiations.

The agreement potentially represents attempts to restrict the sharing of information, including music, movies and software. Among the suggested measures is enforcement of such laws without waiting for complaints from rights holders; the seizure and destruction of ‘goods and equipment’ involved in infringement, both internally and at a country’s borders; searches at the request of a single party, and the disclosure of supposed infringers to rights holders.

Groups such as the Australian Digital Alliance are concerned that many of these measures represent an erosion of basic civil liberties, such as the right to a fair hearing. The US-based Free Software Foundation is critical that ACTA-inspired laws may be enforced by people with limited knowledge. Using free software and free formats or even a non-standard piece of hardware, such as a non-iPod music player could conceivably cause trouble for you, especially when going through a signatory country’s customs.

After the conviction of the Pirate Bay creators in Sweden, Nick McDonald from law firm Brown Jacobson, warns that sites like Google, eBay and other sites containing user- generated content may also be criminally liable. Pirate Bay is a well-known Swedish file sharing site, which uses BitTorrent technology to allow its users to share and download content. On 31 January 2008, charges were filed by Swedish prosecutors against four individuals, Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm and Carl Lundstrom, for ‘promoting other people’s infringements of copyright laws’. On 17 April 2009 the four men were convicted and each sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay a total of 30 million SEK (3.6 million USD). This draconian enforcement seems completely out of proportion to the activity being conducted and seems to smack of corporate influence.

Given that the vast majority of artists and writers receive such pitiful remuneration for their work, the arguments of megacorporations that free downloading is stealing from the artists themselves seem rather hollow. The only ones making money out of music and other artistic content are large corporations at the expense of the creators of content. The Free Software Movement represents the attempt to break corporate control of computer software and some branches defend the free exchange of content in defiance of copyright law. This movement potentially represents a resistance to the superficiality and immediacy which the internet can create. If Twitter is the future of news reporting, then the Free Software Movement represents a counter direction.

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