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The best insights compound the obvious. They make so much sense that you struggle to comprehend their many implications. Such is the case with the first line, and then the first paragraph, of Kevin Kelly‘s Better than Free:

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Consider the implication of this for the concept of copyright, then ponder the pile of law that first defined it in 1790 (in the U.S.) and has expanded on it ever since.

I won’t offer an opinion about that here, but instead turn our floor over to a pair of brilliant opponents on the subject: William F. Patry and Ben Sheffner. Bill is the author of Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars and a blog by the same name, subtitled “A blog about copyright discourse”—and a copyright attorney in the employ of Google (though he is careful to add, everywhere it makes sense, that “This is a personal blog, not a Google blog”.) Ben is a “copyright/First Amendment/media/entertainment attorney and former journalist” with a long list of credentials in the sidebar of his Copyrights & Campaigns blog, subtitled “Ben Sheffner’s notes on copyright, First Amendment, media, and entertainment law, and political campaigns”. Bill and Ben have been enjoying a very civil and illuminating debate, which Bill outlines this way:

Given the reverse-chronological nature (or LIFD–Last In, First Dug) nature of both blog publishing and geology, the first post is the bottom one on that list. Start there and work upward. I guarantee you will be smarter by the time you get to the top, and hungry for more.

As a pair of bonus links, I’ll point to Edward Samuels’ The Illustrated Story of Copyright, and Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine‘s Against Intellectual Monopoly. I’ve read the first, but not the second. Basically I’m just sharing my reading list here. Again, no opinions. Yet.

Oh, one more recommendation: Adam Gopnik’s Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life. Among many of its quotable nuggets is this one: “Law is the practice of rules in a context of deals, and Lincoln believed in both.” Keep that in mind when reading all the above.

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In the mid-1990s, when I couldn’t find anybody to publish my essays (I didn’t want to cover what I still call “vendor sports”, which eliminated most of the tech magazine market ), I followed Dave Winer‘s footsteps and published my own on the Web. One was The Web and the New Reality, written in raw HTML with formatting borrowed from Netscape’s white papers of the time, complete with all-caps H2 headlines and first letters enlarged with +3 font sizes. Funny how mannered that looks now. Like the skull-and-wings on 18th century headstones.

I stumbled over The Web and the New Reality when I went trudging through the nether pages of Google search results, hoping to find more about the disagreements between Jefferson and Franklin over patents and copyrights. I still haven’t found exactly what I was looking for (though Chapter 2 of James Boyle’s The Public Domain gets me off to an excellent start), but did pause to note in my now-ancient essay a list of prophesies that hold up pretty well, especially since the scope of some embraces futures that still aren’t here but also haven’t been disproven in the years that have already passed. It is certainly utopian, and in that mood outlines some of the ideas we expanded in The Cluetrain Manifesto four (and now fourteen) years later. Here is how it begins:

Reality 2.0

The import of the Internet is so obvious and extreme that it actually defies valuation: witness the stock market, which values Netscape so far above that company’s real assets and earnings that its P/E ratio verges on the infinite.

Whatever we’re driving toward, it is very different from anchoring certainties that have grounded us for generations, if not for the duration of our species. It seems we are on the cusp of a new and radically different reality. Let’s call it Reality 2.0.

The label has a millenial quality, and a technical one as well. If Reality 2.0 is Reality 2.000, this month we’re in Reality 1.995.12.

With only a few revisions left before Reality 2.0 arrives, we’re in a good position to start seeing what awaits. Here are just a few of the things this writer is starting to see…

  1. As more customers come into direct contact with suppliers, markets for suppliers will change from target populations to conversations.
  2. Travel, ticket, advertising and PR agencies will all find new ways to add value, or they will be subtracted from market relationships that no longer require them.
  3. Within companies, marketing communications will change from peripheral activities to core competencies.New media will flourish on the Web, and old media will learn to live with the Web and take advantage of it.
  4. Retail space will complement cyber space. Customer and technical service will change dramatically, as 800 numbers yield to URLs and hard copy documents yield to soft copy versions of the same thing… but in browsable, searchable forms.
  5. Shipping services of all kinds will bloom. So will fulfillment services. So will ticket and entertainment sales services.
  6. The web’s search engines will become the new yellow pages for the whole world. Your fingers will still do the walking, but they won’t get stained with ink. Same goes for the white pages. Also the blue ones.
  7. The scope of the first person plural will enlarge to include the whole world. “We” may mean everybody on the globe, or any coherent group that inhabits it, regardless of location. Each of us will swing from group to group like monkeys through trees.
  8. National borders will change from barricades and toll booths into speed bumps and welcome mats.
  9. The game will be over for what teacher John Taylor Gatto labels “the narcotic we call television.” Also for the industrial relic of compulsory education. Both will be as dead as the mainframe business. In other words: still trucking, but not as the anchoring norms they used to be.
  10. Big Business will become as anachronistic as Big Government, because institutional mass will lose leverage without losing inertia.Domination will fail where partnering succeeds, simply because partners with positive sums will combine to outproduce winners and losers with zero sums.
  11. Right will make might.
  12. And might will be mighty different.

The last two sections, titled How It All Adds Up and The Plus Paradigm, are the ones that see a future in which the economics of abundance plainly outperform those of scarcity.

If Paul Saffo is right when he says we overestimate in the short term and underestimate in the long, my out-there prophesies might still be safe. But in our current short run I remain impressed at how little some of our institutions — especially those of journalism — grok how abundance works.

Last week I sat on two panels at the huge 92nd Annual Convention of the Association for Education inJournalism and Mass Communication in Boston. While much of what was talked about there was clueful in the extreme, there was no shortage of top-down stuff like “corporate strategies and consumer responses” — and very little push-back against the apparent decision by many newspapers and magazines to turn like a flock of fish toward the “strategy” of locking their “content” behind paywalls. Again. They clearly aren’t following Chris Anderson’s advice or example.

On the whole Google used to ignore the paywalled stuff, because it couldn’t be indexed, but now the pubs are leaving teasers out there (or maybe Google now has ways of searching archives anyway), and the result for the reader is clunking into registration and subscription doors that are all different and all annoying — especially when one is already a subscriber to the publication in question and can’t remember the login/password required (as is the case for me with The New Yorker, among other pubs).

So the “plus paradigm” ain’t here yet. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to make it happen anyway. There are worse goals than taking care of Jefferson’s unfinished business.

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How Teenagers Consume Media: the report that shook the City carries approximately no news for anybody who watches the changing tastes and habits of teenagers. What makes it special is that it was authored by a fifteen-year old intern at Morgan Stanley in London, and then published by the company.

It says teens like big TVs, dislike intrusive advertising, find a fun side to viral marketing, blow off Twitter, ignore all but the free tabloid newspapers, watch anime on YouTube and so on.

All these are momentary arrangements of patterns on the surface of a growing ocean of bits. (For why it grows, see Kevin Kelly.) What’s most productive to contemplate, I think, is how we will learn to thrive in a vast and growing bit-commons whilst (to borrow a favorite preposition of this teen) trying to make money in the midst.

Which brings me to Chris Anderson‘s new book, Free: the Future of a Radical Price. Malcolm Gladwell dissed it in The New Yorker, while Seth Godin said Malcolm is Wrong and Virginia Postrel gives it a mixed review in The New York Times. But I’m holding off for the simple reason that I haven’t finished reading it. When I do finish, what I’ll write won’t be a review, but something more along the lines of what I wrote in Linux Journal (here’s Part I and Part II, totaling more than 10,000 words) as a follow-on to Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat. Stay tuned for that. As with those last two items, it’ll go in Linux Journal.

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