August 20, 2002  ·  Lessig

I’ve been hiding for the last few weeks trying to finish the reply brief in the Eldred case. (Check out the briefs on the other side. My favorite is the RIAA’s, which begins “The RIAA and its members are dedicated defenders of the First Amendment and vigorously oppose government-sponsored censorship in all its forms.” That’s apparently the mini-me version of the RIAA. Also check out which is giving away free (as in beer) “Free the Mouse” bumperstickers. )

But today I started getting a bunch of frantic emails from people telling me that I needed to respond to Dave Winer. Dave’s hopping mad. Apparently, when I asked in my OSCON talk, “What have you done?”and then said “We’ve done nothing,” Dave thought I was literally saying he, Dave, has done nothing. He didn’t take it well.

Hey, Dave, peace. Of course I don’t mean that you’ve, literally, done nothing. Obviously and of course, you’ve done great things for the movement. Nor when I criticized the copyright system was I saying anything about you. (Obviously lots of people use copyright to spread knowledge, rather than hide it. Copyleft is still copyright. And I am, as my writing should make clear, pro-copyright.)

When I said at OSCON that “We’ve done nothing yet,” what I meant (and I thought this was obvious) is that we’ve done nothing politically yet. We have yet to build a political movement to resist those who would use law to kill what you, and others, built when you, and others, built the net. That claim I still stand behind. There is no political movement that has punished, the way democracies punish, the likes of Berman, et al. And there’s no political movement yet that adequately rewards the likes of Boucher, Cannon, and Hank Perritt.

You say there “will” be. Great. Here’s hoping. But I was talking about what there is — now, when the worst legislation we’ve seen so far is being bounced around DC like it’s apple pie. Right now we have a culture where the most creative and important builders of freedom in the 21st century have zero political savvy and (so far) zero political effect. Part of the reason for this is good sense: obviously, your talents are for building the technical infrastructure for freedom that we call the Net. But part of the reason is the continuing reign of Declan-like banalities–about how you don’t need to waste time getting democracies to protect freedom, that politics can be left to people in dc, that geeks should worry about west coast code not east coast code, etc. (My favorite line from the Declan missive was: “Would you rather see Ian Clarke start a certain-to-be-ignored postcard campaign instead of inventing such a beautifully disruptive technology as Freenet?” Gee, I guess not. And I guess on that reasoning, Ian should also stop going to movies, because if we’ve got to choose between the next great “beautifully disruptive technology” and movies, well…)

My point is that if this community does not begin to spend at least as much time as it spends watching Hollywood movies fighting Hollywood, or to spend at least as much money as it gives DSL providers on those who fight broad based control, then this extraordinary space that you, Dave, (and I trust you’ll agree, some others as well) built will be taken away. Not by superior blogs, and not by witty /. postings. But in the old-fashioned way: through regulators who have been bent by the forces of those who can and do buy Washington.

You say I should stop complaining, and open up a blog. (Man. I knew you were still angry with me that I didn’t take you up on your kind offer for free blog space at userland. I’m sorry, Dave.). I say that in addition to blogging, and coding and whatever, we’ve got to do something that matters to these people who think a blog is a typo. You, or we, or someone has got to get this community to deliver a different kind of message. One that east coast coders can read; one that says: we won’t let the freedom we (actually, you, certainly not me) built be regulated away.

How? Here’s the simplest thing we could do: identify 2 luddite members of Congress — one Republican and one Democrat. Organize and defeat them in November. If Congress saw bad ideas cost seats, they’d begin to do something about their bad ideas.

It’s one thing to sit at your screen and post rude-ities about how you’ll throw them (and me) out (out of where, Dave? userland? Oh no!), and how the revolution will come, and so on. You’re right: I’m not old enough to remember the “revolution” of the 60s; just old enough to remember that Nixon was president when the 60s ended. In any case, the revolution will be here only when it leaves your screen, and registers and votes. And about that, I still say “we’ve done nothing”– still.

Back to the wisdom of the RIAA …