July 26, 2005 · Nelson Pavlosky
A few months ago, we were considering organizing candlelight vigils on the night before the Grokster oral arguments at the Supreme Court, “vigils for innovation.” We decided against it, however, because many of our members felt that it would be too melodramatic. Usually candlelight vigils are held when people die, or on the eve of a war when many people are expected to die, and it’s unlikely that anyone will die as a direct result of the Grokster decision, although technological innovation may suffer.
This leads to an interesting question: when we speak of taking the free culture movement off the internet and into the streets, how can we avoid looking silly? There are certainly aspects of free culture where lives are at stake: for instance, millions of people suffer and die in the third world because we’re too stupid to use generic drugs to help them, instead of sending inadequate quantities of expensive licensed drugs. But what do we do when lives do not hang in the balance? Will people write us off as nutjobs for protesting in favor of iPods? Would they be right to do so? It seems harder to go over the edge when doing online activism, especially since internet communities can be threatened or destroyed by copyright and free speech issues, so it makes sense to carry on activism in those threatened communities. But in the physical world, our physical bodies are generally not at stake. Only when our copyright laws go completely over the edge and people get thrown in jail do protests seem justified. But do we want to wait until things get that bad? Isn’t some pre-emptive protesting in order?
How can we show that these issues are important to us, and take action in “meatspace,” without people thinking that we are overreacting?