Copynight

The night after the Grokster case was argued in the Supreme Court, a batch of Austinites gathered in the Club de Ville courtyart to sip drinks and chitchat about digital rights.
Don Turnbull and David Nunez of EFF-Austin were there at Club de Ville, as were Clay, who invited us, Clay’s housemate Austin, and Cody Koeninger, who wrote in with his name in the comments, after I embarrassingly forgot it.
Copynight is basically a standalone meetup for copyfighters. The instigators are Ren Bucholz and David Alpert, also of Ipaction (IPAC), the nascent digital rights fundraising and activist group.
Copynights have also sprung up in San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Washington DC, Raleigh, Chicago, Toronto, and Providence.

We speculated about what will happen if Grokster loses. Will that simply encourage the spread of the “darknet” — encrypted networks that are harder to trace?Is technology progress inevitable, even if the technology is illegal? Is the legal prohibition of filesharing doomed to suffer the same fate as the prohibition against alcohol?
(I think it might be inevitable globally, but that doesn’t mean that the US will remain a leader if we use laws to slow progress. My favorite example is the Ottoman empire which outlawed unlicensed printing presses. At the height of the scientific revolution in Europe, there were 17 printing presses in the entire Ottoman empire. Progress happed elsewhere, but it passed the Ottomans by because they used their legal system to stifle the technology within their borders.)
We connected the copyfight to the effort to Save Municipal Wireless — the fight against the SBC-fueled bill to outlaw city-supported high-speed internet. In both cases, an old and wealthy industry (movies and music; telephone and cable) is trying to outlaw the spread of new technology that puts their old business model at risk.
And — hopefully most important — we brainstormed about things we could do.

  • keep meeting, and build a community of people who care about the issue
  • teach about digital rights in high schools
  • meet with our congresscritters about IP issues
  • spread the word about alternative copyright and distribution to the indy community in Austin

Hopefully, Ren and David will be helping to spread the good ideas around.
In a side note about the tools, it’s gratifying to see standalone “meetup” software. Copyfight doesn’t have the fancy reminder and venue selection system that meetup has, but they do have a clickable map to find your meetup, and tools to organize a new one. The map is a nice touch — you can see little groups of copyfighters lighting up the continent.

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