Estimated reading time: 4 minutes —
It was really only a few years ago that everything I produced was Copyright All Rights Reserved.
Then I met Jay Dedman.
Then I met Micki Krimmel.
Then I met Jon Phillips.
Then I met Richard Stallman.
Then I timidly dipped my toe in the waters of Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike.
And for 2 or 3 years now, everything I’ve created is Creative Commons Attribution.
Like a newcomer to any religion, I’ve become a rabid proselytizer and a tedious person to talk to. The Flying Spaghetti Monster knows, I’ve annoyed the living crap out of a lot of virtual world residents with my Free Culture arguments. But I’ve also been disappointed at how old-media-thinking a new-media-environment like Second Life is.
At least in my world, I can’t really say I’ve seen Free Culture blossoming, but perhaps there’s a faint consciousness of it.
Another side to this space is Digital Slavery. Or if that’s too dramatic a term, then Digital Indentured Servantfulness. This ranges from the relentless datamining of our lives, to the draconian TOS we digitally sign on a regular basis. I noticed in the latest Linden Lab accept-now-or-have-no-access-to-your-friends-or-assets TOS revision, that it contained the language that LL may Immediately terminate your account with no compensation or appeal if they “believe” you to have X or Y or Z…
Not, if you are proven to X, not if an impartial body finds you to have Y, not if jury of your peers convicts you of Z, but simply, if Linden Lab “believes” you to have X or Y or Z, then your digital life is fodder for their shredder.
This is service provider as lawmaker, norm-setter, judge, jury, and executioner. It’s an obscene amount of power to be concentrated in one entity. Jimmy Wales cannot dictate the terms of participating in Wikipedia, but Linden Lab can and does dictate the terms of living in Second Life. As a community grows, a non-profit one like Wikipedia, or a for-profit one like Second Life, the user community should grow in voice and managerial responsibility.
For a long time we have allowed entities like Clear Channel to buy a billboard and de-facto own the sky, the public space, and the cultural discourse in the cities where we live. It has taken the Street Art Movement to remind us that the owner of a billboard owns neither the heavens above us nor the definition of our culture.
I first blogged about the authoritarian service provider when a faceless bureaucrat at Flickr reclassified Violet Blue’s professional online presence. They didn’t take Blue’s career portfolio down, they just changed her content rating to “restricted.”
All that means is that in nations like Germany, India, and China, her content became completely inaccessible. For Flickr users in other nations it was technically accessible, but not searchable.
IRez has discussed these ideas a number of times now:
What’s increasingly clear, is that even if your fleshvatar lives in a Western LIberal Democracy, your avatar lives under a harsh, capricious, authoritarian regime.
In recent days the Bank of America regime has executed citizen Wikileaks.
In recent days the PayPal regime has executed citizen Wikileaks.
In recent days the Amazon regime has executed citizen Wikileaks.
My own life is constantly at the mercy of many regimes. I quite literally live each day of my life with the powerful feeling that my life is hanging by a thread. In fact, my very life itself is a violation of the Facebook regime’s TOS!
My life is threatened by the Linden Lab regime.
My life is threatened by the Flickr regime.
My life is threatened by the Google regime.
My life is an abomination, per the Facebook regime.
Every time you agree to a TOS you trade freedom and privacy for the right to participate in culture. Never mind that the UN-HRC defines the ability to participate in culture as a basic human right, the Virtual Regimes require you to pay for that right, by generally giving up all of your rights.
The problem is that unlike any other contract negotiation, when you accept a TOS, only one side gets to dictate terms. The TOS gives everything to the corporation and nothing to the user. Prompted by the many Virtual Regimes attempting to deprive Citizen Wikileaks of its rights, the first impulse for WikiTerms was born today in a blog post by Wikileaks forum member Satya:
The post was, at it’s core, intended to help out WikiLeaks, but I hope the scope of WikiTerms grows to redefine the landscape of Provider:User relations.
What if 20% of Flickr’s userbase said, “Hello, here are the terms under which we would be wiling to use your service.”
Do they say yes?
Do they say no?
Do they negotiate?
Certain of their terms might be at the heart of their business model and require negotiation. If users chose to pay instead of getting free services, they might be able to demand an end to or control of data mining practices.
But other terms may actually be somewhat flexible. They’re written the way they are because when only one side has a lawyer, they reserve everything for that client.
For example, most services stipulate that the service may transform or be taken down with zero minutes notice. If you’re going to allow user/partners to invest their lives creating content in your world, why can’t you stipulate at least 30 days notice for personal and professional users to transition out of your service.
When Pownce went down, they “generously” gave users 7 days more time from announcement to end of existence of service than the TOS required. The TOS specified no notice whatsoever required, and Pownce gave users 7 days. If you were on a modest vacation, you could return to find your world vanished.
The WikiTerms movement is brand new, the ideas need thinking thru, perhaps a different name, and probably some or lots of lawyers. Still, reading Satya’s post makes today quite an extraordinary day for me.
As important a day as the day Jon Philips explained Creative Commons to me.
As important a day as the day Richard Stallman explained Freedom to me.
From the dark dungeons of TOS slavery we hear the faint echo of voices growing more numerous, “regime change.”
Thank you Satya, I wasn’t really expecting a solstice present this year, being incorporeal and all, but you just gave me the bestest one ever!