Skip to main content


Showing posts from April, 2011

Trends in Media Technology

As research for my dissertation, I found myself in consumer electronics store. In thinking on the issue of first sale in the digital age, I realized that I've been a little out of touch with content delivery systems as the consumer tends to interact with them. Working with computers and software is one of my hobbies, so I keep track of development, but I prefer building computers to buying them and use GNU/Linux operating systems as often as possible. As a result, my interactions with media are guided by a tinker's sensibilities. If I want to know how major media conglomerates want consumers to interact with media, I have to go the retail outlets where such things are sold, especially to those who do not want to tinker.
My goal was to take a good long look at content delivery: what channels are available for accessing media, how is that access controlled, and what are the capabilities of available platforms. I looked at devices for video, audio, and ebook content, as well as mu…

Politics and Power

I did not begin this blog with a plan to comment extensively on current events. Nevertheless, a news item from the CBC stirred up some thoughts about the relationship between politics, power, and democracy. The background story can be found at the link below:
The story concerns the current election cycle in Canada. The Conservative minority government recently fell to a vote of no-confidence, so Canadians head to polls on May 2 to elect a new government. The Conservatives have been in power for a few years now, and early polls show that the New Democratic Party, traditionally one of the more marginal of the major parties, is leading on the other parties. As a result, the leaders of the other parties have launched attacks on the NDP, their leaders and their campaign promises and platforms. Now, you might not find this overly surprising if you're not familiar with the Canadian political landscape.

Lifetime Copyright Terms and Corporate Authorship

When the CTEA passed in 1998, and the Supreme Court defended it from challenge just two years later, the accepted term for copyright was once again extended. The council for the plaintiffs attempted several arguments to show that the CTEA unconstitutionally extended copyright terms, and that if such legislation was a sign of a trend in IP legislation, the sense of copyright as a limited monopoly would be eroded bit by bit until all copyrights were rendered perpetual. Unfortunately, the Court rejected those arguments. As of now, copyright protection is guaranteed for the life of the author plus 70 years for works of individual authorship. Works of corporate authorship are treated differently, protected for 120 years from date of creation, or 95 years from date of publication, whichever is earlier.
It would be convenient if the story ended there. However, the ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission extended broad rights of free speech to corporations, entities which a…

A Personal Account of External Cognition: My Life as Someone Else's Wikipedia

I first heard about External Cognition while working on my MA at UBC. I found myself rapidly developing an interest in philosophy of mind and cognitive sciences, especially in modelling the mind (or consciousness). External Cognition seemed like an interesting way of questioning the mind-brain reduction, but ultimately, some of the claims made by supporters of External Cognition also seemed outlandish, too far a stretch of what we consider “thinking” or “knowing.” For the most part, I went on to disregard External Cognition as a serious model, but occasionally, events in my own life became doubts that gnawed at my skepticism.
For review, External Cognition is the view, stated originally in a paper by Clark and Chalmers, that cognition can be located “outside of the head.” For example, I cannot specify in great detail the location of the nearest shopping mall, but I can tell you that if you drive along a particular road in the right direction for long enough, you'll find it. Now, in…

Baseline "Problems"

In his discussion Locke's Proviso, Robert Nozick articulates some worries about interpreting the  proviso as requiring the maintenance of some baseline (Nozick Anarchy, State and Utopia Part II Ch 7 Section 1). In particular, Nozick is worried about how to cash out Locke's proviso against appropriation; an appropriation is unjustified if there is not “enough and as good” left for others. If the proviso is understood as protecting agents from falling below a certain baseline, then we must confront the problem of establishing what that baseline is. Nozick, and those who follow his interpretation of Locke, abandons the baseline conception and instead adopts a Pareto-Optimal view of the Proviso. Namely, a taking is unjustified when an agent's current situation is worsened, where worsened must be evaluated in terms of opportunities created and lost, etc.

Without getting into the reasons I disagree with this interpretation of Locke's proviso, I've always been bothered t…

Memes and Rights

As I mentioned in the last post, my dissertation concerns intellectual property rights. I am currently writing a chapter on the information commons in which I argue that the information commons should be understood as a collection of memes. As such, agents must have some presumptive rights to access the information commons. Otherwise agents would not have presumptive access to the contents of their own minds. To understand why this should be so, a little bit of unpacking is required.
“Information commons” is a way of talking about generally known or available information. The information commons includes inchoate ideas as well as complete works, both public domain and protected works. Intellectual property scholars invoke various metaphors to explain what the information commons is, why it is so important, and how it should be preserved. The most straightforward model, the one which the very term arises, comes by way of analogy to a physical commons. The information commons is a stock …

The License

I'd like to draw your attention to the license text at the bottom of this page. I might not normally take the time to point out licensing, but it is a matter of professional interest. My dissertation concerns intellectual property rights, and I argue for a fairly open intellectual property system, in hopes of providing some argument against current trends. I place myself on the side of free culture. Culture is the product of basic human activities, the ways we connect to one another and come to understand ourselves and our fellows. As such, creative works provide a key benefit to the public at large. They allow us to express ourselves and communicate with others, to show our own struggles and reflection, to offer our own perspective. What is most interesting to me is that the value of intellectual objects is maximized by sharing, not hoarding. An invention unsold, a story unpublished, can bring some passing benefit to a single person, but once released to the public, circulated wi…

Corporate Personhood

Today I attended a talk on the Citizens United vs Federal Elections Commission ruling. The speaker was in favor of the ruling, and while I disagree, I would rather not tediously summarize his arguments and criticize them point by point. Instead, I'll present some puzzles about corporate ownership and the implications of the Citizens United ruling as intuition pumps. I dislike the notion of treating legal fictions as persons, and I hope to the intuition pump provided will at least show some reasons for my skepticism.
The one thing I will mention about the talk in question is the speaker's assertion that Citizens United was not a case about free speech not corporate personhood. One might find that view credible if it were the case that corporate personhood were a given. Nevertheless, corporate personhood, and the rights of corporations if any, is the truly vexed question. Regulation and censorship are major issues and the subject of much debate, in courts, among legal scholars, a…

A Mission statement, of sorts

What follows is a mission statement, a rough outline of the stance I tend to take in response to social issues, and therefore the stance I am likely to take in many of my posts. In its current form it is rough, a bit ranty, and somewhat incomplete. I really don't think it's possible for a rational person to sum up all of their views quickly, so I invite readers to simply tuck in for the ride and see where it takes them.

For now, this, I believe:

This blog will be a place for me to give air to ideas as I develop them, in hopes of working toward more refined arguments. The title refers to a general belief of mine that technology and technological advancement offer our most sure prospect for realizing ideals like justice, compassion, and liberty for all human beings. While moved by utopian dreams, my observation of the world has steeped me in cynicism. Political machines are hijacked by pirates and robber barons. Virtuous leaders fight entrenched systems of privilege, and markets …