Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Monday, October 15, 2007

me thinks about copyright, me thinks

lots of kerfluffle in the wires about copyright these days, at least if you've been following SFWA and BoingBoing and Jerry Pournelle's blog, and i feel the need to weigh in on this issue.

imagine, if you will, a suburban house, plopped in the middle of a suburban street, with a sidewalk, a driveway, and a jar of pennies next to the mailbox, a jar of nickels halfway up the driveway, and a jar of dimes at the front door.

people walking past - most of them - won't exert one iota of energy towards these pennies, these nickels, or these dimes. they might lift a finger to point and say, "hey, look at all those weird coins all over the place. this is strange. let's walk faster away from this place that does not conform to the rules of the housing community!"

some people, walking past, will pocket a penny. later on, they might feel guilty about it, and drop a penny in some other day.

some people, will break an entry - GASP - by walking up the driveway to verify that these are actually nickels, and not fake. Some of the people who do this might take a nickel for themself. A few less might drop in a nickel to rid themselves of spare change.

some people will walk up to the dimes and do the same.

some people will knock on the door, and go hunting for quarters. quarters are exceptionally valuable due to their hefty weight, multiple uses in vending machines and laundromats, and even if you have to trade a few dimes and nickels to get some quarters, that's a good exchange.

at this point, the owner of the house has made contact with a new friend. hooray!

some people in the housing community will get flustered and talk about how not everyone is doing things like that. they will fling rulebooks around and call meetings and get upset that someone is doing things differently in our gated community!

angry letters will be written! angry phone calls will be made! resolutions will be passed! committees will be formed!

and - the obverse is also true! in a community where everyone has jars of pennies, jars of nickels, and jars of dimes in their lawns, the person who has no jars of anything on their lawn will be subject to letters, phone calls, resolutions, and committees.

still, hold the first example in your head for a minute. that person who takes a penny from the jar by the mailbox is stealing. they are breaking an entry into the home owner's property and stealing. the same is true of the nickels. the same is true of the dimes.

at what point do you call the cops and prosecute?

personally, if you make a living by getting people to knock on your door and trade their dollar bills in for mystic, multi-use totem-objects like quarters, i don't see why we have to make a stink about the pennies and the nickels and the dimes that spread goodwill and curiosity all over the mundane, flat, boring, suburban-mediocre, communal-stinkpit that some would have the internet become. we can put a sign on the door announcing the trading. we can spur curiosity by giving things away. we can do all sorts of fascinating things.

ursula leguin was mad that boingboing posted one of her stories (a one-paragraph-long satire), and cory doctorow pulled it down when he heard about it, and apologized, and ursula leguin accepted the apology.

i don't know about any other regular boingboing readers, but when i read the boingboing post, it reminded me how much i liked ursula k leguin, and i thought about pulling some of her books out and re-reading them.

now that it's pulled down and brought into this angry stink, i don't want to read anything. i had assumed such a small slight was above the notice of a venerable master, and all that publicity might even help her get the word out to a new generation of readers.

at what point is it worth the fight? one paragraph? one line? one penny?

what if that penny stolen today reminds people of how much they ought to do the right thing and go knock on that door and trade a dollar in for some quarters.

these are the pennies of my thoughts.

this sh** is getting too personal. i hope my peers stop fighting in committees and start to live and let live.

i f-ing hate housing communities and councils and being told how to live and work by a committee, how to decorate my yard with anything i want - even things i want people to take so they come back to my house tomorrow.

if that made any cents to anyone - because i'm not completely convinced my metaphor made complete sense - mayhap drop me a line in the comment section. after all, i make a living trading thoughts for pennies. i wouldn't mind trading a bit with you.

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