[This post is by FMC Policy Intern Adam Holofcener, who bravely attended the Students for Free Culture Conference (Feb. 19-20), and furnished this report.]
This past weekend, Students for Free Culture (SFC) held their annual conference at New York University. The event was loaded with lamentations about the current state of copyright, complemented by youthful exuberance for a future based in access and innovation. (We might add compensation for creators to that list.)
Discussion covered a broad range of topics: textbooks in poverty stricken Brazil, the intellectual property (IP) “chain of title” for the song “Who Let the Dogs Out,” the ethics and activities of Brooklyn-based Digital Samplers and open education platforms and market viability for fashion. Keynote speakers included founders of Diaspora, an open source, privacy-conscious social network, and law Professor Susan Crawford, speaking about her upcoming book, The Big Squeeze. Most relevant to musicians was the talk about sampling and the remarks by Susan Crawford.
The panel of Brooklyn samplers, which included DJ Ghostdad, Games, Bennett Williamson, Kevin Driscoll and Laurel Halo, focused on the what, how, where and why of their work in music and video. Clearly, the internet has provided a treasure trove of material for the purposes of critique and comment, or as some might call it, copyright infringement. Yet the attitude here was less a question of “should we sample?” to a resounding battle cry, “try and stop me.” Conference attendees questioned whether the speakers were merely expressing rebellion for rebellion’s sake. The response from the panel: sampling is utilitarian. Media, due to its ubiquity, has become a part of our common vernacular. Samplers feel compelled to respond to this constant flow of information by sampling and re-contextualizing it. Whether samplers and samplees can live in harmony, legally, ethically and fiscally, has yet to be fully resolved. (For more on this hot topic, be sure to check out our upcoming book on sampling Creative License, arriving on Duke University Press in 2011.)
Susan Crawford, professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, spoke about her upcoming book, which focuses on access to the internet in the face of increasing Internet Service Provider (ISP) control. Crawford tried to de-obfuscate the issue: this isn’t about capacity of the pipes in the ground, this isn’t about paying by the bit, this isn’t even about so-called net neutrality, this is simply about access to broadband for all Americans. If this were a true policy concern, Crawford explained, like clean drinking water, then the current administration might be able to overpower the ISPs, who have an effective duopoly in almost every local market. (Think about it: you likely only have two choices for broadband: cable or DSL, and that’s if you’re lucky.)
Yet with America’s dizzying number of competing problems, broadband access probably inspire a “take to the streets”-style revolution. Still, Crawford is confident that although the market has, in her opinion, failed to truly serve the public, there is opportunity to achieve a better outcome. A second Obama administration could make the issue much more approachable, Crawford said. (She previously advised the White House on internet matters.) And, if all else fails, we can look towards municipal networks to put their own fiber into the ground.
All in all, it was an interesting event with plenty of ideas to, um, sample.