No April Fool’s Day joke
On April 1, 2013 Judge Richard Sullivan of an US District Court in New York / USA ruled that digital music cannot be sold second hand
Digital audio files, like videos, images, texts or any other data are at the very core of computation represented by just two digits:
- 0 = power off
- 1 = power on
Reading this very text from your display right now means that your computer has “downloaded” to your hard-drive the required digital pattern of ones and zeroes together with the blueprint to reassemble them on your screen. As a result you are in possession of an identical copy of my digital edition of “Arrested Development”.
Sending you a printed edition by mail instead, would have taken more efforts and time but above all: this certain print would no longer be in my possession!
The Cyberspace1 — a virtual reality created by electrons
Inside the digital universe electronic patterns are transmitted via Internet, a fine mesh of electric circuits, in a fractal of a second across the entire planet. At the entrance and exit points of the Cyberspace the volatile information has to be cast into a material form, i.e. it is “saved” on a carrier medium like hard-disk, flash-drive, CD or DVD.
All manifestations of information will age, be damaged, expire or waste away in the end, therefore it is good to keep a back-up. Each copy of an original form is a 100% identical clone due to the nature of information being simplified to the binary condition of “yes”  and “no” . One might say, alike the genome of mankind remains immortal by being passed (copied) through generations of men, the perpetual cloning (copying) of information keeps the cultural heritage alive in the Cyberspace.
Learning through copying shapes culture
“An idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”2 is often termed as “meme”. Its a shortening of “mimeme” from Greek mimēma, “something imitated”, from mimeisthai, “to imitate”. Obviously “copying” constitutes a cornerstone in the development of human culture.
The Cyberspace — the most developed medium of information exchange
While mankind’s first records were carved into stone, later written or printed on paper today an ubiquitous Cyberspace allows the up- and download of information at any time and any place. In recognition of this “revolutionary” achievement the United Nations voted for “the free flow of information, ideas, and knowledge” as prerequisite for “internationally agreed development goals and objectives“.
Judiciary interpretation of an imprecise law — cui bono?3
Oblivious to aforementioned the New Yorker judge came to his conclusion on grounds of the “first-sale doctrine” of 1908. Therein the right to copy is limited to the copyright owner. Accordingly the judge decided that a person can only legally sell “her ‘particular’ phonorecord, be it a computer hard disk, iPod, or other memory device onto which the file was originally downloaded.”
Of course such ruling on ICT, updating privileges4 for a business model which was state of the art at the time of steam engines and horse-driven cars, appears to lack good sense or judgement. Beyond that it gives the public a clue about how little power structures have changed since the empire-age. In general the act of “kicking away the ladder” for the rest, on which the privileged climbed to the top, is carried out more obscure.
Colonisation through privatisation5
- Imperium6 refers to political sovereignty7, and it is projected at the point of a gun.
- Dominium8 refers to economic sovereignty, and it is projected at the point of a pen used to sign a contract.
By making national borders become increasingly meaningless today, corporate Dominium (ownership) is supplanting government Imperium (rule) as the predominant means for projecting influence and power worldwide.
The transformation of the Cyberspace according to Big Business
1. Content: Currently Google, Microsoft, the BBC and other global players are going through non-governmental channels to implement Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) into the HTML5 code — the very fabric of the World Wide Web. As a result data files will contain a price tag and only “open” after being paid for.
2. Devices: In this regard the reshaping of the public desire away from a “personal” notebook computer towards a Tablet-PC dependent of online-services catches the eye; the omission of a keyboard works in favour of passive consumption while complicating active participation like self-generation of content or administration via command-line interface.
3. Networks: At the same time main donors like the World Bank focus on “investing in IT and communications infrastructure“. The locals however are not deluded on a policy as old as empire; for them it just means another episode of trickle-down economics which first of all subsidise the interests of the Power Elite while after all it will hardly affect their lives.
“They are not here for us!”
A striking example for the absence of general ITC development in Tanzania is the fact that the police still has to file reports by pen and paper. Like back in 1908, the old colonial times Judge Richard Sullivan deigns to set as benchmark.
Alas to develop to an Information Society, it requires that her citizens gain sustainable capabilites and means to generate and rule the Kiswahili sector of the Cyberspace.
Continue reading → Creating a People’s PC for Tanzania — and the rest of us.
A striking parallel between ICT and biotechnology occurs: second-hand copies of genetically modified soy-bean seeds are prohibited as well! The US Supreme Court just ruled that a farmer has no permission “to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission”.
The farmer Bowman has to pay Monsanto Inc. a compensation of US$84,000 for harvesting seeds from their “self-replicating products” — the judiciary diction for “plant”. One might say that under the prospect of ‘greener pastures’9 and a better future, Monsanto made Mr. Bowman’s property their colony.
On the other hand the same multinational corporation has been freed from any legal responsibility for its products and consequential damage since on 26 March, Obama quietly signed the “Monsanto Protection Act” into law.
While the U.S. already believes, that they are vested with global jurisdiction, they also work to worldwide impose a colonial regime of laws by economic trade agreements. The whistle-blower platform Wikileaks just published what was supposed to be kept secret – also to the Tanzanian government:
Despite the wide-ranging effects on the global population, the TPP is currently being negotiated in total secrecy by 12 countries. Few people, even within the negotiating countries’ governments, have access to the full text of the draft agreement and the public, who it will affect most, none at all. Large corporations, however, are able to see portions of the text, generating a powerful lobby to effect changes on behalf of these groups and bringing developing country members reduced force, while the public at large gets no say.
Such trade agreements also serve to enforce software-patents globally. The Chinese government “concluded after its investigation that Microsoft holds approximately 200 patent families that are necessary to build an Android smartphone.”
An IT-journal reveals, that Microsoft has managed to build a huge patent-licensing business by taxing Android phones without revealing what kind of legal leverage they really have over those phones. Recent estimates of its Android licensing business suggest Microsoft is earning somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion from Android device makers paying royalties.
Update 15/11/2014: EU-Africa free trade agreement ‘destroys’ development policy10
For the sake of completeness one should note, that the European Union acts no less hypocritical than the USA. The Africa Commissioner of the German Chancellor issued harsh criticism of the EU’s joint free trade deal with multiple African countries, claiming this “Economic Partnership Agreement” (EPA) counteracts Europe’s development policy.
Also Andrew Mold, the UN’s economic analyst for east Africa, said he sees the African economy as being threatened by the agreement in the long-term:
“The African countries cannot compete with an economy like Germany’s. As a result, free trade and EU imports endanger existing industries, and future industries do not even materialise because they are exposed to competition from the EU.”
This blog however reflects about Information Technology and its impact on Tanzania. And as a fact global IT is controlled by an U.S. cartel including Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcom, — to name a few. Anti-monopolism though, must not be equated to anti-americanism!
McLean, Janet (2004) “The Transnational Corporation in History: Lessons for Today?,” Indiana Law Journal: Vol. 79: Iss. 2, Article 2.