Sunday, April 11, 2010

Video Troubles and Citizen Journalists

This weekend I created another video for your enjoyment. Once again, however, the process of uploading that video is anything but enjoyable. Here's the deal:

I made the video from clips I shot three weeks ago. The problem is, I wanted to add a little music to my work. I knew that the only way I could add music without paying huge royalties was to use music that was published under some form of Creative Commons license. So I logged on to Magnatune, because I knew that all the music published through Magnatune is released under Creative Commons Non-Commercial licenses to people who want to use the music for non-commercial applications. (That certainly applies to me. I haven't made a dime from this blog. Then again, I haven't charged a dime either.)

I have a couple of CD's of a vocal group that I heard about via Magnatune. Two of their songs seemed to fit my video quite well, so I looked up Magnatune's policy on using their music in noncommercial videos posted online. I was surprised to learn that there are restrictions on the use of Magnatune music in videos hosted on commercial, for-profit sites like YouTube and Vimeo. I think this is because of the “rights” such sites assert and claim on material hosted by them. (I suppose I shouldn't have been so na├»ve, but then again in many things I'm still a newbie.)

As I read the Magnatune policy, it dawned on me that these restrictions don't apply to videos hosted on non-for-profit sites like the Internet Archive. (At least, I think they don't.) But one problem with the Internet Archive is that it doesn't seem to like Linux users. My computer runs on Linux most of the time. My machine is five years old, and although it came with Microsoft Windows XP when I bought it, I've been trying to move away from expensive dependency on Microsoft. Much of the trouble I've had with trying to upload video to the Internet Archive has had to do with the fact that their site is not friendly to computers that run on Linux or UNIX. They are not the only such site. My troubles uploading to Vimeo were for this very cause; the only reason I was able to upload my “Managing Trees, Stormwater and Hunger” video was that I finally gave up and ran my computer on Windows XP.

All of this had me thinking as I tore myself away from the computer screen and headed for my bedroom in the wee hours of this morning. First, about the Internet Archive itself. After all, the Archive is a product of the protest against the excesses of “digital rights management,” the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and the attempt to destroy the public domain in order to create a culture in which everyone must pay rent in order to participate. The Internet Archive is a big promoter of open-source file formats and the Creative Commons licensing model. So why does their site require the use of proprietary software for optimum success in uploading video files? I mean, one can use a computer running Linux, but what happens if after waiting all night for your files to upload, you fail because you weren't using Windows? Believe me, I speak from experience!

But the Internet Archive is but a subset of a larger problem. Linux has proven itself as a stable, capable operating system for computers both large and small. Linux is even being offered pre-loaded on new laptops and notebooks sold in the U.S. nowadays. (By the way, a computer pre-loaded with Linux can be quite a bit cheaper than a computer pre-loaded with the latest version of Microsoft Windows.) And there are entire suites of free, open-source software (such as OpenOffice) available for users worldwide.

All of these things mean that access to computers and to the digital world is within the reach of an ever-larger population – including ever-more people of very limited means otherwise. This includes people in poor countries and poor communities in the U.S. who could become potential citizen journalists, telling their stories accurately and authentically, and making a valuable contribution in forming an accurate picture of our world.

But this access and the democratization of digital media is hindered even today by the existence of proprietary digital systems that restrict access so that their creators can collect rents. This is why you can't buy a DVD from a store in the U.S. and play it in the video player that comes standard with Ubuntu Linux. This is why you can't upload a video to Vimeo from a machine that has only Linux installed. This is why until recently you couldn't even view some sites from a computer that was running on Linux. It's not that Linux is bad. It's just that it's free – and allowing people to meet their needs via a thing that's free is bad for the profit margins of the rentier class. This is the reason for the existence of obstacles to the use of free things. So rising citizen journalists in poor communities and poor countries are nipped in the bud – because they can't afford to pay rent to Microsoft.

The rentier mentality pervades almost all other areas of life in America these days. Take driving, for instance. In most states, if you want to get around, you must buy a car. If you do buy a car, not only are you charged registration, but in some states you are also charged a vehicle excise tax on top of registration fees. The excise tax must be paid even if you never drive the car. If you actually drive anywhere, you must carry insurance. Cars nowadays depreciate in value fairly rapidly, so eventually you will wind up needing a new car. In other words, there are fairly substantial “rents” paid to various persons for the privilege of driving a car. Yet if you can't afford these rents, there are almost no other options than driving. Many places still aren't bike-friendly.

Or take health care. People in this country are dying from lack of affordable access to medical care. This is largely due to the rent-seeking of various bodies – the pharmaceutical companies who squeeze the last bit of profit from their patented medicines, the medical technology companies who push their latest and greatest machines, and the health insurance “industry” which does next to nothing, yet has now been gifted with a national law that requires most of us to buy health insurance. On a similar line, there are the efforts by industrial agribusiness to push everyone into reliance on GMO crops, in order to extract rent from us all for the “privilege” of eating the food made from these crops.

The rentier class is the ultimate example of a something-for-nothing way of life, in which people who do absolutely nothing useful are supported by the enforced contributions of millions of others who are under some sort of specious legal obligation to pay their livelihoods to the rentiers. As their appetite grows, so do the obligations they place on the rest of us. Are you in rags? Sleeping under a bridge? Do your children have skinny arms and distended bellies, like pictures of malnourished people in some Third World country? It matters not at all to the rentiers, as long as you keep paying up.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

Damn Socialist!

Just joking. I agree wholeheartedly and would add something about the additional rents we have to pay in order to avoid being targeted by someone being mischievous and/or outright trying to steal private information and what little money is left over after all the rents...except I'm not sure how to word it.

Peace and comfort, amigo.