Category Archives: Knowledge economy

Horacio Potel’s Derrida site shut down, but available on Internet Archive

According to a U.S.-based Brazilian literature professor who has expressed solidarity with Argentinian philosophy professor Horacio Potel (see the full Potel story here), the complete Derrida site of Potel is still available from the archiving project called Internet Archive. Hence, those who still want to access the Derrida site, which had been shut down by the Argentinian authorities, may do so from this address:

http://web.archive.org/web/20071010073159/www.jacquesderrida.com.ar/

Potel’s Heidegger site, which had also been shut down, is likewise available on this new address:

http://web.archive.org/web/20080211104832/www.heideggeriana.com.ar/

Here’s my translation of the original letter of support in Spanish of Prof. Idelber Avelar address to Prof. Horacio Potel. Avelar describes how Potel’s Derrida and Heidegger sites have been preserved by the Internet Archive project, as well as by other bloggers through Easy Share, which enables Internet users to download the zip-archived version of Potel’s sites.

Dear Professor Horacio Potel:

I speak to you as a Brazilian, a literature professor in New Orleans (who has, in fact, done some work on the literature of Argentina), and a blogger. I would like, first of all, to extend to you all my sympathy for the horror caused by the insane application of the anachronistic copyright law. I am at your service for whatever help I can extend. In the Brazilian blogosphere, we have accumulated some experience in fighting attempts to censor the Internet.

Your work has already been archived in some servers, and the purpose of this letter is to offer you guidance over these archives. Everything that was once part of the Internet stays preserved on the Internet Archive, and the material can only be taken out of the Wayback Machine if the responsible person allows it. Thus, the Heidegger and Derrida websites are still available there. They are here:

http://web.archive.org/web/20071010073159/www.jacquesderrida.com.ar/

http://web.archive.org/web/20080211104832/www.heideggeriana.com.ar/

Of course, it is possible for them to file a new case to remove the material from the Internet Archive. But not just anyone can request to do so. You must be legally compelled to permit the removal. It is possible for them to do this, of course, so I and some other Brazilian bloggers, like Catatau and Nodari, have also replicated your work in Easy Share, in a downloadable zip file format. Here is the link:

http://www.easy-share.com/1904410914/derridaheidegger.zip

It would be interesting to discuss the difference between a link and a text with Minuit and CAL [the Argentinian Book Chamber—tr.] in the courts, especially with the entire Derrida archives for citation. I repeat: there are several precedents of similar attempts at censorship and of the considerable success of the forces that resist them. So you are not alone. Tell us what you need.

Best wishes, and in solidarity,

Idelber Avelar

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CopySouth group takes up philosophy professor’s case

The CopySouth Research Group (CSRG), an international network of activists and academics studying the impact on the global South of copyrights and related issues, has taken up the case of the philosophy professor whose Web site was shut down for posting Spanish translations of works by Jacques Derrida, the founder of “deconstruction”. Here is the CSRG statement:

Argentinean professor charged criminally for promoting access to knowledge

By the CopySouth Research Group

A philosophy professor in Argentina, Horacio Potel, is facing criminal charges for maintaining a website devoted to translations of works by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. His alleged crime: copyright infringement. Here is Professor Potel’s sad story.

“I was fascinated at the unlimited possibilities offered by the internet for knowledge exchange”, explains Horacio Potel, a Professor of Philosophy at the Universidad Nacional de Lanús in Buenos Aires. In 1999, he set up a personal website to collect essays and other works of some well-known philosophers, starting with the German Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. Potel’s websites – Nietzsche in Spanish, Heidegger in Spanish and Derrida in Spanish – eventually developed into growing online libraries of freely downloadable philosophical texts. Nietzsche in Spanish alone has already received more than four million visitors.

One of Potel’s best known websites, www.jacquesderrida.com.ar focused on his favourite French philosopher, Algerian-born Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), who was the founder of “deconstruction”. On this website Potel posted many of the philosopher’s works, translated into Spanish, as well as discussion forums, research results, biographies, images and the usual pieces of information typical of this type of online resource. “I wanted to share my love for philosophy with other people. The idea was disseminating the texts and giving them some sort of arrangement” declares Potel.

To Potel, what he was doing was what professors have done for centuries: helping students to get access to knowledge. “It is not possible to find the same comprehensive collection of works that was available at Derrida’s and Heidegger’s websites either in libraries or in bookstores in Argentina”, says Potel. In fact, only two bookstores in Argentina’s largest city, Buenos Aires, carry some books by Derrida and many of his works are seldom available to readers. Potel spent decades visiting libraries and bookstores to collect the material he posted on his online library. “Many of those texts are already out of print”, he says. Books that are out of print cannot be purchased, but they are often still protected by copyright laws.

Furthermore, Potel finds the prices charged by foreign publishers, such as the Mexican companies Porrua and Cal y Arena, “prohibitive” by Argentinean standards. He gives as an example the price of a recently published booklet of a conference given by Derrida. Printed in large typeface, the booklet has about eighty pages, although the text would certainly fit in twelve. It was being sold for 162 Argentinean pesos, around 42 US dollars at current exchange rates. Even at that steep price copies were very hard to find within two weeks after they arrived in Argentina. Potel relates how he had to walk around Buenos Aires for an entire afternoon in order to find a single copy of the booklet.

But the price of foreign books is not the only concern in this case. For Derrida’s works to be accessible to the Spanish-speaking world they have to be translated. While the Spanish versions of the texts available on the website were not done by him, Potel made corrections to a few of them, since some of Derrida’s Spanish language books have been quite poorly translated. To make the texts easier to understand for readers, Potel also linked each translation to the original text, as well as to other works cited by Derrida.

Eventually, Potel’s popular website caught the attention of a publisher. A criminal case against Potel was initiated on December 31, 2008 after a complaint was lodged by a French company, the publishing house Les Éditions de Minuit. They have published only one of Derrida’s books and it was in French. Minuit’s complaint was passed on to the French Embassy in Argentina and it became the basis of the Argentina Book Chamber‘s legal action against Potel.

The Argentina Book Chamber boasts of its doubtful precedents of having been responsible for a police raid at the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires and for having managed to condemn some professors for encouraging the students to photocopy books and articles. “The view of the police entering the Puán building is remembered with astonishment by many members of the academic community” says a report. The next possible effects of the legal action against Potel are the wiretapping of his phone line, the interception of his email accounts and an incursion into his house to “determine the actual place where the illegal act occurred”.

Potel has already removed all the content from his website, a decision which he regards as a tragedy. “These websites are my best work. They are the result of many hours of work and have been entirely funded by me”, he says. Those who access www.jacquesderrida.com.ar today find a warning: “This website has been taken down due to a legal action initiated by the Argentina Book Chamber”. Potel insists that he “never intended to make a profit” out of Derrida’s works. Yet he faces a possible criminal sentence of one month up to six years in prison for violation of Argentina’s intellectual property laws, according to a February 28, 2009 story by the online version of Argentina’s largest newspaper, Clarín.

If Derrida was alive, he would probably be thanking Potel for bringing translations of his texts to millions of Spanish-speaking readers, who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to read the works of the French philosopher. Here’s what the founder of deconstruction said about freedom within the university:

“And yet I maintain that the idea of this space of the academic type has to be symbolically protected by a kind of absolute immunity, as if its interior were inviolable; I believe (this is like a profession of faith which I address to you and submit to your judgment) that this is an idea that we must reaffirm, declare, and profess endlessly. […] This freedom of immunity of the university and par excellence of its Humanities is something to which we must lay claim, while committing ourselves to it with all our might. Not only in a verbal and declaratory fashion, but in work, in act and in what we make happen with events.” (Jacques Derrida, “The University Without Condition” in Without Alibi, ed. & trans. by Peggy Kamuf, Stanford University Press, 2002, p. 210)

Those who profess to “protect” Derrida’s “intellectual property rights” are now persecuting a professor who is simply following the French philosopher’s teachings and popularising them in the Spanish-speaking world.

The CopySouth Research Group calls on the Argentina Book Chamber and the government of Argentina to drop these criminal charges immediately and to respect and protect professor Potel’s academic freedom in providing popular access to philosophical works. In any conflict between intellectual property and the right to education and to access knowledge, we choose education and we urge those who share the same concerns to spread the word widely and rapidly.

You can send letters to Les Éditions de Minuit (7 Rue Bernard Palissy, 75006 Paris 06, France, email: contact@leseditionsdeminuit.fr), the Argentina Book Chamber (Av. Belgrano 1580, Piso 4, C1093AAQ Buenos Aires, Argentina, email: cal@editores.org.ar) and the Argentina Federal Council of Education (Pizzurno 935, P.B. of. 5, C1020ACA Buenos Aires, Argentina, email: cfce@me.gov.ar).

30 March 2009

The CopySouth Research Group

contact@copysouth.org

The CopySouth Research Group (CSRG) was established in 2005. The CSRG is composed of researchers and activists in more than 15 countries and conducts research on a range of copyright and related issues in the global South. Copies of the 210-page CopySouth Dossier are available as a free download (in English and Spanish) on its website (www.copysouth.org).

_________________

Note: This report is based on information collected from Horacio Potel and from several other sources, including the article on the online version of the Argentinean newspaper Clarín, a blog post by Patricio Lorente translated by Carolina Botero and a Wikipedia entry on Horacio Potel.

Prof may go to jail for popularizing philosophical works

Major controversy has erupted after the French and Argentinian governments went after a philosophy professor for popularizing Spanish translations of philosophical texts. Prof. Horacio Potel is accused of violating “intellectual property rights” and faces a prison term of one month to six years. Much of the discussion is in Spanish and therefore inaccessible to the English-speaking world. Here’s a translation of one report from the Spanish-language online newspaper Clarin.com

February 28, 2009

France intervened to shut down an Argentinian site popularizing philosophical works

It acted through the Book Chamber. The site posted Derrida texts. Solidarity support on the Facebook network.

By Andres Hax

Derrida, the French author who shaped the thinking of the last thirty years with key works like “politics of friendship” and “the writing and the difference”, among others.

In the late nineties, when the Internet was completely novel, professor of philosophy at the University of Lanús, Horacio Potel, began posting texts of Friedrich Nietzsche at a personal site. In his words, it was a non-profit publishing and stewardship effort. Soon he added two more sites, with texts by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and the Frenchman Jacques Derrida. This tiny digital library – which also includes biographies, links and essays – has been consulted, according to his logs, by more than four million people since its inception and ranks high among search engines: in Google, if you type Jacques Derrida Argentina, the first hit is the Wikipedia entry and the second is the former site of Potel, www.jacquesderrida.com.ar.

For Potel, this laboriously-compiled collection has become a nightmare: after the intervention of the French Embassy in Argentina, a criminal case filed by the Argentina Book Chamber for violation of Intellectual Property Law 11.723 has forced him to take down the Derrida texts from his site and deal and face a possible “prison term ranging from one month to six years.”

The charge against Potel cites the law prohibiting the “editing, selling or reproduction by any means or in any medium, a published or unpublished work without permission from its author or his heirs.” The legal language is not debatable. Having posted online Derrida’s texts – protected by copyright – Potel infringed on copyrights. “This law exists to protect cultural works,” says Carlos de Santos, president of the Argentina Book Chamber, to Clarin. “The Chamber has always acted in defense of intellectual property rights. Without intellectual property rights, publications cannot possibly exist. And I believe the possibilities for intellectual work will be less,” he concluded.

The Argentina Book Chamber’s case was initiated by a complaint from Derrida’s publisher (Les Editions de Minuit) and the intervention of the French Embassy in Buenos Aires. According to cultural attaché Jean-François Gueganno “The gold standard in these cases is intellectual property. If you write a piece, you own the text and nobody can post them on a site to be accessed freely without the author’s consent”. Potel defends himself: “It was never my intention to make a profit. In 1999 I was fascinated by the unlimited possibilities the network offered for knowledge exchange. These sites are a lot of work for me and it is a tragedy for me that I have to remove them.”

The case has provoked widespread protest in cyberspace, highlighting the gray area between popularization and piracy. On the Potel page in Facebook, hundreds of users worldwide have expressed outrage at the “censorship”. One user summed up the opinion of the cyber-citizens: “What is happening is an outrage to the culture of human rights. An obscene display of the mechanisms of control, surveillance and punishment.”

(See original story in Spanish here: http://www.clarin.com/diario/2009/02/28/sociedad/s-01867515.htm)

OpenOffice: how to put diacritical marks ov̅er̂ letters

I’ve been looking for a solution to this problem for sometime, and I finally found it.

Letters with all kinds of marks above them, called diacritical marks, are used very often in courses based on maths. The marks have interesting names like bar, hat, curl, cup, etc. Added on the letter x, for instance, they would look like this: x̄ x̃ x̂ x̅ x̆ ẋ ẍ x̊ x̋ x̌ x̍ x̎ x̐ x̑.

Here’s how I do it on my computer, which runs Kubuntu, a system based on the Debian distribution of Linux/GNU:

Type the letter you want (x, for example).

Press alt-I P to insert special characters.

You’ll find OK on the upper right corner of the window, as usual.

To the left of OK, you’ll find a choice of character sets: Basic Latin, Basic Greek, Arabic, Cyrillic, etc. What you want is the set that says Combining Diacritical Marks.

If you choose any of these diacritical marks, they will appear not after the preceding letter, but above it. Like magic.

Make sure you stay within the Combining Diacritical Marks set. I got confused because another set of similar marks comes before this set, but this set is called Spacing Modifier Letter, which doesn’t work.

The method I describe above works on Kubuntu/Debian v8.04. Please leave a comment if it works on your Linux/GNU distribution too.

̑

Three meanings of “free”: after “free beer” and “free speech”, “free the Internet”

I have come across free software advocates who want to expand the range of their social causes and get involved in reforming society itself.

I hope they are already aware of at least three meanings of “free”. This is a friendly reminder if they’re not. Free software advocates are generally familiar with the first two: “free” as in “free beer”, and “free” as in “free speech”. Enough has been said about these two meanings.

There’s a third meaning, and a free software activist who wants to become a social activist should be aware of this one: “free” as in “free all political prisoners”.

In contrast to “free speech”, the third meaning also highlights the current lack of freedom and asserts that this situation must be corrected immediately. The third meaning is fraught with connotations of action and activism. When social activists use the word “free”, it is probably the third meaning they have in mind, with possibly the second meaning. “Free speech” is a somewhat general and almost a motherhood statement. “Free all political prisoners” carries a certain urgency. It is, for instance, pointless to demand “free Mandela” today. He has been out of prison for years. This meaning of “free” suggests a time frame, a demand with a deadline. (By the way, I was a political prisoner in the 1970s.)

A second reminder to free software advocates. Do not presume that once all software is “free”, your work is done. Some free software are more free than others. The BSD license is more free than the GPL. A number of free software licenses, and Creative Commons likewise, rely on the existing copyright system for enforcement. This means that many free software (and Creative Commons) advocates become defenders of copyrights. Once you become a copyright defender, you gain some friends (like the software, music, video, book and publishing industries) and lose other friends (like many social activists, though by no means all). Please think carefully through the implications of copyrights. Check, for instance, the Copyright Dossier by the CopySouth Research Group (CSRG).

A third and final reminder. Most free software advocates are Internet and information and communications technology missionaries. They love the technology and want everyone to embrace it. Please be aware, however, that the Internet today carries some very deeply-embedded biases (ideologies, if you will), which force themselves on all users. And some of these biases are in conflict with fundamental principles strongly held by many social activists. Though I know of more, I will cite only three: the bias for English, the bias for automation, and the bias for globalization. The first two are quite obvious (and will also be subjects for future posts).

The third may need a bit more explanation.

The Internet forces local players to subsidize global players, a bias that is deeply embedded in the technology. This subsidy comes from the simple fact that files sent to a “neighbor” (another user on the same ISP, i.e., local) are charged the same rate as files sent to distant users (say, subscribers on ISPs on the other side of the globe). This is precisely the “advantage” of the Internet, its selling point: the abolition of distance. Everything has become “local”. Yet, local file transfers use very few network resources, while international file transfers use quite a lot — several routers, perhaps undersea cables connecting continents, plus more routers near the destination. In short, local files are charged higher per network resource, compared to global files. The local subsidizes the global — a subsidy for globalization. This is a fundamental injustice — institutionalized theft, even — that lies at the heart of the Internet. Many of the so-called “advantages” and “benefits” of the medium are based on this built-in double-standard.

There is another way by which the Internet forces the poorer local users to subsidize the richer global users. This comes from the growth pattern of the Internet infrastructure of hosts and communication lines.

The Internet grows from the center to the periphery. But very often, the costs of the new communication links, the ports, the leased lines, and all the associated hardware and software infrastructure, are fully paid for by the periphery, in addition to the various one-time and monthly fees charged by the center. Yet, while the periphery requesting the connection shoulders its full cost, both sides benefit from the connection, the center possibly getting even more benefits because it has more users. In short, there is again a hidden subsidy for the center by the periphery. This occurred when the Philippines made its first Internet connection to the U.S. in 1994. It also occurred with other Philippine cities made their Internet connection to Manila. And again, when various towns connected to these cities. And this lopsided charging scheme continues today.

These bizarre subsidies for the rich by the poor will presumably be in place for all time, unless the free software movement and other social movements work successfully to “free the Internet” from these gross injustices.

This is what the third meaning of “free” is all about.

Restrictive copyright practices

I referred in an earlier post to increasingly restrictive copyright practices. These practices are like a tightening noose around the neck of everyone in search of knowledge.

Here’s one example:

Most online academic journals have been charging academics, researchers and students to download individual articles ever since new technologies made this possible. This is an extension of the older practice of charging for individual copies of articles on academic journals. Of course, once one had a copy of the article, whether in print or in digital format, the copy could then be shared with colleagues, passed around, photocopied and so on, in the usual way we all share things with each other. This is how knowledge gets disseminated after all, so that other may build on old knowledge and the search for new knowledge may continue.

In the Dec. 6-10 CopySouth meeting, one presentor rued a new and much more restrictive practice by some online journals: when you download and pay for a copy of an article, the digital file has an expiration date, after which the file erases itself! The logical extension of this highly restrictive practice is pay-per-view, which is now standard practice in the video industry. In addition, users are prohibited from disabling this automatic self-destruct mechanism and are threatened with a lawsuit, should they try to do so.

Similar highly restrictive practices are now finding their way into university and school libraries, especially where librarians have come under the spell of the ideology of knowledge monopolists. Fortunately, most librarians still recognize that their work is about disseminating, rather than restricting the dissemination of knowledge. They therefore balk at prohibiting, or even warning library users against, the photocopying of library materials.

This combination of technical and legal padlocking of information, so that information rentiers like journal publishers may strengthen their monopolistic hold on knowledge, is also the subject of my article Undermining Abundance.

Mechanism like these prevent ordinary people like us from taking full advantage of the promise of abundance made possible by digital technologies.

A meeting of copyright researchers and activists

I just attended the December 6-10 meeting in Kerala, India of the CopySouth Research Group (CSRG), an international network of copyright researchers and activists. The discussions were intense but cordial. We were all critical of the current state of copyright laws and regulations, which had become so restrictive that the copyright regime was becoming a major obstacle to access to knowledge. This was happening not only in scientific circles, where journals have established monopolistic practices over scientific research articles, but also in schools and universities, where photocopying by students and teachers was being criminalized. In subsequent posts, I will cover some of the ideas discussed in the meeting.

For this post, I want to focus on an interesting point about alternatives to the existing copyright regime. These ranged from Creative Commons, an idea which has been adopted in many parts of the world, free/open source software, to proposals to abolish the copyright system itself because it creates monopolies over cultural expressions. Given the range of proposals, it is easy to imagine how intense the debates were.

I eventually realized that some of the debates could have been avoided.

To see why this was so, consider the construction of a house. We could debate the architectural approach, the placement of rooms, the choice of building materials, etc. etc. In the course of building the house, we need to build scaffoldings. Art as well as science is involved in building a house. Also in building the scaffolding. But the requirements of the scaffolding are different from the requirements of the house itself. The criteria for a good house are different from a good scaffolding. Most important of all, the scaffoldings have to be torn down, when the house is ready to be used.

Some of the alternatives proposed to the copyright system are actually scaffoldings. Others are part of the house itself. Thus it makes no sense to debate whether the house is better than the scaffolding.

Alternatives like compulsory licensing, Creative Commons and the free software version called Gnu Public License (GPL) are often criticized because they will work only under the present copyright system and therefore require their advocates to defend the current system. They therefore find themselves at odds with more radical proponents who want to abolish the copyright system itself and replace it with another which does not create monopolies over ideas or their expressions.

But if the two sides realized that they are actually looking at the scaffolding and the house, they will quickly realize that the debate was unnecessary.

Compulsory licensing, Creating Commons, and GPL will reinforce the culture of free copying, sharing and exchange that will eventually lead to the collapse of the current copyright system, giving way to non-monopolistic alternatives to encouraging creative work and rewarding intellectual activity.

Low-power community radio: a technology for localization

For every criticism, it is good to propose an alternative, if one is available. My earlier post was critical of the Internet for its built-in bias for globalization, which in effect forces the poor to subsidize the rich. I’m not saying we should not use the Internet, but it is important to be aware of what it is forcing us to do. Awareness is the first step towards change and reform.

There is a technology that is almost the opposite of the Internet in many ways. This is low-power community radio. This technology excels where the Internet stumbles. Although it is much older than the Internet, its full development has been stunted by highly biased government regulations that have kept broadcasting a virtual monopoly of the rich.

The following piece is on low-power community radio is Chapter 25 in my book Towards a Political Economy of Information (2004). IT is information technology and AT, appropriate technology.

25. IT or AT?

This is a comparison of two technologies for information exchange – the global Internet and low-power community radio. It is based on the following considerations: user one-time entry cost; recurring user costs; network server one-time entry costs; recurring network server costs; equipment life; impact on jobs; local culture; production of equipment; source of information; potential reach; best use; interactivity; advertising; information goods marketing; sensory demands; health issues; accessibility; gate keepers; default paradigms; new technologies; government attitude; development agencies attitude; NGO attitude; benefits to rich countries; and proposed alternate approaches. The costs are based on Philippine prices, which should more or less reflect typical developing country figures.

In a way, the two contrasting approaches may be described by the common keywords that describe them: information technology (the Internet) or appropriate technology (low-power radio)?

User one-time entry cost

The Internet: Zero for telecenter users. However, telecenter users will find themselves at a huge disadvantage vis-à-vis other Internet users due to the limitations of computing without one’s own home or office PC. For mainstream Internet involvement, one would need at the minimum a subscription to an ISP, with its corresponding fees, as well as the cost of a computer, modem and telephone line. With used equipment, one can probably get set up with around $200.

Low-power radio: Zero for 80-90% of the population who already have a radio set. For the small minority of the poor don’t have one yet, the typical cost of a small AM/FM set is US$10-20 which is probably affordable to all but the poorest of the poor.

Recurring user costs

The Internet: Whether using a telecenter or one’s own Internet subscription, the minimum recurring user cost will probably range at around one US dollar for every one to three hours. The numbers are still going down, though gradually. Currently, Philippine prices probably reflect a fight for market share more than for return on investment. A recurring cost that is often taken for granted is the cost of maintenance and repair, which can reach, annually, 5-10% of the equipment cost. In many areas, lack of spare parts can delay repair for months while unskilled or dishonest repairmen can make the problem worse. At times, the cost of repair can approach the cost of new equipment. Some laptops are so difficult to repair that they are in effect throw-away equipment, discarded once they break down.

Low-power radio: A radio owner’s recurring cost, assuming a rural setting unreached by electricity grid, is simply the cost of a set of batteries (US$1-2) every few months. The cost is negligible where grid electricity is available. This recurring cost is truly affordable to most of the rural poor, many of whom are spending this amount today for their transistor radio.

Network server one-time entry costs

The Internet: To set up a network server involves much higher costs than a simple user. A small server on the Internet would initially cost around US$1,000-3,000 for the CPU, modem, phone line and the initial ISP subscription.

Low-power radio: A basic FM micro-power radio station would cost around US$2,000-5,000. One can probably say that a micro-power station would cost about as much as a high-end Internet server. An organization or institution which can afford computers should be able to afford a micro-power radio station. The big question mark is the licensing cost, a politically-imposed cost which does not exist for Internet servers.

Recurring network costs

The Internet: Recurring network server costs would include training costs, staff salaries, and connectivity costs (i.e., the cost of dial up and dedicated lines). Training and staff costs tend to be high, because of the unusually rapid changes in the technology and the high turnover of technical people. Connectivity may cost around $100-1000/mo. Since servers normally have to run twenty-four hours a day, an annual maintenance cost of 5-10% of the equipment cost must definitely be figured in.

Low-power radio: Because the technology is mature and standard, training and staff costs tend to be lower. There are minimal costs for electricity and supplies, and no connectivity costs, although a radio station might want an Internet connection for access to more information.

Equipment life

The Internet: The life of Internet equipment is relatively short due to unusually rapid changes not on ly in the technology but in the standards themselves. This, in effect, results in very high depreciation costs.

Low-power radio: Equipment life tends to be relatively long due to mature analog technology and stable standards. The useful life of analog audio and radio equipment can easily reach three to five times that of Internet equipment.

Cost: conclusion

The Internet: Considering the generally high cost for user and network server equipment, especially if maintenance and replacement costs are factored in, the Internet will probably remain mostly a tool for the elite (i.e., high- and some medium-income sectors) for quite sometime.

Low-power radio: This technology is definitely affordable to low-income sectors (those earning US$5/day or lower).

Impact on jobs

The Internet: Computers enforce the automation paradigm, which displaces labor with machines. New ICT-based jobs may be created, which may tend to pay higher especially in foreign firms, encouraging a shift to jobs in the ICT sector. However, these jobs are also subject to the automation paradigm and thus may also be replaced later by machines. Furthermore, those who lose their jobs to machines may be the older and unskilled workers, who are often poor candidates for retraining.

Low-power radio: Radio does not have the built-in automation paradigm of the computer, and thus poses little threat against existing jobs.

Local culture

The Internet: The Internet requires read/write literacy. Its full benefit is available only to those who are familiar with English. Knowledge of English is essential when one goes into programming the technology.

Low-power radio: Community radio stations will naturally adopt the local language, given their local reach. Radio is also very compatible with pre-literate cultures that rely on oral traditions.

Production of equipment

The Internet: Internet hardware, software and connectivity are mostly imported. Very few companies are able to make the integrated circuits that comprise the basic parts of most Internet equipment.

Low-power radio: Hardware for low-power radio stations are simpler and easier to produce locally. Local, small-scale assembly of equipment is entirely possible.

Source of information

The Internet: Bulk of the material on the Internet is foreign material. Due to the sheer volume of information available, there is always something interesting to be found. But it is less useful for getting specific local information.

Low-power radio: Due to its limited reach, low-power radio stations have little choice but to deal mostly with local material.

Potential reach

The Internet: The Internet’s global reach may cover up to several hundred million Internet users worldwide. But this potential reach is limited by the connection speed, by Internet gatekeepers, and by the dominant Internet language of English.

Low-power radio: FM micro-power stations can usually be received by radio sets within the line of sight. This can be very localized, in the case of valleys surrounded by hills or mountains. The area of coverage can be wider there the topography is more level, or where the radio station is on a hill overlooking a wider area.

Best use

The Internet: The best Internet applications are electronic mail, mailing lists, information searching, and international or national communications. Its biggest plus is flexibility, which makes it possible to mimic various media, paving the way for media convergence on a single global infrastructure.

Low-power radio: Community radios are most suited to local information dissemination, for building local public opinion, and for strengthening local community. In remote areas where it is the only contact of isolated families to the outside world, a community radio that can receive phone calls from the outside (say, from overseas contract workers) has also been used to announce urgent messages to individuals/families.

Interactivity

The Internet: Facilities for feedback, exchange and dialog are built in. However, it can also be used as a one-way medium if little importance is attached to two-way interaction. Internet response times are reckoned in milliseconds to minutes.

Low-power radio: A radio transmitting station is a one-way medium. But radio programs can and do combine technologies (such as incoming phone lines, beepers, text messaging, discussion panels, roving reporters with two-way radios, etc.) to provide feedback, exchange and dialog. Response times are reckoned in seconds to days (for mailed-in feedback).

Advertising

The Internet: Like television, the Internet is a very good medium for advertising. Besides full-color, full-motion video, the promise of immediate response through credit card purchases makes the Internet a much more powerful advertising medium than even television.

Low-power radio: Radio is only a passable medium for advertising, because it does not have the multi-sensory attractions that television and the Internet can provide.

Information goods marketing

The Internet: The Internet is the perfect medium for marketing information goods, which can be directly downloaded from the Internet and immediately paid for online with a credit card.

Low-power radio: Radio is a poor medium for marketing information goods, because it is not possible to selectively download information material from the radio; nor can the technology be used as a payment mechanism.

Sensory demands

The Internet: Multi-media gives audio-visual and even full motion capability. For high end systems, 3-D is now possible; the future promises virtual reality. The Internet requires concentration and full attention of the user. The full sensory feed that the Internet provides may encourage passive reception and discourage highly symbolic thought and the use of one’s imagination. The Internet is inaccessible to the deaf or the blind, although some special but expensive equipment may be able to help the blind.

Low-power radio: Being an audio-only medium may be a limitation. But it can also be an advantage. Radio may be enjoyed while at work. The listener may engage in other activities while listening. Because it has no visual input, radio can in fact encourage the use of one’s imagination. The technology is accessible to the blind, though not to the deaf.

Health issues

The Internet: Health concerns include radiation effects from high-frequency, very-high frequency, and near-microwave emissions; the impact of video monitors on eyesight; and Internet addiction. A computer user stares at a radiation source (the screen) barely a foot or two away, and for many hours on stretch. As more and more, including high school and even elementary students, do this on a daily basis, we can expect eyesight problems to become widespread.

Low-power radio: Radiation from broadcast transmitters is also a source of concern, but the risks are less for micro-power stations.

Accessibility

The Internet: The communication channels and servers of cyberspace are mostly private space. Many of those initially set up by governments are increasingly being privatized. This means that any claim of a right to access to the medium can be negated by counterclaims of the private owners of the medium.

Low-power radio: The radio spectrum is a public space. Thus, the public has an inherent right to access the medium. And an inherent right to use it. Today, however, this right is restricted by government through exclusionary licensing requirements. Such requirements are often justified with two arguments: 1) the radio spectrum is limited, so its use must be regulated; and 2) national security requires strict regulation of radio transmitter lest they be used for anti-government activity. Both are false arguments. Even in the largest towns, small cities and most of the larger cities, only a few AM or FM stations are active; many frequency slots are unused and therefore available. In many towns, not even a single station is operating. Like radio, the Internet can also be used for anti-government activity. Yet, most governments impose no licensing requirements on Internet servers. They can always invoke national security anyway, should a server start to engage in anti-government propaganda. There is no reason why the same liberal policy cannot be adopted for community radio stations.

Gate keepers

The Internet: The Internet is not as democratic as it is often hyped to be. Internet gate keepers exercise control over the medium, though such control may often be invisible and unintrusive but it can be as absolute as absolute can be. Gate keepers include standards-setting bodies, IP address authorities, domain name owners, communication channel and server owners, search engines, portals, mailbox providers, mailing list owners and moderators, and Internet service providers. Increasingly, these gate keepers are private entities and firms who are not accountable to the public for their policies and actions.

Low-power radio: Radio has its own gate keepers, such as radio station owners, managers and announcers. But the biggest gate keeper of all is the government, through highly restrictive licensing requirements.

New technologies

The Internet: The next major advance will probably be virtual reality – 3-D, tactile suits and other reality-enhancing developments. This development will probably worsen the negative elements we have identified about the Internet.

Low-power radio: A technology called spread spectrum, which allows many stations to share a segment of the radio spectrum with minimal interference. This technology is the answer to the so-called scarcity of the radio spectrum.

Default paradigms

The Internet: The Internet is not a neutral technology. It contains built-in values and default paradigms. These include: global competition, automation and the replacement of workers with machines, subsidy for global players, US/Europe-centric, Anglo-Saxon culture, and high-tech advocacy.

Low-power radio: The built-in values of community radio include local orientation, oral tradition, community-centeredness, local culture, and intermediate technology advocacy.

Government attitude

The Internet: Governments tend to embrace the technology, with some exceptions). No duties are imposed; the legal requirements are minimal; no license is usually required to set up an Internet server. Following the lead of US and Europe, governments often adopt the policy of investing heavily in the new technology.

Low-power radio: Governments are almost one in restricting, taxing, heavily regulating, controlling and monitoring the technology. A license is invariably required to operate a station. The legal requirements are difficult and often exclusionary.

Development agencies attitude

The Internet: Funding agencies actively encourage, support, and fund ICT projects. In fact, they may even pressure NGOs to adopt ICTs (as when they insist on emailed attachments for reports). They are working hard to extend the reach of the Internet and to protect it from authoritarianism.

Low-power radio: With very few exceptions, radio broadcast projects see to get low priority. There is mostly silence on radio spectrum democracy, radio access rights, and universal access to broadcast equipment.

NGO attitude

The Internet: NGOs are eager to explore the technology. Many have embraced it and have invested heavily in equipment. An increasing number are getting their own domain name and setting up their own websites. While the advantages are real for NGOs heavily involved in international work, they are not so obvious for local NGOs.

Low-power radio: There are very few NGO advocates of community radio. They are usually discouraged by the very restrictive government licensing requirements and the little support they could get from development agencies.

Benefits to rich countries

The Internet: As the Internet expands, rich countries will enjoy a huge expansion of their markets for hardware, software connectivity, consultancy and other ICT services. By using the Internet to tap cheap IT labor and expertise in poor countries, the rich countries will be able to minimize immigration and strengthen their protectionist policies in restricting the movement of labor. The rapid spread of credit cards and e-commerce will also expand the markets for their other non-IT goods. Because they are already information economies, rich countries are masters of ICT and are in the best position to take advantage of the new technologies.

Low-power radio: The AM/FM sets needed by the remaining 10-20% of poor without one, to ensure 100% coverage, can be served by local production. The same can be done with micro- power broadcast stations. By enhancing community interaction, low-power stations can encourage the development of the local economy, and reduce outmigration. By encouraging local commerce, local stations are less helpful in expanding the markets of rich countries. Community radio merges better with the needs of agricultural and industrializing economies.

Proposed alternate approaches

The Internet: The government must reduce the overemphasis on Internet infrastructure at the expense of other equally important infrastructure. No special tax breaks or duty exemptions should be granted to Internet infrastructure. The government should mandate the use of free/open software in the public sector. Compulsory licensing should be applied on important patented and copyrighted material. Public access stations should be encouraged, and community/public control and ownership over Internet infrastructure should be maintained. Later, the use of the Internet in community radio stations should be explored. Check the viability of a stand-alone VCD player cum CDROM browser (<$40) for low-cost information dissemination.

Low-power radio: The government should give greater priority to local approaches like community radio. The restrictive legal requirements for setting up low-power radio stations should be removed. Such stations should instead enjoy tax breaks and duty exemptions. The local production of AM/FM sets and micro-power broadcast stations should be encouraged. Useful program materials like the Discovery series should be subject to compulsory licensing in a community television pilot project. A wider segment of the broadcast radio spectrum should be allotted for micro-power stations. Ceilings should be established on transmitting power, and these ceilings should be gradually reduced over the years, to allow more stations to go on the air. The expansion of community radio to include some offline facilities for email and lists as well as other intermediate technologies for information networking should also be explored.

A challenge to governments

For a small fraction of the cost of building an Internet infrastructure, a string of community-run low-power radio stations in the countryside can provide the poorest sections of society with an accessible medium for information access that closely matches their information needs.

It is a solution so appropriate that one wonders why it is not widely used.

The problem is an antiquated, highly centralized legal framework which burdens potential radio stations with extremely restrictive requirements that keep access to the radio spectrum in very few hands.

If governments only allowed ordinary people to set up a low-power radio station as freely as they can an Internet server, then we can quickly see which technology truly meets the people’s information needs.

On the Internet: do the poor subsidize the rich?

[“Original title: Perverse subsidies”. It is Chapter 13 in my book Towards a Political Economy of Information (2004). I reproduce it here because it raises an issue that is taken very much for granted today.]

It was appropriate technology advocate E.F. Schumacher, author of the widely-acclaimed book Small is Beautiful, who once said that technologies often carry a built-in ideology which is so deeply embedded that one can’t have a technological transplant without getting at the same time an ideological transplant. Among the examples Schumacher cited were nuclear power and the Concorde jet.

To this list, we might also add the current darling of the media, the Internet. The Internet’s design provides a built-in subsidy for globalization, and all Internet users are forced to contribute to this hidden subsidy, whether they like it or not.

Distance-dependent costs

Before the Internet, most telecommunications fees were distance-dependent, because the costs are distance-dependent. One paid more to call another country than to call one’s neighbor. In fact, one often paid a lot more, because many governments adopted the policy of making international communications subsidize local communications, making communications more affordable to local citizens.

The trend today, however, is to reverse this idea that international traffic should subsidize local traffic. The reversal is strongly pushed by global corporations, who comprise a huge segment of international communications usage. They have already managed to push back international rates in the U.S. The lower U.S. rates now serve as platform for pressuring other countries to bring down their international rates as well.

In the Philippines today, for example, international charges are going down, while local charges are going up.

At the rate charges are being adjusted, we may soon reach a point where local traffic is subsidizing international traffic, which can lead to a perverse situation where the phone companies make higher margins on poorer users, to subside the richer users.

Subsidizing international traffic

This perverse situation is already the norm among Internet service providers (ISPs), which charge either a flat rate, by the minute, or by kilobyte, regardless of destination. Whatever the scheme, an email to another user in one’s server costs as much as an email to a business contact on the other side of the world. Accessing your own server’s website costs as much as accessing a website anywhere else.

Yet, Internet traffic within the same ISP definitely use less resources than international traffic. If the costs were properly assigned, such local email should cost less than a similar international email; and an email to a user on the same provider should cost even less, because it uses less resources. Yet, the charges are the same – a clear case of local traffic subsidizing international traffic, a hidden subsidy for globalization.

ISPs don’t charge lower for local traffic because distinguishing by destination for accounting purposes would cost too high; it is cheaper to charge the same rate regardless of destination.

Built-in bias vs. local

Here is a technology with a built-in bias against the local in favor of the global, whose very design spares the global the burden of paying for the full cost of its communications, makes it impossible for the local to use its natural competitive advantage of nearness, and forces the local to subsidize the global.

Despite the fact that local Internet traffic use fewer resources than international Internet traffic, most efforts to reflect this in a charging scheme have failed so far, reflecting a rather deeply-embedded bias for globalization within the core of Internet technology.

Thus, hidden in the Internet’s design is a built-in subsidy for globalization, and all Internet users are forced to contribute to this hidden subsidy, whether they like it or not.

Today, the various media, communications and data technologies are converging towards a single Internet backbone. So, it is not far-fetched to assume that similar hidden subsidies for globalization – together with the monoculture that it carries – will soon emerge in telephony and the media, if they are not in fact already in place.

Biased taxation too

If you think about it, such subsidy is also emerging in taxation. Because we joined GATT/WTO, import tariffs (a tax on products made abroad) are going down and will soon be zero for many products. Yet, local taxes (including taxes on products made locally) are going up. What is this if not an emerging subsidy for products made abroad?

Schumacher was right. Together with technological transplants, we are getting ideological ones.

Guess who was the world’s top pirate of intellectual property in the 18th and 19th centuries

[This piece appears as Chapter 3 of my book Towards a Political Economy of Information, published in 2004. I am posting it here because of current efforts by the U.S. and other advanced countries to tighten even further what is already a very strict global intellectual property protectionist regime.]

U.S. piracy in the 19th century


Nineteenth century America was a major center of piracy. The principal target of U.S. pirates was the rich variety of British books and periodicals. The U.S. was a perennial headache among British authors and publishers, because foreign authors had no rights in America. American publishers and printers, led by Harpers of New York and Careys of Philadelphia, routinely violated British copyright and “reprinted a very wide range of British publications.”

James Barnes, who wrote an excellent book on this subject (Authors, Publishers and Politicians: The quest for an Anglo-American copyright agreement 1815-1854, Ohio State University Press, 1974), said that the Americans were “suspicious about international copyright,” and were afraid that recognizing international copyright meant “exploitation and domination of their book trade.” Barnes noted that “as a young nation, the United States wanted the freedom to borrow literature as well as technology from any quarter of the globe, and it was not until 1891 that Congress finally recognized America’s literary independence by authorizing reciprocal copyright agreements with foreign powers.”

Throughout the 19th century, a group of American authors and Anglophiles led a persistent but futile campaign to get a copyright treaty between the U.S. and Britain ratified. But their efforts were overcome by a much stronger lobby for free access to British publications. Authors like Noah Webster of the U.S. and Charles Dickens of Britain campaigned vigorously, but time and again, the U.S. Senate rejected proposed laws or treaties that would have granted copyright to foreign authors in the U.S.

Indeed, strong laws existed for the protection of local authors, but foreign authors had no rights in the U.S., and all foreign works were fair game for American publishers and printers.

As Barnes put it, “If Americans thought of the topic [i.e., copyrights] at all they were concerned with protecting domestic copyright and not the rights of foreigners. As a country, nineteenth-century America was akin to a present-day underdeveloped nation which recognizes its dependence on those more commercially and technologically advanced, and desires the fruits of civilization in the cheapest and most convenient ways. Reprinting English literature seemed easy and inexpensive, and so America borrowed voraciously.”

Barnes continued: “In 1831, ‘An Act to Amend the Several Acts Respecting Copyrights’ was signed. It extended the copyright term from fourteen to twenty-eight years, with the option of renewal for an additional fourteen. If an author died, his widow or children could apply for the extension. For the first time, the law allowed musical compositions to be copyrighted. But not a word on international copyright. In fact, foreign authors were explicitly barred from protection, which in essence safeguarded reprints.”

Even the U.S. president at that time, John Quincy Adams, was himself “strongly opposed to international copyright.”

Political economy of abundance

I have been studying in the past few months the subject of abundance.

My interest in this subject grew out of my interest in information, information technology and information economics. I think most of us who have not yet realized it ourselves can easily believe the claim that information goods have become easily accessible and abundant, especially to those who have Internet access. Abundance in the information economy comes from the diminishing cost of reproducing information, making it easy for anyone to share information with others. If you consider the vast and incredible collections of materials on the Internet, from Google to Wikipedia, from the websites to the blogs, from the various file, audio and video exchange sites to YouTube, I think you’d agree that one term which describes all these accurately is abundance.

After my semi-retirement from software, hardware and Internet work, I did volunteer work on environmental and agriculture issues. I worked with farmers groups. After nearly ten years of doing so, I realized that a unifying thread connects my experiences in the information sector, in nature and in agriculture. What is it? You guessed it, abundance.

Like the information sector, nature also teems with abundance. The reason is simple, every species is genetically programmed to reproduce its own kind. The reproductive urge built into every living organism is the source of abundance in nature and, by extension, in agriculture.

I have also been studying economics these past few months. One fundamental assumption in economics is scarcity. Economists define their jobs as the study of efficient options in the context of scarcity. This focus on scarcity has created a blind spot among economists. Many have missed, taken for granted, ignored or rejected abundance as an interesting field for study.

That’s the study I’m currently doing.

If you are interested in this subject, please download my paper Undermining Abundance, which will appear as a chapter in a book that will be released in the next few months by Zone Books, entitled Intellectual Property Rights and Access to Knowledge.

I’m working on another paper now, entitled “Studying Abundance”, which I will also release soon.

The piracy of intellectuals

Computers need computer programs to run them. In recent years, computers have become more affordable. As a result, a local market for copies of computer programs is thriving.

Many Filipino computer users copy the programs they need from computer shops, or from a number of computer bulletin board systems which have proliferated around the metropolis. They then give copies of these programs to friends and colleagues, who, in turn, give copies to other friends and colleagues.

In the words of Western software companies, they are pirates. To copy commercial software and give it away to friends and colleagues is called piracy.

We’ve seen pirates in movies and they’re a mean bunch. They are villains who steal, kill, and plunder. At the movie’s ending, when these scoundrels get their just due, the audience invariably applauds. It is no fun to be called a pirate. Or to be treated like one.

Filipinos who exchange software freely and share them with others freely hardly resemble the pirates in the movies. Yet, according to Western software firms, copying without paying is piracy. So, we are pirates just the same. And we’re no better than those one-eyed villains who kill and plunder for a living.

We’ve seen people who come from or work for Western software firms. Well groomed, in business coat and tie, they look the antithesis of the pirate they hate so much. They come and visit this country of pirates, and perhaps make a little study how much they are losing from piracy in the Philippines.

Quite a number of them, however, come to the country to do some pirating themselves.

But they don’t pirate software, which is apparently beyond their dignity. They pirate people. They pirate those who write the software. They pirate our best systems analysts, our best engineers, our best programmers, and our best computer operators.

The advanced countries of the West routinely pirate from the Third World our best professionals and skilled workers, but begrudge us peoples of the Third World if we engaged in some piracy ourselves. They accuse the Third World of “piracy of intellectual property”, yet they themselves engage in the “piracy of intellectuals”.

In truth, there is quite a difference between pirating intellectual property and pirating intellectuals.

For example, it costs our country perhaps ten thousand dollars to train one doctor. Training a second doctor would cost another ten thousand dollars. Training ten doctors would cost a hundred thousand dollars. In short, given an ‘original’ doctor, it would cost us as much to make each ‘copy’ of the original. When the Americans pirate our doctors, they take away an irreplaceable resource, for it takes more than ten years to train a new doctor. The Philippines has approximately one doctor for every 6,700 citizens. When the U.S. pirates this doctor, it denies 6,700 Filipinos of the services of a doctor. And every year, the U.S. takes away hundreds of our doctors. How many Filipinos died because they could not get the services of a doctor on time?

What about a computer program? Whatever amount Lotus Corporation spent in developing their spreadsheet program, it costs practically nothing to make a second or third copy of the program. It would take a few seconds for them to make each copy. When we Filipinos pirate their program, we have not stolen any irreplaceable resource, nor will it take Lotus 10 years to replace the program, nor have we denied any American citizen the use of the spreadsheet program. It is still there, for Americans to use. We make a copy of their program, we don’t steal it, because we have not taken anything away. We have made our own copy, but they still have the original.

Pirating a computer program is quite different from pirating a doctor. When the U.S. pirates our doctors, it doesn’t take a copy and leave the original behind. Instead, it takes the original and leaves nothing behind.

But you can’t compare the two, some would say. The U.S. pays for our doctors with much higher salaries, so you can’t call it piracy. Third World countries copy software without paying the commercial price, therefore they are pirates. If you have the money to pirate people, it stops being called piracy and becomes a respectable activity. But if you can’t afford it, sorry.

On the other hand, we can also say that when the West draws away our professionals with attractive salary offers, they take away not a ‘copy’ but the ‘original’, and we are left with none. We’ve lost the services of these professionals for good. If we make a copy of their software, we never take away the original, and we leave them with as much as they originally had. We can even gift them an extra copy, gratis. To call this stealing is to speak in metaphors; as in a stolen glance, or a stolen kiss. They might say they lost a sale, but it is only an opportunity to sell and make a profit that they are referring to. In many instances, the opportunity isn’t even there at all.

It is as if a company who insists on a monopoly of fish, accused us of causing them lost sales because we let loose fingerlings all over the lakes and rivers, so that people may catch them and eat. Fish, like software, love to go forth and multiply, whatever else their original creators might have intended. And it is all for the better, because this means more people can enjoy them.

In fact, this distinction sets the new information technologies apart from the traditional services sector. Information, if it already exists in the modern high- technology form such as computer files on a diskette, can be duplicated at practically no cost. It is therefore in perfect form to be given away freely to those who need it. Given a computer, software would in effect reproduce itself on the machine at the slightest provocation, copying itself for next to nothing. However, there is, so far, no easy way to freely duplicate the accumulated information in a doctor’s head. So we must spend ten thousand dollars and more than ten years, just to make a second copy.

This is why we actually do very little damage when we ‘pirate’ a copy of a computer program, and why the U.S. does a lot of harm when it pirates one of our doctors.

This piracy debate will become even more important in the future because advanced countries are now developing computer programs that can mimic what goes on in a doctor’s mind. The United States, which has been routinely pirating our best doctors and nurses for decades, will probably raise a big howl if we pirated this one program, even if we had no intention of denying them the original.

Copying software is a benign case of piracy. Pirating doctors is a malignant case.

We have been victims of Western countries of this malignant case of piracy for a long time. They should be the last to complain when they are affected with a benign one.

(Chapter 4, Towards a Political Economy of Information by Roberto Verzola)

Linux/OpenOffice will never be fully compatible with Windows/Office

In my experience, the biggest obstacle to user conversion from Windows to Linux are the little incompatibilities that trip up users. Some of the incompatibilities may be minor. However, users can get frustrated even with minor issues when they occur often enough or during situations when they are important.

In order not to create unrealistic expectations, I often tell offices and people I advise on this matter that they should expect some incompatibilities and they should learn to work around them or to live with them. This is the price of freeing themselves from giant monopoly and the fear of raids from the software police.

How can I be so sure that Linux/OpenOffice will never be fully compatible with Windows/Office? Because incompatibilities work in Microsoft’s favor. In the past, Microsoft has taken advantage of these incompatibilities to eliminate competitors. IBM’s OS/2 was touted as a “better Windows than Windows, and a better DOS than DOS”, and many independent reviewers and users agreed. Incompatibilities, however, kept cropping up between OS/2 and newer versions of Windows, keeping users from switching to OS/2.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that Linux/OpenOffice manage to become 100%-compatible today, you can be sure that Microsoft will soon release a newer version of their programs containing enough new incompatibilities to cause more problems among free software users.

Microsoft doesn’t take enough care to ensure that their own older versions are fully compatible with their newer versions, why would they do so with competition?

Expect Microsoft to make sure that Windows/Office will stay incompatible with Linux/OpenOffice.

If you want people to stick to free software, do not create unrealistic expectations about compatibility. Tell people upfront to expect incompatibilities, and to learn to work around them or to live with them.

The miracle of the loaves

In those days when there again was a great crowd without anything to eat, he summoned the disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a great distance.” His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?” Still he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” “Seven,” they replied. He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute, and they distributed them to the crowd. They also had a few fish. He said the blessing over them and ordered them distributed also. They ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over – seven baskets. There were about four thousand people.[1]

In this Biblical story, four thousand people ate and were satisfied, with seven baskets of food left over, after seven loaves of bread and a few fish were distributed among them.

The miracle of the loaves teaches us that there are things which we can share, without losing them. A beautiful story, for instance. Or useful knowledge. They are, after all, food for the mind. Like the miraculous fish and loaves of bread, we can start with little, share them with others, feed thousands, and end up with more than we started with.

Everytime we share knowledge with the hungry, a book or a tape with friends, we are celebrating the miracle of the loaves

(Chapter 1, Towards a Political Economy of Information by Roberto Verzola)

Why buy what you can copy for free?

Computers today have become standard equipment in government, businesses, schools and even non-government organizations.

In the past, when one bought a computer, it came with the operating system and applications software at no extra cost. Today, commercial software — Windows and MS-Office of Microsoft, for instance — cost several thousand pesos for a single copy. If you have 10 computers, you also need 10 copies of the software, and must now pay for each copy. If you don’t, you run the risk of being sued or, worse, raided by the software giant.

This makes using computers very expensive indeed.

There is an alternative. It is called free software, because you are free to copy it and to share it with others. You are even free to modify it, if you have the inclination and skills to modify software. Best of all, it gives you freedom from fear of harassment, suit or a raid by the local software police.

Free software is also called open software. The most well- known is Linux/GNU, which replaces Microsoft Windows. It is as good, and in many cases, better than Windows. To replace MS- Office, there is OpenOffice which often comes on the same CD as Linux/GNU. For every major type of commercial software, there is usually a free software counterpart.

Where do you get these free/open software? Computer shops might sell them. Shops that sell software often sell Linux CDs too. There is even a Philippine Linux Users Group. Look for it on the Web.

It is not difficult to learn how to install and use these programs. As former President Francisco Nemenzo Jr. of the University of the Philippines said, when he explained why the U.P. System was shifting to free software: we managed to shift from Wordstar to WordPerfect, and then from WordPerfect to MS-Word; we should be able to shift from MS-Office to the compatible OpenOffice will less problems.

Companies like IBM, PAL, Jollibee, Globe and Smart are already using Linux and other free software. If it is good enough for them, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

Towards a Political Economy of Information (full text)

“We are all familiar with the typical story of an isolated village at the edge of the forest. Some villagers have to go to town to buy a few necessities, and maybe to stock the village store. Others need to go to sell some products for cash. Villagers start to feel that the foot path to town is insufficient for their needs.

Village activists may even pursue the issue and organize the people to demand a better road. Eventually, public opinion is swayed, and a petition is submitted. The government, the villagers are pleasantly surprised, is amenable to the idea. Road-building eventually starts.

As completion date nears, the village organizes a welcome party for the first vehicle that is coming in. A few days later, the village wakes up to the rumble of engines and smell of diesel exhaust. The vehicles have come. And they are logging trucks, carrying men with chain saws.”

These are the first few paragraphs of a chapter in my book, Towards a Political Economy of Information. The book analyzes the social impacts of new information and communications technologies (ICT). It is a compilation of pieces I have written over the years.

I am making available for download the full text of the book here. The pdf file is 1.3Mb.

Roberto Verzola (Author)