Pirate LogoThe Pirate's Dilemma


Archive for November, 2007

The first review is in…

Publishers Weekly

Publisher’s Weekly had this to say about The Pirate’s Dilemma:

“Music journalist Mason, a former pirate radio and club DJ in London, explores how open source culture is changing the distribution and control of information and harnessing the “old” system of “punk capitalism” to new market conditions governing society. According to Mason, this movement’s creators operate according to piratical tactics and are changing the very nature of our economy. He charts the rise of the ideas and social experiments behind these latter-day pirates, citing the work of academics, historians and innovators across a multitude of fields. He also explores contributions by visionaries like Andy Warhol, 50 Cent and Dr. Yuref Hamied, who was called a “pirate and a thief” after producing anti-HIV drugs for Third World countries that cost as little as $1 a day to produce. Pirates, Mason states, sail uncharted waters where traditional rules don’t apply. As a result, they offer great ways to service the public’s best interests. According to Mason, how people, corporations and governments react to these changes is one of the most important economic and cultural questions of the 21st century. Well-written, entertaining and highly original, Mason offers a fascinating view of the revolutionary forces shaping the world as we know it. (Jan. 8)”

If content is King…

If content is king

“If content is king”, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone said Thursday, “copyright is its castle.”

“Most aspiring novelists do not aspire to self-publish” he told the audience at Dow Jones and Nielsen’s Media and Money conference in New York. “You cannot make it as a musician, you can’t make it as a filmmaker or a writer without … effective and enforced copyright legislation… The time and effort spent creating and the months spent producing, marketing and distributing content is an investment; it is not intended to be a donation.” I agree with him. As a writer I’m glad I can protect my work, or rather, I’m glad Sumner Redstone will protect my work (He owns Free Press, my imprint in the U.S., part of Simon & Schuster). It’s good that we have a copyright system.

There’s not a lot to disagree with here. It’s a bit like saying “support our troops.” Just as bumper sticker slogans obfuscate real issues, simply saying “copyright is good” glazes over the debate going on around it. However, Mr. Redstone did say something which gets to the heart of the real issue, something I wholeheartedly disagree with. He argued that “if you limit the protection of copyright, you stifle the expression of self.” But the truth is that when copyright is allowed unlimited jurisdiction, it damages self expression and hurts businesses.

Diebold Election Systems used copyright laws to stop people highlighting flaws in their voting machines, not only trampling on free speech, but putting democracy at risk by doing so. DJ Drama was arrested in January for making mixtapes which help promote artists and drive CD sales, because he infringed on their copyrights. Not only did the majors turn even more music fans into enemies, they eroded what was one of their greatest channels for marketing new music. From copyright trolls destroying hip hop to lobbyists using copyright to silence critics, copyright laws are being abused because of the reach they already have.

Redstone is right – content can act like a king, and kings can abuse their power. Copyright needs clearly defined boundaries to stop people abusing it. Copyright holders need clearly defined rights, but it’s just as important that we protect fair use and defend the commons from kings.


We wouldn’t have kings and castles without a commons to draw from, without the right to re-purpose and re-imagine previous works. If we want to protect content, we need to protect the commons first. This is as true for media moguls like Redstone as it is for a hip-hop producer sampling an old record. “A rising tide lifts all yachts” as Jospeh Stiglitz recently put it. Because we can and do draw on the work of others, because the public domain exists, we all have the opportunity to be kings of our respective castles.

If content is King 2

What is worrying is people using piracy and copyright infringement as arguments against the public domain. The conventional wisdom is both right and wrong on this. Content kings do need their castles, but we can’t forget about what these kings and castles are built upon. When we look at the bigger picture it’s clear -we don’t need stronger copyright laws, we need smarter copyright laws.

If content is King 3

Rise of the Underdog: 5 things that could help Paul, Kucinich, or you, take the White House.


It’s been an interesting few weeks in the U.S. presidential race, as underdogs Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich both climbed in the polls. By and large, the mainstream media has already written both of these guys off – Paul is a “fruitcake” while Kucinich is a “nutty UFO watcher.”

According to the MSM, their chances of taking the White House are slim to you-must-be-joking. While I’m not a huge fan of either candidate, I think discounting these outsiders this early is a mistake, because these kinds of contenders have risen to power before in other advanced societies, and will almost certainly rise in the U.S. in the future, maybe as soon as 2008.

One of the main themes of The Pirate’s Dilemma is how people can take back power by jamming the mainstream signal. Today nearly 70% of households in the U.S. have broadband, which is roughly the same amount, or slightly more than the number of households that had broadband in South Korea in 2002; the year a grass roots candidate, who nobody thought had a chance, won the South Korean presidential election.

When Roh Moo-hyun ran in the 2002 presidential race, many Koreans thought he was joking. He was from a poor family, had no political connections, was too young and way too left wing. He was supported by just one congressman, while most of Korea’s conservative newspapers ignored him completely. But Roh Moo-hyun spoke to many young South Koreans, disillusioned with dirty politics and sick of corruption, who helped him build a strong grassroots campaign online. Without the aid of the mainstream political and media players backing him, Roh Moo-hyun emerged victorious.

Moo-hyun’s presidency wasn’t the greatest ever, but the point is that he got to have one. Moo-hyun had five things going for him in South Korea that allowed a grassroots contender like him to take the presidency. Broadband was the most important, and we have that, but do we now have those four other conditions here in the United States? For a grass roots candidate to pull a Moo-hyun here in the US, we need:

1. A large group of disillusioned young people sick of corporate corruption.


2. A pessimistic population in general, that believes the nation is headed in the wrong direction, willing to vote for an outside candidate they feel could get America back on course.


3. No real mainstream opposition.


4. Dismal economic conditions (that are going to get even worse).


Mix this much discontent together with 70% broadband penetration, and suddenly the “underdogs” seem a lot more threatening.

AIDG Haiti/Guatemala fundraiser in NYC


Imagine what it would be like if MacGuyver ran a non-profit? The non-profit you just imagined is AIDG, a very cool organization run by two very cool people having a very cool benefit in New York this evening.

The Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) offers a solution to the problem of how to create great infrastructure in developing countries. They help communities avoid the vicious circle of World Bank loans with conditions about using big Western engineering firms like Bechtel or Haliburton, who typically come in, build something which can only be maintained or repaired by them with Western labor, forcing the developing country to ask for another loan when their expensive piece of inappropriate infrastructure breaks down.

AIDG use D.I.Y. technology to change ideas about how those in the developing world can help themselves. From teaching people to print their own circuit boards (using a common or garden laser printer, re-purposed using the “toner transfer” method) to remixing old car parts into wind farms, to teaching a community how to home-brew biodigesters, AIDG go into developing countries and locate and train local engineering talent. They are winning hearts and minds by incubating business and infrastructure that can support itself after AIDG has gone, no World Bank loan required.

The event tonight in New York promises to be a lot of fun, and it’s for an incredible cause. Get your tickets here!

Lessig at TED: How creativity is being strangled by the law

TED is an incredibly cool conference that happens once a year in Monterey, California. Lawrence Lessig is one of the founders of Creative Commons. In this short video he makes the case for free culture, and why businesses need to embrace it. Also, his Apple Keynote game is mighty healthy.

We’ve been busy…

The Pirate’s Dilemma production still

Apologies for the lack of activity on the blog the past week – apart from doing a lot of traveling, I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with an incredible project we are putting together for the launch of the book. I can’t say too much about what we are filming in this picture at this stage, other than it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been working with a really talented crew of more than fifteen people on this, all of whom have put in some amazing work. I’ve done some cool viral videos before, but nothing quite like these. Watch this space…

Cellphone Jamming

Cellphone Jammers

Great article in The New York Times on the art of jamming other people’s cellphones:

“SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 2 — One afternoon in early September, an architect boarded his commuter train and became a cellphone vigilante. He sat down next to a 20-something woman who he said was “blabbing away” into her phone.

“She was using the word ‘like’ all the time. She sounded like a Valley Girl,” said the architect, Andrew, who declined to give his last name because what he did next was illegal.

Andrew reached into his shirt pocket and pushed a button on a black device the size of a cigarette pack. It sent out a powerful radio signal that cut off the chatterer’s cellphone transmission — and any others in a 30-foot radius.”

Full story here.

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