Bertrand Russell’s Decalogue

In 1951 Bertrand Russell “The Best Answer to Fanaticism: Liberalism” in New York Times Magazine. The article included a “Liberal Decalogue”:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Originals, copies and confusions

The word originality has never had a peaceful existence. In its early history it coincided with the issue of plagiarism where an author attempts to claim the works of another as his own. The Roman poet Martial (ca 41 – 104) accused one Fidentinus of repeating works he had not created in the Plagiarism cycle:

Fame has it that you, Fidentinus, recite my books to the crowd as if none other than your own.
If you’re willing that they be called mine, I’ll send you the poems for free.
If you want them to be called yours, buy this one, so that they won’t be mine.

It is from this argument that the author creates the term plagiarist which at the time referred to someone who kidnapped slaves. Read an interesting analysis: Martial 1.29: Appearance and Authorship by Peter Anderson.

According to the myth of creativity in the Middle Ages originality was not a valuable trait the author was supposed to repeat the perfect forms created by the ancients rather than attempt to meddle with perfection. In the film The Name of the Rose (1986) the reactionary character known as Venerable Jorge lays out this position

Preservation, I say, and not search, because it is a property of knowledge as a human thing, that it has been defined and completed over the course of the centuries, from the preaching of the prophets to the interpretations of the fathers of the church. There is no progress, no revolution of ages, in the history of knowledge, but at most a continuous and sublime recapitulation.

With the development of the machinery of reproduction the question of original and copy began to become more interesting. The first printed books attempted to emulate the look and feel of hand-written manuscripts “…because in scholarly circles printed were regarded as vulgar and inferior products…” (Bernard Knox introduction to The Iliad p 5). The copy/original discussion was explored by Walter Benjamin in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935). In this essay he noted that that the work of art (the original) had a special aura which the copy doesn’t. From Introducing the Frankfurt School

Benjamin here attempts to mark something specific about the modern age; of the effects of modernity on the work of art in particular. Film and photography point to this movement. Benjamin writes of the loss of the aura through the mechanical reproduction of art itself. The aura for Benjamin represents the originality and authenticity of a work of art that has not been reproduced. A painting as an aura while a photograph does not; the photograph is an image of an image while the painting remains utterly original.

But what happens in the world where the copy becomes art? Where the ready made works of such as Duchamp’s Fountain become works of art through their contact and intentions with the artist? Well they seem to regain their aura. There is even an interesting issue of the copy of the ready mades discussed in Sam Leith’s article in The Guardian A plague of pissoirs is upon us! And there could be thousands more. This re-aura-fication also seems to happen to “everyday” objects with connections to the lives of the rich and famous. Recently Marilyn Monroe’s chest x-ray was sold for $45 000. And this week I read that you could buy J.D. Salinger’s old, uncleaned toilet for $1 000 000 on eBay!

In the midst of all this we are struggling to understand and regulate the copy in digital environment where the copy is the dominant norm. No wonder we are confused. The problem is that we believe in the myth that the physical world has a clear distinction between original and copy – and that this distinction can translate into monetary value. As long as we are confused about the physical world we can never expect to resolve the property of copies in the digital world.

The Public Domain Mark

Important news from Creative Commons about the development of a new Public Domain Mark. This whole post is taken from the Creative Commons blog:

Almost 1½ years have passed since we launched CC0 v1.0, our public domain waiver that allows rights holders to place a work as nearly as possible into the public domain, worldwide, prior to the expiration of copyright. CC0 has proven a valuable tool for governments, scientists, data providers, providers of bibliographic data, and many others throughout world. At the time we published CC0, we made note of a second public domain tool under development — a tool that would make it easy for people to tag and find content already in the public domain.

We are publishing today for comment our new Public Domain Mark, a tool that allows works already in the public domain to be marked and tagged in a way that clearly communicates the work’s PD status, and allows it to be easily discoverable. The PDM is not a legal instrument like CC0 or our licenses — it can only be used to label a work with information about its public domain copyright status, not change a work’s current status under copyright. However, just like CC0 and our licenses, PDM has a metadata-supported deed and is machine readable, allowing works tagged with PDM to be findable on the Internet. (Please note that the example used on the sample deed is purely hypothetical at the moment.)

We are also releasing for public comment general purpose norms — voluntary guidelines or “pleases” that providers and curators of PD materials may request be followed when a PD work they have marked is thereafter used by others. Our PDM deed as well as an upcoming enhanced CC0 deed will support norms in addition to citation metadata, which will allow a user to easily cite the author or provider of the work through copy-paste HTML.

The public comment period will close on Wednesday, August 18th. Why so short? For starters, PDM is not a legal tool in the same sense our licenses and CC0 are legally operative — no legal rights are being surrendered or affected, and there is no accompanying legal code to finesse. Just as importantly, however, we believe that having the mark used soon rather than later will allow early adopters to provide us with invaluable feedback on actual implementations, which will allow us to improve the marking tool in the future.

The primary venue for submitting comments and discussing the tool is the cc-licenses mailing list. We look forward to hearing from you!

Censorship in EU (Malta)

The tiny island of Malta rarely pops up in my rss reader but when it does I usually pay the news more attention than it deserves. Malta is a tiny island with about 400 000 inhabitants and like most islands is fairly big on introspection. What makes Malta special (for me) is the fact that I spent the first 15 years of my life there so I have experienced the narrow mindedness first hand. Don’t get me wrong the Maltese are friendly and welcoming its just when it comes to politics they are positively rooted in the dark ages. Today an article in the Guardian did come up via my rss and it began

What if there were an EU country where abortion, divorce, and blasphemy in public were all still illegal? Where freedom of expression was limited to saying nothing critical of the Catholic church, nothing that the government could call “obscene”, and nothing against the few noble families who all but controlled it? Surely, given Turkey’s problems, Croatia’s lack of membership, and Iceland’s still pending application, such a place would be expelled? Welcome to Malta.

Of course size matters but it is strange that the island is able to maintain these politics within the framework for the European Union – we should not really be surprised as the EU is still fundamentally an economic alliance and not a organisation founded in human rights. But still Malta is pushing the envelope

In the last year, the Maltese government has banned the play Stitching from being performed, has arrested and put students on trial for writing and publishing an “obscene” story, and has prevented the artist Alexander Stankovski from exhibiting paintings which contained nudity. The updated criminal code will make public obscenity or blasphemy in public punishable by up to a year in jail, even if the words or sentiments are part of a work of fiction, theatre, or art.

What if this had been a Muslim country behaving like this? Wouldn’t the criticism be louder? Is the lack of energy spent in combating blasphemy laws  a form of lazy racism? All over Europe countries are going crazy about the Muslim dress. Clothes! At the same time we accept that we have laws against blasphemy! We are concerned about women’s freedoms and the oppression of religion and yet we support certain religions by silencing criticism.

How is it that Malta is the way it is? The historic and geographic isolation of the island has enabled it to maintain its bizarre positions. In the Guardian article on the censorship of a short story O’Mahony writes a paragraph that neatly sums up the situation:

The Maltese press covered the issue, but in a factual tone. A recent interview with another Maltese writer, Frans Sammut, in the Malta Independent, allowed him the space to say he agreed with the ban of the work. However, with editorials that celebrate the Pope’s stance on paedophiles operating within the Catholic church, one cannot expect the media to help artists that write about blasphemy and their perceptions of the church’s misogyny. Self-censorship is rife on an island where everyone knows everyone else, but general opinion seems to suggest that writers were simply not taken seriously enough before the events of last year to ever fear reproach for what they produced.

Australian attempt to abolish software patents

Interesting activities in Australia where:

“Over 500 members of the Australian software industry have have signed an open letter urging their government to abolish software patents. Signatories include free software luminaries Andrew Tridgell and Jonathan Oxer. In 2008 the Australian government began a Review of Patentable Subject Matter. While we missed the 2009 public consultation period, we hope to influence the government’s response to the Review, due in February 2011. The letter will be presented to Minister Kim Carr in early August.”

(via Slashdot)