Google holds the world to Ransom

It had to happen sometime, Google is holding everyone with intellectual property, copyright, you name it, to the terms of a $billion deal involving a class action case,  world-wide advertising in every conceivable form to alert writers and publishers to the fact that if they do not opt-out of the programme, they will be entitled to a modest payout for public access in perpetuity. If this sounds like the ransom model, maybe it is. The ransom model was conceived by Eric Murphy, original developer of Jabberzilla, on how to finance the development of a digital identity system. The idea was  posted to Crynwr’s Free Software Business listt, which resulted in the Theoretic Solutions Open Think Tank . Ransom is a publishing model where copyrighted works (such as books, software, or music) remain proprietary until a total amount of money is collected or a certain date arrives, at which point the work is automatically freed to the public.

If Google had its way, this amount would be set in stone. As a writer and publisher I am not adverse to the concept considering the benefits. For example – suppose over your lifetime you produce four or five great works, all for the grand sum of $60, there is a certain monetary reward, which distinguishes you from colleagues who have not. Since everybody benefits the world is enriched and you may chart your value with google rankings and page ratings. The system could work if it was not merely inclusive but persuasive – enough people see the benefit of releasing work into the creative domain, the commons is something we share and for generations to come, the world celebrates its share, but are we not then all Google?
Can the Google Identity sustain itself as a search engine that grew-up into a public utility? More of these thoughts as I ponder what was once a NY Times front page story, yesterday or the day before? If only I could say: Sudo do this now, make the link appear, I would be getting somewhere with computing.

Global Commons

FOR want of a better definition, the Global Commons is a platform of issues related to the sharing of resources both on a local and global scale and is in direct contrast to privatisation and the concessions made to business and the rights of the individual. While “privatisation” is seemingly in the forefront of development strategy, our constitution enshrines values such as equality, public access and participation in numerous areas such as healthcare, housing, and information; and in fact openly combats group economic discrimination i.e. class, as well as promoting freedom of movement alongside the rights of the individual.

However, while these values may put South Africa in the forefront of environmental justice and social democracy we have witnessed the steady erosion of the Global Commons in the following areas.

1) Public Libraries and Free Learning.
The replacement of low-cost or free access to books and learning materials with high-tech, information nodes that are dependent solely upon the computer or technology industry has paradoxically stifled learning, suppressed participation and destroyed the ideal of access for all. Library-use is directly associated with literacy levels and continued adult education and should not be the preserve of technocrats.

2) Mass Transport Alternatives.
The laissez faire and often chaotic development of private motor vehicles on the one hand and privately owned “taxi’s” that refuse to service all-areas (usually organised along the narrow interests of various “taxi associations”) on the other, has created a terrible dependency upon oil. Alongside privately-owned bus and rail companies a complete lack of late-night transport in the City of Cape Town, and broken promises as regards more environmentally-friendly means of transport such as trolley-buses and mono-rails. Where are the plans for inter-transport crossovers and ticket transfers so that commuters can easily change from one mode of transport to the next?

3) Social Security and Common Welfare
While the present generation is still paying for the previous generations pensions and even the next generations child-care grants and schooling, there is no safety mechanism in place to avoid a default on these “loans made to government in the national interest”. Why do we still see beggars and homeless people on the street? In a social democracy such forms of poverty would be eradicated.

4) Public Housing Projects
Alongside the demise of rent control and council housing, scattered or spread out development of housing that repeats many of the mistakes of former white suburban households. Where is the high density housing that saves public money by sharing common walls, roofing and services? Where are the incentives to the free market to create low-cost housing? Where are the public bathhouses, ablution facilities, and free gyms. In many cases it is impossible for pedestrians to find drinking water in the city.

5) Food Security for All
Not only should we combat hunger as a result of unemployment but protect the common genetic material that is the basis for all life and the ongoing nourishment of the individual. Transnational corporations such as Monsanto have simply been allowed to hook-up local farmers into techno-dependent relationships through the patenting of biological material, and in the process depriving future generations of food security.

6) Public Access to Media
Pay television has been allowed to saturate our national debate with programming that is not always fair or accurate. Free-to-air channels have stagnated or simply given-up on public participation. Without public access radio and television, perspectives are restricted to the rich and wealthy who are able to afford licences and subscriptions, broadcast equipment and material.

7) Impediments to Market Ownership and Fair Trade
The stock market is still the preserve of the rich, with entry-level stocks priced out of the market by high dealer fees and unfair trading regulations. How can one claim that the system works for everybody if the price for entry to the market is in many cases more than a days wages? Opening the market to the commons, would help to regulate society by avoiding the creation of elites.

8) Access to Heath Care
Where are the free dental clinics and day-care centres promised by government? Free-market principles do not work when the poor are forced to pay exorbitant fees for the most basic of services. Pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals still control matters such as life and death. By empowering the individual through sharing of common knowledge and medical wisdom we can lessen the burden on the state.

9) Cultural Diversity and Empowerment in the Arts
While great strides have been made in furthering equality in the arts, there has been very little funding for alternative modalities, subordinated knowledge, separated or divergent cultural expressions. Are we adequately preserving our country’s diverse counterculture history, apartheid memory, and local traditions that are being wiped out by cocoa–colonisation. Where are the youth projects targeting the next generation of cultural workers and arts practitioners?

While some topics may overlap with concerns already placed before government it is my intention rather to raise awareness around the Global Commons, the things we share, rather than that which keeps us apart. In this way, we may forge some unique strategy that overcomes the problems raised, and in so doing, create a better life for all.