[p2p-research] Who Brought Down the Berlin Wall? Copyright and post-scarcity parallels?

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Tue Nov 10 14:56:40 CET 2009

"Who Brought Down the Berlin Wall? - By Christian Caryl | Foreign Policy"
Throughout the 40 years of the Cold War, popular uprisings against 
governments established by the Soviet Union in east-central Europe took 
place over and over again -- in East Berlin in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, in 
Czechoslovakia in 1968, and in Poland almost too many times to count -- but 
repeatedly failed. In the fall of 1989, they succeeded. No one saw 
revolution on the way, and certainly no one could have predicted that it 
would take place as peacefully as it did. (The exception, of course, was the 
violent revolution in Romania, but even there the casualty figures were not 
large.) These were complex events, and the details differed substantially 
from country to country. Most historians would probably agree that the 
outcome was the result of a mix of factors. Yet simplified views still 
abound -- and the 20th anniversary of the wall's fall will offer plenty of 
opportunity to rehearse some of them yet again. Here's a reality check on 
the most persistent myths: ...
   On Oct. 9, 1989, the authorities handed live ammunition to security 
forces ahead of the scheduled "Monday Demonstration" in Leipzig and 
mobilized hospitals to prepare for the large numbers of casualties that 
would have resulted. (As it happened, some 50,000 people took to the streets 
that evening.) But a last-minute effort by local notables and party leaders 
to avert violence saved the day from bloodshed. The history of Europe would 
have looked far different if they hadn't. ...
   In reality it was the crowds on the streets in Berlin, Prague, and 
Bucharest that fused inchoate anger at the regimes into an immediate and 
urgent challenge to the apparatchiks' power and legitimacy. The sudden surge 
in popular discontent, coupled with such other factors as the rise of 
Mikhail Gorbachev and his refusal to use Soviet troops to suppress protests; 
the moribund economies of the Warsaw Pact states; the gradual loss of belief 
in Marxist ideology among populations and functionaries alike; and a much 
greater flow of information about the West to the countries of the East all 
contributed to the events of 1989. Yet in their quest for a simple 
explanation, historians continue to look for The One.

Interesting in the context of a non-violent transcendence to either a more 
p2p-friendly economic world, or in general, a post-scarcity economy.

And it's an important reminder to people in the USA that, even under what 
commentators in the US called repressive regimes and police states, there 
was democratic change.

I think it will happen eventually in the USA about many things related to a 
transition to an ideology of abundance. It's only a question of how bad it 
gets first. In the freewheeling 1960s, no one would have taken seriously the 
suggestion millions of US Americans would go to prison for non-violent drug 
offenses (with related effects to millions more people in their families). 
But it has happened. Similarly, it would not surprise me to see a million US 
Americans going to prison over the next decade for copyright and patent and 
"thought crime" offenses, as the USA puts up an ever stronger copyright 
wall, such as indicated by the ACTA treaty manueverings previously mentioned.

So, which way things may go is still up in the air IMHO. As Bucky Fuller 
said, whether it will be utopia or oblivion will be a touch and go relay 
race to the very end.

Anyway, the Berlin Wall fell non-violently. I have hopes the copyright wall 
will fall too, legally and non-violently, someday. Just a few strokes of the 
pen in Congress is all it would take formally, to, say, change copyrights to 
being only three years long, or abolish them altogether. But it may be a 
difficult time getting there. Same for the establishment of a basic income 
or universal health care in the USA.

Still, the recent travesty of law being passed in the USA on health care, 
basically putting the government and individuals legally on the hook for a 
predicted doubling of premiums over the next decade, is a cause for 
short-term despair. The penalty for not giving your money to the private 
insurance companies, even if they will not cover alternative wellness care 
like, say, homeopathy or eating organic food or choosing a less stressful 
job, is reportedly US$250K fine and five years in prison. Of course, it is 
ironic the Republicans are criticizing the compromised health reform for 
being bad when they did everything they could to destroy it (when single 
payer would cut costs by a third). Example video:
   "Why Do You Have To Criminalize People To Coax Them Into A Plan That's 
Fabulous! Rep Roskam"

So, that's the crazy state of US politics at the moment, Republicans 
pointing out legitimate problems with the laws they helped shape by refusing 
to create true reform out of scarcity fears. Of course, what if you took 
Rep. Roskam's logic and applied it to copyright reform or p2p? Nice to see 
that Republican congressperson talking about how we need to "work together 
and pool to lower costs down". :-)

Lots of ironies here. :-) Just sad it means hundreds of thousand more deaths 
in the USA:
"Kucinich: Why I Voted NO"
"After voting against H.R. 3962 - Affordable Health Care for America Act, 
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today made the following statement: ... 
eir massive bureaucracy avoids paying bills so effectively, they force 
hospitals and doctors to hire their own bureaucracy to fight the insurance 
companies to avoid getting stuck with an unfair share of the bills.  The 
result is that since 1970, the number of physicians has increased by less 
than 200% while the number of administrators has increased by 3000%.  It is 
no wonder that 31 cents of every health care dollar goes to administrative 
costs, not toward providing care.  Even those with insurance are at risk. 
The single biggest cause of bankruptcies in the U.S. is health insurance 
policies that do not cover you when you get sick. ..."

I'd suggest the same thing applies at this point about copyright. As talked 
about in "The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind"
the costs of copyright and patents at this point in terms of making it 
harder for most creative people to create (like kids making mashups) are far 
in excess of any benefits -- except to a specific few individuals.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, even though the article says his statement had 
no positive effect: "Come here, to this  public domain gate! Mr. Obama, open 
this gate! Mr. Obama, tear down this copyright wall!"  :-)

Another alternative to legal reform is to think of some legal way, that say, 
people could independently and originally create, say, free music, so that 
the old copyright-imprisoned tunes that help keep us in chains would lose 
some of their power over us (including to send people to prison in real 
chains that reflect the metaphorical copyright ones). So, as we spend more 
and more time creating and listening to free music, the old tunes will lose 
most of their power. The same is true for free news, free software, free 
encyclopedia entries, and so on. And it is happening, slowly.

So, there are multiple trends here. Lots of "Blessed Unrest".

--Paul Fernhout

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