The Internet Board of Control

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  3. The Library of the Future

In the time of the Wright brothers, Rudyard Kipling wrote With the Night Mail, a story about a world in which air flight turned the Atlantic into little more than a pond. He envisioned a world in which the oceans were no longer a barrier to fast and easy travel. In other words, he envisioned that future as it became. But he also envisioned an all-encompassing ‘Aerial Board of Control’ which usurped powers from local governments, partially because of the importance of air travel to commerce, but also because air travel had so shrunk the world that major governments became minor powers.

There is today no ‘Aerial Board of Control’ dictating to the countries of the world, and, if anything, quick air travel has extended the power of individual states to make their will known across the planet. As Norbert Wiener says in The human use of human beings: (?)

He does not seem to realize that where a man’s word goes, and where his power of perception goes, to that point his control and in a sense his physical existence is extended.

Our own predictions of the future may as easily fall off the mark, intriguingly correct yet widely divergent from what actually comes to pass. “I think, therefor I am” may not be a great statement of philosophy, being ultimately circular, but it must be kept in mind for any discussion of human action. The individuals who step onto the net bring their perceptions with them, and quite a few leave their perceptions behind. When I travel electronically to Tel Aviv, and speak with citizens of Tel Aviv, and learn of the events of Tel Aviv, that is where my eyes, my “power of perception” is, although my “physical existence” is there only “in a sense”. The Internet makes knowledge and the ownership of knowledge transcendent from mere political boundaries.

On the On-Line Book Initiative, there is a copy of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. I also have a copy on FireBlade. On various ftp sites around the United States, you can find encryption software such as Phil Zimmerman’s PGP.

What Peter Pan and PGP both have in common is that both are illegal to export out of the United States, Peter Pan because there is a question of copyright, and PGP because encryption is classified by the government as “munitions”, and we wouldn’t want to send bombs electronically to Europe.

How do we stop people who live outside of the United States from ‘downloading’ Peter Pan or PGP? We put up a hand-lettered sign that says please don’t walk on the grass, and next to it, please don’t feed the squid. These signs are useless. Information is now a global resource, and can be globally mined. Information does not care about national boundaries. Nor age boundaries. One poster on prefaced their article with “If you are under 18, don’t read this. It involves great sex.” (?)

It is theoretically possible to recognize incoming requests by location--as I’ve already pointed out while ridiculing the fictional town of Morality, Tennessee. But I also pointed out that this is useless as a measure for actually stopping the information in question.

In the short term, such barriers will go up anyway. But they are too easily bypassed.

Suppose the Gutenberg site only lets American callers come into the Peter Pan folder. All a British netizen need do is rent time on an American computer, or find a friend in America who is willing to loan their Internet account. The British netizen goes into Gutenberg using the American computer, and then uses their own British account to get the files again, off of the rented American computer.

All such laws will do is increase crime, by increasing the number of “otherwise law-abiding” outlaws we have to deal with. When information is outlawed, only outlaws will have information, a scary prospect indeed. If laws can’t keep physical needs--sausages, tobacco, and cocaine--from bowling across national boundaries, how can it keep virtual needs from breaking the same boundaries? The answer is simply that laws can do no such thing, and to attempt to deal with the real problem of copyright infringement through simple prohibitions will ensure that the infant problem grows to a surly and powerful adult.

A White House working group claims that almost everything already done on the net is against copyright law:

‘According to the group’s draft report--issued last summer and the subject of recent public hearings--random browsing of World Wide Web pages, transmission of Usenet postings, reading of electronic mail or any of the other Internet activities may already violate the law. “It’s really that bad,” says Jessica Litman, a professor of copyright law at Wayne State University.” (?)

A disgruntled employee of the Church of Scientology posted the text of some of their “secret scriptures” to the Internet. The Church sells these to members for thousands of dollars. Like any other writing, they are covered by standard copyright laws. A Church spokesperson said that the ex-employee

“posted materials to the Internet which are copyrighted, unpublished, confidential material, and he had no permission to do that. There are people out there who somehow think the Internet has created a new medium where all the rules go away, and it’s not true.” (?)

Bill Gates said the same thing, and demonstrated a remarkable lack of foresight (George, February 1997):

Society’s values have not changed fundamentally just because it’s an Internet page. Take copyright. Sure, there should be some clarifications about copyright, but the old principles work surprisingly well in the new medium.

The rules haven’t gone away. Society’s values haven’t changed. The rules were never there to begin with, and society has never valued copyrights. The fact of the matter is that copyright laws, like drug laws, have, at best, been an “ideal”. They have never been what people in our society actually believe. People have never thought that copyright laws applied to themselves. The only reason that copyright laws have stood for so long is that it’s been incredibly hard to break them. If I wanted to copy a four-hundred page book, I’d need to spend at least 3¢ per page, or $12. The book itself would only cost me $7 paperback. What’s the point of copying it? And before Xerox, I would have had to copy it by hand. We might as well have had a speed limit of 55 miles an hour in 1854. Sure, it’s a good idea, but when we finally get the ability to break it, we do. How many people do you know who always follow the speed limit?

And speed limits require near universal non-compliance. If any significant number of people on the road were to follow the speed limit, everyone behind them would be forced to follow the speed limit as well. Copyright laws can be completely circumvented if any single person out of the tens of millions on the net break it. Once one person puts a copyrighted material on the net, and people want it, it’s there for good.

From: [h--c--n] at [] (Halcyon)
Subject: ALL TSR Products Available for FTP!
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 96 22:17:16 GMT
Organization: Breaker Internet Services

I am currently working on an FTP site in Finland that will (hopefully) have huge quantities of T$$$$$$R official products converted into a variety of text formats and be available for ftp.

What we are doing is 1) break the binding on a book/module/etc, and then 2) scan the pages into text files. There are currently about 12 of us involved in the project, and between us we have a pretty hefty percentage of T$$$$R products. We also have Dragon Magazine starting at issue #52 (with only a few missing), and Dungeon from #1 (again, with a few missing).

We are going to start with the hardbound books, as they are in greatest demand. Then we will move on to the more popular softbound rule books (the various “Complete Blah Handbook” for example), and then probably our favorite modules next. We will only do the last 12 issues of Dragon/Dungeon at first, and then put each month’s new issue up as they come along.

Once it is up and running, we will have the ability for you to upload your own text files, so the FTP site can grow rapidly. WIthout your help, it will be VERY difficult to get all this information online :).

We will be posting what books we have and which ones we have scanned in, so others can help out. There will also be a text file at the FTP site with a listing of things still needed.

I’m sure T$$$$R is going to be quite pissed about this, but thats life. I or my associates will post updates periodically. We estimate it will take a couple months to get the whole system setup, as well as properly secured so T$R can’t try to crash it. We will most likely set up mirrors, and never release the address of our actual ftp site.

Well, just wanted to get the good news out. Hope to have updates soon.


Halcyon never got past the planning stages on his or her illegal ftp site. For one thing, they assumed that Finland does not honor U.S. copyrights. Finland is in fact part of the same copyright convention as the United States, so Halcyon was looking for ftp sites in all the wrong places. But he had the right idea. First, you need to find a place where the law doesn’t apply. Then, you need to secure your site against malicious attack by those whose property you are stealing. And finally, you need to appeal to the volunteer spirit on the net to get others to help steal the things you want.

One person can make a difference when it comes to copyright violation. If Halcyon or his intellectual descendants ever do get around to posting TSR’s gaming rules, their postings will be downloaded. No doubt they’ll be roundly criticized for posting copyrighted material, but all the while these same critics, as well as tens of thousands of silent viewers, will be downloading TSR’s gaming material. Just as these same people routinely drive above the speed limit and complain at the same time that their own street is unsafe because of all the speeders driving past their homes.

There is simply no way to enforce laws against information unless the laws reflect what people were already going to do or not do anyway.

The battle over copyright is building. One of the provisions of GATT is that if a work is copyrighted in its country of origin, the copyright is also valid in the United States. (?) This means that some of Picasso’s and Matisse’s work may be covered, as well as, possibly, my copy of Peter Pan.

If you think it’s going to be hard to take porn away from on-line sex maniacs, wait’ll you try to take Matisse away from high school teachers and college students.

Computer software is at the forefront of copyright crime. It’s called software piracy. The most common form of software piracy is when one person buys the software and allows friends to copy the software onto their computers. The software companies rail about this form of software piracy, but it isn’t really a big deal: they aren’t losing much money because, chances are, the friends who copy the software wouldn’t use the software at all if they didn’t have the chance to copy it.

Some software companies thrive on piracy. They leave a blind eye towards individuals not paying for their software because it keeps them on top. The makers of StuffIt™, a “compression” software program for the Macintosh, allow their product to be stored on public sites. Anyone on the Internet can get this “shareware” version of their software. The instructions say that if the user continues to use the software, they must pay for it. The requirement is completely voluntary, however, and I can guarantee you that the vast majority of StuffIt™ users do not pay the shareware fee.

Because of this, StuffIt™ is the standard compression and archive tool for the Macintosh. When people and organizations that do pay for software come looking for such a tool, StuffIt™ is at the top of their list. If Stuffit™ were no longer available “freely”, its status as a “standard” would fall, and the manufacturers would lose money. (!)

The other form of software piracy involves taking commercial software that is not supposed to be freely available and puting it up somewhere for everyone to use. Usually this involves illegally obtaining a copy of the software and then putting it onto an electronic bulletin board. Anyone can have their computer call this “BBS” (Bulletin Board System) and “download” a copy of the software from the BBS to their personal computer. Sometimes the BBS will charge for the service, but most of the time it’s all free: the only people who make money on it are the telephone company. These places are illegal, and even run the risk of being raided by local police or Federal agents.

While the Internet is not currently a hotbed of software piracy, it could be soon:

Date: Mon, 01 May 1995 11:57:56 GMT

If you are from or know of a country where it is still leagal to copy software please tell me about it. I’m wondering this because I’m looking for a place to open a pirate base on the internet from.

Thankfull for all help I can get.


The infobahn is part of such a significant shift in the world’s basic power structure that it is laying bare “laws of convenience”. Copyright laws are but the first layer of the Emperor’s old clothes.

  1. Norbert Wiener, The human use of human beings: Cybernetics and Society, p. 96.
  2. Luv Pooh, “Beth gets surprised”, , March 10, 1995.
  3. Paul Wallich, “The Chilling Wind of Copyright Law?”, Scientific American, February 1995, p. 30.
  4. New York Times 14 Aug 95, p. A7, quoted in Edupage 8/15/95.
  5. Wall Street Journal 7/27/95, p. A1, quoted in EduPage 7/27/95.
  6. This is not to say that I condone software piracy in these situations. If Aladdin wants people to use Stuffit regardless of paying for it, they should say so. I try not to use software that pretends it wants me to pay for it. Then again, I drive 65, and people get angry at me for that as well. I’ve got a bumper sticker that says, “If you don’t like it when I drive the speed limit, vote!
  1. Power
  2. InfoShok
  3. The Library of the Future