The Thudpucker Proxy

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Letters Re: Doonesbury savages Pepperland's copyright utopians

Your Pepperland Letters

This Doonesbury strip ran several years ago and is a re-run. Still, its message is all the more topical with the new hardware and increase in connectivity over the last few years.

Jim Lucke


Thanks to many of you for pointing out that howler so graciously. But is the sky falling?

First, let me say that I would welcome the chance to fling iPods at as many lawyers and economists as possible. To save money perhaps we can substitute bricks.

We should also earmark a load or two for breathless bloggers. On the whole they are not artists or otherwise self-employed. They have no idea what it is to spend one's life in pursuit of creative work or to earn a living from it. They don't seem to understand authorship as a social institution. They approach the situation with the breezy attitude of hobbyists.

A few blocks from my home is a copy of a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi. Most people mistake them for @ signs. They are actually slides with stairs at the back; Noguchi wanted people to interact with his work. The "license" is a brass plate that encourages you to go ahead and slide. It does not say that you are not allowed to spraypaint it or chip off a souvenir. This is implied, yeah?

Fair use is of course different from vandalism. My point is that the limits on use of a work are based on respect for the author. If I want to allow "remixing" I can (and I do). But I refuse to take career advice from a giant flock of web-enabled magpies.

As for Thudpucker's hallucinations, consider tattoo artists. They can't use computers to extend the reach of their art the way others can. It is small-scale, live, "modest", patron-funded, and an absolutely exhausting treadmill. The real money is in owning shops and selling designs, so we can get back to doing the pieces we want to do.

If a model works they should use it. If their model demands that everyone bow to a new regime, I suggest they go back to playing with their dolly. The state we are in today is not caused by the rights granted but how they are used by deathless, uncaring corporations *after* those rights are assigned by the artist.

Change *that*. Don't gut my means of support. Don't take away the power I have to enforce my artistic integrity.

aristus stain


The copyright system is broken.  It doesn't work for people, so they are trying different systems.  The CC is one.  Maybe it will work, maybe it won't.  Your idea of funding artists is another solution to the broken system.  Both your and Prof. Lessig's ideas have merit.  However, living in Washington, DC, I can assure you that so-called Big Government (i.e. new tax and distribute to artist) solutions have no chance anytime soon.

Jonathan Gentry


As a reporter who's spent a lot of time describing how the sky might fall, I have to confess that it isn't falling yet. It could, of course, with the imposition of draconian DRM regimes. We'd lose whatever rights to copy and remix we have now, de facto or de jure. But right now, copyright is essentially working as it should.

The pigopolists haven't gone nuclear yet.


Good article; there are a lot of projects that have the best of intents, but over time seem to wind up in opposition to those goals.

But there may be more traction on this music topic than meets the eye. Robert Cringely has a means by which this can happen; it even seems to overcome the legal problems:

It's interesting to think about, a world where literally everyone can have a band, where it costs almost nothing to press CDs on demand and make money from touring, not from being carpet-bagged. :) And, maybe we'd get something else in the mainstream but rap.

Remember Disco? It lasted only about 2 years. Rap? 14 and counting. I smell a situation of economic expedience...but then I trust the music industry as much as Bill Gates.

Thanks for the article; I saw the Pepperland reference, but didn't put the two together until the article.

Brian Fahrländer


Your commentary is typically quite thorough, but I must say I'm disappointed with your article on Doonesbury's Jimmy Thudpucker sequence.

In particular, I think you fundamentally misunderstand Lessig's goals behind the Creative Commons. Your choice to quote Bill Thompson, I think, is revealing, because Mr. Thompson makes the same mistake that the folks on the other side of the debate make. While on the one hand, the John Perry Barlow "information wants to be free" morons appear to want to make decisions about other people's intellectual property, Mr. Thompson seems to believe that Larry Lessig is one of those people, and he's not.

The point of the Creative Commons is identical to the goal of the OSI: to create a legal infrastructure THAT PEOPLE CAN CHOOSE FOR THEIR OWN INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY which represents their convictions about how their IP should be distributed. Lessig isn't interested in forcing his licenses on others, nor is he interested in violating other people's licensing choices. Mr. Thompson doesn't get this at all, and I'm wondering whether you do.

Cordially, Sam Bayer


There no doubt are Thudpuckers out there, claiming that Creative Commons and other non-mainstream ideas about copyright are going to save music or at least humanity, but I think you'll find they're a small fraction of the people using creative commons licenses for their work. Creative Commons is a specific solution to a specific problem. Using their licenses is a humdrum undertaking, albeit a useful one. Utopianism indeed.

The idea that the existence of Creative Commons licenses - and their use by people who want to use them - will somehow loosen the rights of people who don't use them is just silly. That applies to moral or legal rights as you choose.

Plenty of people do use the licenses you know. That sounds like success to me. Suggesting that Creative Commons "hasn't gone anywhere" is only really supportable if you assign the "campaign" world dominating intentions that I just don't think it has.

There is such a campaign of course. One which, last I checked, you were a part of. Sorry.

- Hugh Stimson


You do realize that there is no way your copyrighted work will somehow be taken over by a magical cancer and release it to the world for free, you actually have to choose to publish with that license. Doing so without thinking of the consequences is just as stupid as signing a record contract without reading the fine print.

- Demian Phillips


Well put, sir. We'll follow up as soon as we can pin the good Professor down to a long-promised dinner.

Meanwhile, a poser for you. Why is the stuff emanating from "Remix Culture" (which in the real world, died a death about ten years ago) so awful? Has the public lost its appetite for this just as it becomes possible for anyone to remix and resample art? And are the two related?

Answers by any means possible, please! ®

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