Click moment?


Blog-a-thon tag:

In honor of it’s fifteenth anniversary, EFF has a blog-a-thon going on where they’re asking people to write about their “click moment-” that moment where you first started to stand up for digital rights in some way.

That’s a toughie. First, I have to ask myself, have I stood up? I mean, sure, I have EFF Bumper Stickers (Fair Use has a Posse, MP3 is Not a Crime) on my office door, but that isn’t exactly “standing up.” “Squatting,” maybe. That’s just an ugly metaphor, though, and we’ll avoid that, thanks. I volunteered at the EFF-Austin booth at SXSW a couple of years ago, and thanks to me, well, Holly (my wife) showed up and tidied the whole thing up and got a bunch of people to sign up for the mailing list. Er. Hard to take credit for that one, really.

Digital rights are important to me, though. Partly because (you can blame my parents for this) I was just about raised in the digital world. I was part of a BBS community before I left elementary school (St. Joseph’s, the other driving force in warping my psyche. Go Mustangs.). And those guys, those grown-ups, were serious about their software. They were serious about tinkering. They were serious about sharing. My friends and I, we were serious about games. We would crush any Ferrengi near the Stardock! But some of that… serious stuff… rubbed off on us, too.

I went to college, and for some reason, “questions” kept on appearing. Yes, in college. And not just in class, either. I met up with a group of people who wanted to watch these animated shows from Japan. They were awesome. But there were questions… what did we have the right to do? Were fansubs all right? Was showing these shows to groups okay? What was going on? I worked in computer labs- what software could we share? Could we install programs (*cough* games *cough*) on more than one computer? And the World Wide Web started gaining in popularity- could I scan and use pictures? Could other people use my pictures? Can fans post their writings about their favorite shows? Etc. Etc. And, of course, I played on MUDs. Ah, the MUDs…but I digress.

Then I went to grad school… UT Austin’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. And if there are subjects that librarians and other information professionals are concerned about, it’s people and people’s rights. I grew up learning about intellectual freedom (Mom was a librarian), and then I had the chance so study about the subject, and learn about other important values… About privacy, about public access to information, about freedom of expression, fair use, government information, censorship, open access, intellectual property… all of these issues came up. Relating the digital to the rights wasn’t a stretch. The virtual world is still the real world. I spent a lot of my time studying about the digital world and how our rights might be affected in this area. And after graduation- well, I still study those subjects.

So- my click moment. Not too long ago, after a long diatribe about certain unsavory practices, Holly asked me “Why do you care about copyright so much? Copyright copyright copyright.” (I’m paraphrasing.) I told her, ‘Well, I have copyright, you have your fountain pens…” but I realized that the question really was worth answering. Why did I care about copyright? Why did I care about any of these things? And if I really did care so much, was there anything I could do about it? Click moment.

This may sound overly simplistic, but I care about these things- these rights- because they’re important. They’re important offline and they’re important online. I run into issues and situations involving these rights online *constantly*, in just about every part of my life. At school, I used to work with the guys who developed the P2P application at audiogalaxy.com (RIP). At work, I read software licenses, and see that some companies are trying to restrict what we should be able to do with software, while others are advocating sharing software code. I see that digital preservation decisions are made based on whether people can find the copyright owners. The games I play come under legal scrutiny because the characters people create might resemble someone else’s creation. The list goes on and on and on- and our rights are involved with all of them. I discovered that *gasp* I have values. I value openness. I value transparency. I value information freedoms. And I had the opportunity to learn about these things, and maybe tell others about these things and why they’re so important.

So, the hard part- what could I do? Well… I think I can be a voice. Sure, a small voice, probably a bit repetitive- but it’s a start. I joined the American Library Association and the Texas Library Association, because they tend to care about the things that I care about. I decided to join the EFF for the same reason. And now that I teach, I try to educate students about copyright and open source software and get them to think about online communities and everything that makes the Internet work, technological and social.

I had the chance to interview Wendy Seltzer of the EFF last year. She described EFF’s mission as “working to make sure that we bring the rights that we have in the offline world with us online.” I like that idea. I also want to ensure that the changes that people implement in the online world don’t cost us our rights offline. The digital world and the offline world aren’t all that different, when it comes down to it. Our rights and our values are important no matter where we are.

So, all in all… I still take my games seriously. (Though I probably couldn’t get into either the PVP or PA WoW guilds.) But I think we have responsibilities. I think that if we have the opportunity to add our voice to the chorus, the opportunity to make a difference, no matter how small, we should try. These rights are important enough to care about, so they’re important enough to do something about.

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