Free therefore stolen…

April 14, 2007

Once again, I’m commenting some French snippet of news. In a blog entry called Gratuit donc volé (Free therefore stolen), the writer Pierre Assouline blogs on a recent book of opinions written by no one else but the owner of FNAC, a huge book/media retailer, a French equivalent to Barnes & Nobles.

What’s the thesis of the book? Basically that the free access to cultural creation is undermining creation itself. This is a debate we have heard here in the US from proponents of DRM and other related technologies. Microsoft has been a heavy promoter in that area and when you see anyone’s interest aligning with those of Bill Gates, your BS alarm should go off. Mine did.

Once again, someone is getting a knee jerk reaction on “free” but the core of the problem actually is not “free” (as in “free beer”), it’s the fact that the cost of reproduction and diffusion is fast approaching zero. With that in mind, it’s perfectly normal that consumers ask to get that cost saving and productivity gain back in the price they pay for the goods.

I’ve no problem paying to the artists what they were used to make on the sale of a CD or book. I’ve even no problem with paying the service provider running the servers and other architecture to deliver the goods. I have a problem though to see the price unchanged compared to a CD or a paper book, a medium on which I have none of the limitation added to it by DRM: I can loan it to someone, I can trade it, I can even resell it in a garage sale or a “used” shop. If I pay that price despite the fact that the reproduction cost is nil, I want those rights too.

So what I’d like to see is the B&N of the world transforming themselves and becoming digital goods providers and passing back part of the saving to us consumers. When that’s done, I’m fine chatting again about the virtues and evil of “free”… as in “free beer”…

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Republique 2.0

April 10, 2007

An article in Le Monde pointed me to a voluminous “dossier” signed by Michel Rocard (ex French prime minister) on the “numeric industry” and named with a good dose of irony Republique 2.0.

I downloaded and browsed through it rapidly. It deals among other things with Open Source, Free software, DRM and software patenting issues, all things eminently interesting for the author this blog.

It’s in French of course but I’ll read it and try to post a critique on it later here.


My other Open Source project

April 7, 2007

OK, it’s not really Open Source (no code involved) but that’s one of those “long term do it for free eternal glory” project. I’ve been working on and off since 1987 (20 years!) on an archaeological project and, today, a fairly complete review of the dig appeared in print.

For the curious, it’s about a 5500 BC hamlet, a rare PNA (Pottery Neolithic A) find in South Jordan. It was a blast to find the site in 87 and dig it in 93 and it took a lot of times to get this published. Having the publisher based in Beyrouth didn’t help (things got a little hot over there over the 2006 summer…).

Anyhow, it’s there, I have fresh copies in my hands and I can’t believe it. Unfortunately for you reader, it’s in French (my part that is), so, go get your dictionary.

20 years… Whew! Clearly, archaeology in the Middle East doesn’t work on the same time scale as high tech in the valley… 🙂