By Ruben I. Safir
NYLXS-Public Service for the Free SoftwareCommunity in the NYC Area
When NYLXS was founded a few months ago, I released a mission statement for the proposed volunteer organization. Chief among the growing needs for the Free Software movement in NYC was the increasing need for a professional approach to the political issues which Free Software and Linux face daily.
Both the Linux community and the community at large requires a certain set of guaranteed freedoms, which anchor us as free people. As a result of this need, Linux advocates find some of their best allies among unexpected constituencies such as professional librarians, artists, engineers, academicians, educators, and computer hardware vendors. Simply, the extension of our current political rights into the digital environment, without modification, in a attempt to extend untraditional copyright control, protects both Free Software and society as a whole. The political agenda of NYLXS, and its sister organization, New Yorkers for Fair Use, is mostly about keeping the status quo.
NYLXS realizes that it's probably shocking to a large number of people that we are for the status quo. The public often fails to understand our exact position on the issues with regard to government-granted limited monopolies (copyrights) and fair use. Our organization is actually very conservative. It is mainstream in its outlook. We are demanding protection of the status quo. Clearly we have been painted by our political foes as being radicals, and as such with a radical agenda. Radicals want to change the world. Nylxs's political agenda is not to change the world, but to maintain the exceptional outstanding guarantees of freedom and universal suffrage which every decent democratic civilization today demands from its government.
NYLXS is content to allow society to evolve freely, and let technology, economics and civilization in the public commons be the sole forces for broad sociological change. We oppose radical organizations such as The American Association of Publishers who demand the end of public libraries, and the Motion Picture Association of America, who demand wiretapping in every digital device. And when we focus on these issues, we are certain that the broad swath of American opinion, as people come to understand the issues, stands firmly on the conservation of the status quo, which is under assault from many radical groups.
Understanding this, NYLXS helped move forward the ground-breaking work by NY Fairuse on these issues. Over the previous summer and fall, in 2002, NY Fairuse started a political campaign targeting local congressional delegates in the hopes getting them to recognize the growing threat to the status quo, especially the threats presented by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. The campaign was designed around good old NYC machine politics, going door to door with petitions, targeting supermarkets and public areas with leaflets, and shaking hands. They targeted the home district of Brooklyn and Queens Representative Anthony Weiner, and Senator Charles Schumer, both of whom reside in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. They collected nearly 500 hundred signatures, gave out over 2000 buttons with "Save the Libraries" on them, and contacted nearly every resident in that area of the district. They pushed on through the destruction of the World Trade Center into October and the local election season. When the time came to go to Washington and deliver the petitions and the message, NYLXS was pleased to help fund the trip to Washington for NY Fairuse.
Members of both NYLXS and New Yorkers for Fair Use, boarded the NYLXS bus early Tuesday morning, February 19th, 2002 and headed down to Washington DC. The bus was arranged for by NYLXS First VP Marcus Conti. On the trip were President and NY Fairuse Founder, Ruben Safir, NYLXS Secretary Richard Weinberg, NYLXS Public Relations Committee Chairman Joe Grastara, NY Fairuse Secretary Seth Johnson, NY Fairuse member Forest Mars, and the Nylxs's Free Software Institute Chairman, Paul Rodriguez. Finally getting underway at 9:00AM, the group arrived in Washington DC around 2:00PM. Our main contact on Weiner's staff was Legislative Director Lamar Robertson, who oversees the policies concerning the Intellectual Property sub-committee of the House Judiciary committee. Lamar was on emergency child care duty that afternoon, so instead they met with Kevin Ryan, Weiner's Chief of Staff. NY Fairuse members were invited into the Congressman's office in the Conrad Building just across the street from the Capital Building.
They spent about an hour with Chief of Staff Ryan, explaining the importance of Fair Use to the development of the modern computing industry. Head spokesman for the group was Reuvain Safir. He methodically laid forward the arguments for maintaining the status quo in the relationship between citizens and the information they own. The threat to this by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was particularly emphasized. He covered the foundation of the current computer industry with the reverse engineering of the IBM PC by Compact, paving the way for standardized hardware, fair competition, expanding markets, and the growing high tech industry.
Underlining this issue, Ruben presented the case of the copyrighted computer bios software. This software is needed for booting the computer. A DMCA protected encryption of the PC bios would end free software immediately under the current DMCA provisions. It would make running Linux a felony, just like playing a commercial DVD on Linux today is likely felony. Ruben emphasized they need to prevent us from becoming share-croppers to our own cultural heritage, and how libraries, municipal governments and minorities were all being adversely affected by the change in the status quo by the DMCA.
Seth Johnson made the point that other bills have been floated by various members of Congress which have confused the usage of the word 'security'. He reminded Chief of Staff Ryan that computer security and content protection systems are completely different issues despite the fact that such content protection systems have been termed 'content security' systems. He emphasized that national security needs of the nation and general computer security can not be obtained by methods which are designed to prevent music file sharing, or the playing of DVD's on Linux. Paul Rodriguez noticed that the Congressman was running Linux in his office with the TIVO video system which was perched above the door opposite his desk. The group was told that the Congressman loved the TIVO. He loved the fair use he makes of broadcast video through the TIVO. In fact, it became very apparent that the entire Weiner staff leverages traditional Fair Use through digital means in a way which would make most organizations do back flips. They record volumes of broadcast media and share them in whole for political reasons with allies and constituents. They archive extensive material from local newspapers in an in house database for later printing. They freely distribute this information as part of their political activities. They freely leverage a digital environment to remain informed and one step ahead.
While in the office, Ruben also showed off his Sony picture book running Linux, Ximian and playing MP3s. The purpose of the demonstration was to show that real industry in Free Software exists in NYC, and it needs protection. Kevin enjoyed the MP3s, and the group discussed momentarily the Napster issues, and how DVD's were illegal to play under Linux. They discussed the huge copying of DVD's and the copyright violation which took place in Queens this month, with hundreds of thousands of dollars of bootleg DVD's being made available by direct copying of the disks, contrary to claims by Time Warner which justified the use of software to prevent Linux from reading the DVD's. Standard Dvd's read the encrypted DVD's by use of their 'Content Security System' encryption system. This system controls access to the information on DVD. Time Warner claimed that CSS made this kind of copying impossible and that the Linux programs used to read DVD's were illegal. Yet it is obvious that a bit by bit copy is indeed possible and allows for copyright violations. Only legitimate use of the DVD's is affected by CSS. After the discussion the NYLXS group left Weiner's office.
As the group left, we were called by Lamar from his home with an invitation to have dinner with him and his family. Since Lamar Robertson is the key man for Weiner on these issues, the members took him up on his offer. They headed to his Maryland home. As soon as the group hit the door, Lamar was armed with a NY Times article on the Supreme Courts review of the Sony Bono amendment of the copyright act. Ruben pointed out, with much excitement, that not only was this one of the issues that New Yorkers for Fair Use was fighting for, but in addition, that Lamar's use of the complete NY Times article, which was a copy of the article in total, was exactly the kind of fair use which we needed to protect for all individuals if we are to have a free and open society. The fact that a politician's Legislative Director is making fair use copies of such a digitally available articles outlines, as clear as anything, exactly how serious a blow the DMCA is to the status quo, and how it jeopardizes the political freedoms of all US citizens in their ability to access information in the course of their normal lives and in their participation in government.
The group stayed for nearly 4 hours at Lamar's residence, enjoying scotch and getting to know each other. Each member of the group introduced himself, and said his piece. The conversation became very detailed, and Lamar took many notes on the issues which were raised. One of the issues brought up was the protection of public libraries, and particularly the radical position of the A.P., and Pat Schroeder. It was pointed out that the A.P. has suggested we close down libraries and replace them with Barnes and Noble stores. It was reviewed that Judith Platt compared librarians with Waco styled terrorists. And NYLXS went over its interaction with Pat Schroeder, the A.P. spokeswomen. Pat claimed that college students who said that file swapping was ethical were made more sensitive to the issue when comparing music to beer. At the 'Text Zero One' conference in Brooklyn last year, Mrs. Schroeder claimed that if everyone could duplicate beer like music, students would understand how distributing copies of beer for free would be stealing. At this point, Ruben Safir, who was in the audience, asked Mrs. Schroeder if she was seriously saying that if mankind was able to reproduce food as freely and inexpensively as we can with music, would she find it immoral to stamp out world hunger on the basis that this was stealing from farmers?
This story was outlined to Lamar, giving the room some comic relief. Lamar made the point that in the sub-committee no one really understood the issues well, and that most of the members were consistently dependent on ASCAP for testimony on these issue. NYLXS and NY Fair Use has pledged itself to help the Congressman's office gain a broader and more detailed policy sheet on these issues, and to come to Washington when asked to testify for the sub-committee authentically and professionally. We expressed that we hope that this is a start of a long term relationship. Ruben and Lamar hugged, and the group headed back to Brooklyn feeling that much has been accomplished in cementing the foundation for another voice in Congress.
We hope that Representative Weiner adds his voice to that of Representative Boucher, and will fight to retain the status quo in the relationship that individuals and groups have with the information that they own.