Getting ready for the Blackout…

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Why I oppose s92 of the Copyright Amendment Act.

As the "copyright wars" simmered away worldwide for the last decade or so, New Zealand largely remained aloof, to everyone's relief. Well, not everyone; American corporate media industry lobbyists set up NZFACT to pressure the NZ government (and police) to cooperate in their ham-fisted "war on piracy." And last year, with the help of music industry lobby APRA, they successfully persuaded the Labour government to pass a truly horrible law, supposedly in the name of "protecting artists" from online copyright theft.

Well, at the election in November 2008, that government was defeated, and now we have a new one. But the law remains, and one of its worst sections, s92a (which obliges ISPs to kick those accused of copyright infringement off the internet – without any proof required) comes into force in February. Any hopes that the new government would see sense on this issue appears to have been dashed, as they've now said they intend to go ahead with the "guilt upon accusation" law.

Last month, a new organisation was set up to speak for artists who feel industry lobbies like APRA and NZFACT don't speak for them: the Creative Freedom Foundation. They have an online petition and have been busy trying to get our voices heard in the media. Now they're asking all New Zealanders who oppose s92a to write to the government.

For what it's worth, here's what I wrote, in an effort to explain why I oppose the new law:

I am writing to strongly oppose the implementation of s92a of the Copyright Amendment Act.

I am a full-time professional artist and author, who depends largely on royalties for my income. In theory, then, I am just the sort of person s92a is supposed to protect.

In my opinion, however, s92a does not protect me at all. Instead, it is destructive of the new opportunities now emerging on the internet for artists like me.

This year, I am shifting a large part of my work online, which is increasingly the way things are going for many writers, artists, musicians and even film-makers. Artists like myself are busy building new forms of distribution and finding new ways to gain professional and financial rewards from the opportunities the internet presents. S92a will do nothing to prevent serious, organised, profit-making piracy – but it will do a lot of harm to the kind of small-scale, innovative online activity that is fast transforming the arts economy worldwide.

Furthermore, it is unworkable and unjust. I'm not surprised that the UK government is now backtracking from their similar proposals, and that other countries who have considered similar laws are rejecting them as destructive. It doesn't take much effort to find countless stories of why these sorts of policies are ridiculed around the world – from false accusations to porn producers using them to extort money from innocent internet users. Please don't make New Zealand into the laughing stock of the internet!

There are plenty of alternatives. Many countries are exploring policies that would encourage online innovation while continuing to reward content producers (such as a small tariff on ISP data charges which goes to an administered fund for creators; opt-in systems where consumers can pay a set fee to enable them to download whatever they like; expanded fair use definitions, etc). There are plenty of new and innovative business models emerging – but laws like s92a hinder, rather than helping, such innovation.

The reality is that new technology is transforming the whole landscape for the arts and media. This change is exciting and presents countless positive opportunities for artists, musicians, authors and filmmakers. Such change cannot be prevented. Trying to do so merely delays the emergence of new models, and creates plenty of injustice and hardship along the way (by punishing the innovators and criminalising a whole generation of enthusiastic young internet users).

New Zealand can be at the crest of the wave, or we can be left behind by the rest of the world.

For a small, remote country, the internet is our best opportunity in generations. We simply cannot afford to mess it up like this!

The final point I would like to make is this: s92a is NOT in the interests of artists. When groups like NZFACT and APRA claim to represent us, they do not. They represent the middlemen who profit from our work – often at our expense. This law does not protect artists. It serves only those who are afraid of innovation and change.

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Political kitsch: the Grand March.

Since the days of the French Revolution, one half of Europe has always been referred to as the left, the other half as the right. Yet to define one or the other by means of the theoretical principles it professes is all but impossible. And no wonder: political movements rest not so much on rational attitudes as on the fantasies, images, words, and archetypes that come together to make up this or that political kitsch.

The fantasy of the Grand March that Franz was so intoxicated by is the political kitsch joining leftists of all times and tendencies. The Grand March is the splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness; it goes on and on, obstacles notwithstanding, for obstacles there must be if the march is to be the Grand March.

The dictatorship of the proletariat or democracy? Rejection of the consumer society or demands for increased productivity? The guillotine or an end to the death penalty? It is all beside the point. What makes a leftist a leftist is not this or that theory but his ability to integrate any theory into the kitsch called the Grand March.


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Audio: Media frenzy over Batman RIP drives me to unseemly cynicism…

In case anyone wants to hear it, here's me talking on Radio New Zealand National's The Panel about Batman RIP, which I freely admit I haven't read (and probably never will). Don't get me wrong – Grant Morrison is great, and I wish him and everyone else involved all the best. But truth be told, I have no patience for these silly media events any more…

At least I got to say that Batman should be in the public domain (70 years of corporate monopoly is long enough!!).

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This has got to be the most inspired piece of political activism since the Yippies threw dollar bills from the gallery of the NY Stock Exchange!

Courtesy of the Yes Men – a 12-page special edition of the New York Times was handed out to commuters throughout New York this morning. And check out those headlines!!!

It's backed up by a website: (make sure you read the ad's too – they're amazing!). So take the time to read it all – and dream a little… 

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Why I’m voting Green

Let's face it: we're in a mess.

Everyone's saying the world economy is sliding into a depression (at least) as bad as the 1930s. The whole damn system just about collapsed last month, and the shock waves are only just beginning.

Add to that a couple of simple facts – the rapidly worsening effects of climate change and the looming scarcity of oil – and some days I reckon we're totally screwed. End of story.

But thankfully, some people don't give up so easily:

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month called for a "Green New Deal" that would rebuild and reshape the economy of planet Earth in ways reminiscent of the programs that President Franklin Roosevelt used to revitalize the economy of the United States during the Great Depression. Indeed, even as the slowing economy and falling oil prices make it harder to justify huge new investments in a green economy, there's a strong counterargument that now is precisely the time to make them.

From the UN to the International Energy Agency, from economic think tanks to cabinet rooms, the recognition is growing that shifting to sustainability is not an unaffordable luxury – it's actually the best way to climb out of this economic hole.

Government-led job creation and infrastructure investment is what saved us from the last depression. Sadly, of course, much of that investment went towards fighting a vast and terrible war. This time, thankfully, there's a much better use for our ingenuity and manpower: saving the planet.

A number of governments around the world are starting to take up the challenge. Sadly, here in New Zealand, both National and Labour seem to believe that the financial crisis means we need to put environmental efforts on the back burner – as if it were possible to ask the planet to just hold off on climate change and peak oil until property prices go up again…

That's why we need as many Green Party MPs in parliament as possible – whoever forms the next government. We need a loud and effective push for a Green New Deal in New Zealand.

Deregulated markets and endless-growth economics is what got us into this mess, both environmentally and financially. Carrying on the same way is only going to dig a deeper hole, as oil becomes scarcer and the world becomes less hospitable. We're staring catastrophe in the face; let's not fiddle while Rome burns.

So please: this Saturday, don't vote out of cynicism or greed. Don't vote because you're sick of Helen or you can't trust John. Don't vote for tax cuts or a nice smile, or meaningless platitudes about "steady hands" and "strong leadership."

Vote for hope. Vote for reality. Vote for what you know in your heart is right.

For me, that means voting Green.

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Vote for us

Just when I thought the Green Party campaign (here in New Zealand) couldn't be any more clever – they come up with this!

All you do is choose a photo and upload it – and hey presto! You've made your own Green Party poster:

It's great fun looking at the many posters people have already made. Some are beautiful, others hilarious, and together they serve as a powerful expression of what the Green Party's all about. What a brilliant idea!

This election is an extremely important one, despite the rather dismal uninspiring tone of much of the campaigning (I'm looking at you, Labour). While most of the parties (and media) wearily rehash all the usual petty nonsense, the world – including New Zealand – is facing a perfect storm of serious crises: economic collapse, peak oil, climate change, pollution… The one issue that links all of these is sustainability. It's time to put sustainability at the heart of our economy and infrastructure; not as an optional luxury, but as an absolute necessity, if we want New Zealand to flourish in the 21st century. The alternative is a long and painful catastrophe.

So, please, this Saturday, don't be distracted by all the small-minded crap about tax cuts and yellow jackets and cheap election stunts.

Think about the big picture. Think about what really matters. And ask yourself: how will I justify this vote to my kids?

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