June 15 2023 GM
Glitter Meetup is the weekly town hall of the Internet Freedom community at the IF Square on the TCU Mattermost, at 9am EDT / 1pm UTC. Do you need an invite? Learn how to get one here.
- Date: Thursday, June 15
- Time: 9am EDT / 1pm UTC
- Who: Julia Choucair Vizoso
- Moderator: Islam
- Where: On TCU Mattermost "IF Square" Channel.
- Don't have an account to the TCU Mattermost? you can request one following the directions here.
Abolitionist Creativity / Seizing Online Knowledge Production in Solidarity with Palestine
Different forms of licensing have been central to digital rights and free software developments for many many years. In this GM we're highlighting an approach that intersects with the specific context of Palestine. The shift from hard assets to intangibles as the primary source of value in the world's largest companies underscores the growing significance of intellectual property in the digital sphere. Intellectual property, such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks, has become a critical driver of innovation and competitiveness, allowing companies to protect their intangible assets and capitalize on their unique ideas and creations, while at the same hoarding and monopolizing it. This is our attempt to hack into the digital power of OWNING what we PRODUCE online, on all platforms.
Join us for a meetup, where we will be experimenting with abolitionist approaches to intellectual property, to put your production on the line, in an act of solidarity with Palestine. In this conversation, we seek to understand the impact of copyright laws on our work as knowledge producers, and the ways online structures oppress and are complicit with the Occupation of Palestine. We recommend reading this beforehand:
Invited Guest: Julia Choucair Vizoso is an independent knowledge producer and former managing editor of The Public Source. She works on environmental and climate justice in the Arab world, teaches courses on political economy in Madrid, and occasionally translates Arabic literature into English. She plots on intellectual property at the art collective AbolishIP.
Tell us a little bit about your work!
- I am Lebanese-Spanish, grew up in Beirut, Lebanon and now live in Madrid, Spain. I also lived in the United States for 15 years. I have a PhD in political science and work as an independent scholar doing research projects and teaching political economy courses at the university level.
- I got into the world of intellectual property (IP) because I think a lot about knowledge production and creativity – and IP is how the global legal and economic regime codes these things. A few years ago I began working with an intellectual property lawyer to co-design interventions that activists could take to “hack” different structures of power through our joint creativity. [hack is not my favorite term…but it does capture the act of looking at infrastructures of power and trying to figure out vulnerable points of entry].
Can you tell us a bit more about those interventions? and how the question of IP relates to digital capitalism?
- The interventions are pretty varied because IP is simply a tool you can use for different causes. So far our collaborators include unhoused artists in Oakland California, prison abolitionists, seed rights activists from indigenous communities in North America and the Arab world (seeds are also considered IP!), and more recently journalists and activists in Lebanon committed to solidarity with Palestine.
- But as for digital capitalism...IP is everywhere in the digital world. Some examples: “Patents” apply to inventions like medicines or technological ways of doing things. For example, your smartphone can have as many as 250,000 different patents.
- “Trade secrets” apply to “recipes,” from Google’s search algorithm to Coca Cola.
- “Trademarks” apply to logos and branding.
- “Copyright”applies to all art and writing. Software is also copyright on the basis that it too is a form of expression or written communication (code). But this was a controversial legal decision. In general, the logics behind why some things and not others are some types of copyright over others is not clean or foolproof. These things have happened and evolved historically because of specific corporate interests and specific commitments to European enlightenment ideals that resist alternative epistemologies.
- To the extent that digital capitalism is built on software, on search algorithms, and on all of our photos, art, songs, or poems, digital capitalism is built on IP. One way I think about it is that every act of human imagination, or every data point, has become a potential commodity inside digital capitalism.
Can you tell our community here a bit more about how IP & online knowledge production can be used in solidarity with Palestine?
- Thanks for sharing the piece. It came out of me trying to situate myself in the economy as a producer of knowledge. What’s interesting about the way IP works is that ownership and control of IP always belongs, in the first instance to whoever made the work, so it belongs to all of us.
- But many companies and organizations and universities will ask you to license your IP to them in your employment contracts (through IP assignment clauses). Which is not surprising given how valuable IP is. But the power is yours to give away.
- Anyway, all this got me thinking about how I want to release my creativity (which the economy codes as "IP") into the world and why it is important to me that it comes out in solidarity with the people and causes I care about. So with the help of some activist lawyers we drafted a license that says that our writing can be used by anyone who pledges a Duty of Care to Palestinian life.
- This license announces to everyone that they can copy, translate, adapt, and publish PS content as long as they accept three conditions:
- A Duty of Care to Palestinian life. Duty of care is a legal obligation one has toward others and the public to take reasonable measures to prevent foreseeable harm. We define it to explicitly include the principles of the BDS movement
- Agree to release their adaptations of PS work under this same license; i.e., If you translate an article, make a comic based on an article, or republish an original article in your own publication, the work has to be released with these same conditions. (This is what is referred to as “copyleft” or “share alike” in IP licenses).
- Give credit by naming the original authors of the piece and The Public Source, with a link to the original.
- Tl;dr: If you don’t harm Palestinian life and agree to use this license on your reproduction or modification of the content, you are welcome to it even for commercial use, just please give us credit. If you harm Palestinian life, you can’t use any of our stuff at all, even non-commercially.
And do you think that, in a way, that goes against creative commons?
- I would say it's definitely not in opposition to Creative Commons. It just acknowledges that creative commons is one set of ethical choices, and this is another -- but they can actually be combined in some ways.
- So for example you can have Creative Commons + (plus) so maybe you want non-commercial use to be open to anyone but commercial use to be restricted to those who commit to caring for Palestinian life.
- In my experience, IP is one of those things that are made to seem legalistic and complicated enough that one cannot engage in it without being a lawyer. It reminds me of what the finance industry calls MEGO propositions – “My Eyes Glaze Over.”
- It adds specific terms that creative commons doesn't. I should say though that there are some interpretations that see these approaches as antagonistic.
- There is a big debate about how knowledge and creativity should be managed. Creative Commons came out of a very specific moment in time and place (90s, silicon valley). Running through it are ideas that knowledge should be "free." Others believe that knowledge should be put towards liberation and progress - not be free in an abstract way.
- It's a big debate and I clearly fall for the latter. I'll share a meme that is a bit inflammatory
I also wonder if you could tell us a bit more, particularly that most of us rely on media platforms etc and have digitized our work, as knowledge producers in all of this: what power do we hold, how can we reclaim it? What I also personally learned from you is also this notion of naming ourselves as knowledge producers as well
- I'd say first, and to your point about how most of us don't know about this, the first thing we can do is educate ourselves about the different structures that digital capitalism relies on and where we can activate power that is hidden from us.
- Here, IP is one tool that can be activated for different causes and purposes. It’s not a cause in itself. You all already have incredible, inspiring causes that drive you inside and outside digital rights. The task is simply that you think about the economic power you have as creators and activate that for your own causes.
- So for example if you are a software developer, there are Ethical Source licenses where you can decide the terms upon which your software can be used. No tech for ICE, no tech for Apartheid are all issues where creators are trying to stop their work from being used for more dispossession. Putting those terms into their IP is another way to bolster these efforts.
- Of course like with everything, we are more powerful in numbers. So I may not be able to alone negotiate the terms of my IP. But my union will have a better chance. Or my professional association. Or my artist collective. Or however other ways you might be organized with other people who share your values and causes.
- You can also have a lot of power individually if the specific thing you make is very valuable or if you have a big brand. Like someone who invents a life-saving medicine or a major recording artist. But for those who are not Beyonce, power is in numbers. And we can organize as producers.
What do you recommend organizers in the digital rights field do/focus on to support this?
- Get together with your colleagues and talk about the terms of your creation.
- Think about the values you have in common and what your terms should say.
- Look at your employment contracts and see if your employer asks that you assign IP....and maybe get angry?
- Beyond your place as workers, get creative about how to translate this tool for your communities to understand.
These things shouldn't be left only to lawyers and I think it is our role to make it easy and understandable. I can imagine for example creating different "marks" of copyright with different terms, that anyone can add to their work.
This approach could revolutionize Creative Commons and the amazing community around it as well, another license with specific terms of distribution and use. Have you had an exchange with them?
- Yeah I think the community is ripe for it. I have learned a lot from Creative Commons. I have the training certificate and have gone to annual summits. And I see a generational shift happening there as well, which is very exciting.
- And not just generational, but also having other regions involved. Regions that understand that "public domain" is not a neutral playing field. So yes I think CC is the perfect place to keep talking.