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Wikileaks vs Michael Jackson – And what about copyright?

With the release of diplomatic cables into the public domain one question is never asked. Who owns the rights to these documents? Whether their content is a “threat to the international community” or “truth which needs to be protected” is irrelevant. After all its big show business. Woody Allen’s remark that if show business would not be called show business it would be called show show is not missing the point. On day 20 of the wikileaks saga not only the internet is full of articles dissecting the stream of content for a niche audience. Opinion makers representing governments, non-profits, established professions and digital natives invest a lot of attention and thus money in the hope for a return of investment.

Who has to pay for the information thats filling up newspaper colums and TV prime time. Advertisers? Consumers? Taxpayers? Not so long ago a whole industry was rallying against what they saw as an attack on their very existence – Creative Commons. A legal scheme by which a creator can protect his digital work against exploitation with the same ease an experienced carpenter fixes a broken chair. A furious outcry from industry leaders and authors rights societies alike accomplished nothing in the face of the technological revolution set in motion over half a century ago. Anticopyright laws are drafted and make their way through the parliaments and governments of every western country. But drafting a law is by far easier than having the capacities to enforce it. Awareness raising campaigns sponsored by those who saw their business model beeing bypassed by technological change – notably P2P and MPEG – saw teenagers in classrooms beeing “thought” copyright while adviced to report violations made by there parents to local authorities.

Technology made people who consider themselves as law abiding citizens, criminals. It did not feel like a crime to use a free Torrent programme  to download the latest movie blockbuster. Did it damage Hollywood’s operations? Of course it did. But at the same time the inflationary effect of technological change brought Hollywood’s tools into the houses of everyday man. The same technology that destroyed Hollywood enabled it to make it ever more potent. Just think of digital compositing methods employed to generate everything out of a box.  Almost over night became a multi million dollar infrastructure available to millions of young mid-class boys and girls around the globe. Whith the shift from hardware to software, which was in many ways a shift from analog to digital devices, a new realm opend up and filled the fast growing space with content. And there is no end to it. More! – screams the prince of the air. More for everybody in 2011.

Lets assume we are all criminals on the matter of copyright infringement. Who has not listened to an mp3 track without owning the CD or downloaded it on Itunes? Or watched a divX rip  of a recent blockbuster? How about the wikileaks cables then? After all they are quiet entertaining. The opinion of a diplomat or a secret service agent on current affairs is worth every penny! Just imagine if wikileaks would have released the secret diaries keept by Michael Jackson or Britney Spears. Shocking details of the everyday life of a celebrity and superstar as RSS feed for everybody to see. Would this be of interest for anybody? And what about copyright law of such information? Would Sony or Bertelsmann want the exclusive rights or would they be satisfied with the increasing attention and coverage of their babies by reporters and journalists as wikileaks seems to be? After all, nothing in the cables is really new. And whatever Britney Spears private experiences are, it is unlikely that they differ in kind from others.  Whatever is interesting about the cables, it cannot be its content!

Now, we are all criminals on the matter of privacy infringement – the privacy of governments are its secrets. These secrets are not real secrets but the confidential conversations of the US diplomatic service and reveals much about its internal workings. And no doubt over its validity can be cast after monthly investigations by major news organizations (NYT, guardian, der Spiegel, El pais) and their subsequent evaluation. The consequences are really hard to estimate because most of them would have become public anyway. Historian would have used them to shine lights on events then thirty years old. But in the age of instant information they become an art form ready to be exploited for commercial success. Why not create a business model around it? Because the cables contain a danger for our democracy? No entrepreneur  sees danger, they only have eyes for opportunities.

So far the cables of embassies caused a lot of media attention world wide. Julian Assange is by now as known as Michael Jackson and is the face associated with an ‘distributed organization’.  A distributed organization like Wikileaks is not comparable to ordinary kinds of organization. No walls, no buildings, no organizational chart, no hierachie, no paycheck no work-times, no holiday, no pension scheme, no profit, no contracts. Like the Taliban or any other terrorist organization f.e. the mafia, Wikileaks is the antidote to todays establishment. Such a ‘distributed organization‘ can be viewed as an emerging property of the network. Institutions are structured around the efficiency by which they cease to exist. The substantial cost of communication technology provided the selection pressure necessary to shape an institutional setting aiming to keep them at a minimum. Maximizing profit goes hand in hand with reducing redundancies. With global communication costs at zero, distributed organizations held together by common interest have a competitative advantage. Nothing is wrong with assuming that office space is redundant in the age of instant information at zero cost.

But lets step back and observe. The outcry over the major identity theft of the U.S. state department is far from over. As the extension of military force, diplomacy cannot exist without it. But the difference is that information is as potent to lead to war as misinformation is about the very same wars. And most people in most states don’t trust the information they get from the government. For them Wikileaks is the revelation and the best revenge they can get. For people who trust their government it is also a threat to their own identity which causes them to call for Julians assassination or take side in a battle which is not their own. But the major financial institutions have chosen to be on the battlefield. With Amazon’s decision to take down the Wikileaks website it will suffer the same faith of Bank of America, VISA, Mastercard and Paypal. Money is information. And whoever controls information controls the flow of money. In an information war, everybody becomes a soldier or hostage.


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Wikileaks and the holy grail of Journalism

At the beginning was the word. The greek term  for word was logos. And that might have been translated “In the beginning was the point of it all”. The plan that would be realized, do you say, the intelligent design that the balance of human life and human history would instantiate. In the beginning was the point, and journalists are very helpful in getting us to the point.

By the end of november wikileaks suffered a DOS attack and was subsequently taken offline by Amazon and signed out by Master, Visa and Paypal. At day two (29th of November) of what came to be known as cyberwar, Hillary Clinton stayed rather cool about an issue that has since than quadrupled. And EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton should not be too happy for the pretext to spend more money on cyber security and counter-espionage. Paper copies of  top-level-classified documents from the EU’s intelligence-sharing bureau is EU’s answer to the hole which wikileaks fills.

While the US state department is ‘looking into’ possibility to issue a law suit against the australian hacker – Austria’s far left party considers to grant Assange asylum. While the french government dislikes the idea of having wikileaks hosted on their territory, US diplomat Hillary calls wikileaks action an attack on the international community. And she is right! Nothing could be further away from the truth than an information fountain spreading globally information worth in the billions to everybody for free. The question is why not building a business model around it?

Lets start slowly. The moral quibbles of opponents and apologetics on freedom of information are boring and miss the point but help in deluding our grasp. Like the free flow of gossip about political leaders are being repackaged by journalists behind their screen analyzing the constant stream of information via RSS, so are the debates on “whether it[wikileaks] is a good or a bad thing” or whether Assange is a “hero or a monster”.  That China was the first nation successfully blocking wikileaks finds resonance in all western attempts to stop its service from working. And how hard this is explains Jeff Jonas.

On the fourth day (1st of December) after the information fountain began spreading its content over the globe the horde jumped on it. No newspaper on this globe did not pick “whats fit to print” and did so instantaneously. Until Anonymos was sure what the phenomenon meant Mastercard found itself in the leaked cables and got attacked.

And what does this all have to do with Journalism?

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Wikileaks: The implosion of Investigative Journalism

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Take Today: The media as drop out. Todays buzz is certainly not yesterdays news: look at facebook or on twitter. When wikileaks released a video in june this year nobody blamed the Chinese dissidents who announced in 2007 that “they will launch a site designed to let whistleblowers in authoritarian countries post sensitive documents on the internet without being traced” for violating the values undergrinding western democracies. But in the last week Julian Assange became the center of attention for millions around the planet as its detention in England casts an enigmatic shadow over a charismatic character.

Marc Coddington provides a useful summery of the highlights of yesterdays news briefly and concise. Most professionals from the field of journalism and experts are torn between moralizing and analyzing the “full-out war on the internet”. But while most commentators attempt to reconcile their identity in the face of the new reality, few go beyond the surface level into the more profound implications of the wikileaks phenomenon. Others are just artistic expressions to update our sensibilities to the present. Robert Fisk is unlike others who always look into the rear-view mirror for a guide to the future rightly pointing to the loss of institutional memory as the cause of wikileaks rise.

“…Its a very sad day for journalism, in fact what appears to be happening is of a computer hacker… has become the new journalist”

Is wikileaks the failure of journalism? Very much, Fisk says and explains the larger consequence of wikileaks on the values undergrinding western democracies.

“There is one thing we don’t take into account. These are documents that eventually would have become in the public domain in 30 years time. Where of course historians would have read them and used them. Whats different about this is that we are now getting them online and in real time. And if this goes on, and the Americans actually cant improve their encryption of their own documents when they are floating around, we are going to have pretty soon a situation where we will know today what the British ambassador or the American ambassador is saying in Beirut yesterday. And this will be pretty astonishing.”

Not only is this the view of an icon in investigative journalism but also that of an informed historian. Needless to say the matters have worsen every day with journalists subscribe to the Cable Leak’s via RSS picking out what satisfies their national or nice audience. Neither in 2008 when wikileaks conducted an information auction into Chavez’s management, CIA activities in Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution nor in 2009 when it publishes 9/11 messages

has it caused so much widespread discussion over the moral ground of the non-profit organization funded by human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public. With the release of 250.000 diplomatic cables of  “The Iraq War Logs” two weeks ago the tip of an iceberg is now melting. This caused already one victim. An  69-year-old diplomat was admitted to George Washington University Hospital after falling ill at work on Friday. Richard Holbrooke is a good example of what might happen to many more people over the shock wikileaks created by making public what was thought of being confidential. Finding himself on the front news of newspapers all over the globe can cause heart-attack. And it is only in the light of this tragedy that we can appreciate the conclusion Oiwan Lams blog post with the title “Why is china blocking wikileaks?” has to offer us. Maybe we are all wrong about our assumptions underpinning our self created identities. And it is good to remember that the same companies that build the “Great Firewall of China” hosted Wikileaks “alleged documents”.

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