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Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Dec 27, 2010

One of the nice things about comment registration is that if you are a regular visitor to a website, you can eventually see all of your comments in one place. Hence, with this set from TechDirt, which I 'claimed' today.

TechDirt covers mostly law and markets related to online technology, and does so from a rigid free-market point of view. I enjoy the coverage, but (as the comments show) am frequently critical of the point of view, which I consider naive and mistaken. A look at these comments gives the reader a good sense of my point of view on a lot of these issues. The use of '>', as always, indicates a quote from the article I am criticizing.


On the post: NY Times Finally Speaks Out Against Financial Firms Blocking Wikileaks Stephen Downes (profile), Dec 27th, 2010 @ 8:12am

  • You find this worrisome because it may lead to the conclusion that banks may need to be regulated?

    Have you not been following recent events? Banks need to be regulated, because otherwise they will crash the economy and then hold it for ransom, demanding billions of dollars in payouts.

    Any time anything gets too powerful, it needs to be regulated. Governments, telcos, and yes, banks. Because, otherwise, they *will* deprive you of all your money, and hold you in indefinite servitude.

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    On the post: US Lobbyist: If Canada Just Implemented US-Style Copyright Law, US Would Drop 'Buy American' Provisions Stephen Downes (profile), Dec 9th, 2009 @ 2:55pm

    Nobody in Canada believes that signing any agreement with the United States will be sufficient to cause them to drop "buy America" provisions.

    Canada signed NAFTA fifteen years ago explicitly to avoid U.S. protectionist measures, and the experience has been that (a) the United States doesn't abide by the provisions of trade agreements when it doesn't feel like it, and (b) American protectionism continued unabated.

    That said, American lobbyists are spending a lot of money attempting to buy legislation here in Canada, and there is significant concern that they will be successful.

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    On the post: In Going Free, London Evening Standard Doubles Circulation While Slashing Costs Stephen Downes (profile), Nov 20th, 2009 @ 3:36am

    > Charging can be expensive. It takes quite a bit of effort to charge, to take money, to manage the money, to set up the accounting and bureaucracy for managing each transaction.

    The same is true of government services, which is why it makes more sense to offer government services for free, rather than to charge a user fee.

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    On the post: Congressional Study Says $42 Billion Could Be Raised By Legalizing Internet Gambling Stephen Downes (profile), Nov 6th, 2009 @ 5:40pm

    Well, if you're going to do that, you may as well just raise taxes by $42 billion (out of an overall budget that's $2,979 billion, it won't even be noticeable).

    I mean, really, the money comes from the same place, no good or service is exchanged for it, and it is exactly the same sort of drain on the economy. Except that the collection service is really inefficient, probably tied to the mob, and tends to tax the poor and uneducated disproportionately.

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    On the post: Carly Simon Sues Starbucks For Not Promoting Her Album Enough Stephen Downes (profile), Oct 13th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    The question is not whether or not Starbucks promoted the album - we know it didn't - and not whether or not some other label would have promoted the album - we know they might not have - but whether or not Starbucks had a contract with Streisand where it promised to promote the album. And that bit if information, really the most important bit of information, is missing from the story.

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    On the post: New Infringement Defense? 'We Don't Roll That Way' Stephen Downes (profile), Sep 11th, 2009 @ 3:04pm

    > the labels are almost certainly right here, and will almost certainly win

    Not if they're just short clips. I think it's well established that you ran run 30 seconds without paying a royalty. Though some pay anyways, just to be on the safe side - that's why the "we don't roll that way" is actually a credible and meaningful response. And clever, too.

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    On the post: What's Next? Can Senators Ban Stupidity While Driving? Stephen Downes (profile), Jul 30th, 2009 @ 3:29am

    No, sorry, texting while driving belongs in a category by itself and deserves to be banned.

    Whenever I see a car weaving on the road, missing stop signs, etc., these days (and I see it a lot) I look at the driver and he or she is texting or jabbering on a hand-held mobile phone.

    It used to be, drunk drivers were the most dangerous thing on the road. No more. Texters are.

    The law is not intended to ban stupidity. It is intended to ban stupid behaviour. And that - when it so obviously endangers other people - is a good thing.

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    On the post: Court Strikes Down Blackboard E-Learning Patent Stephen Downes (profile), Jul 29th, 2009 @ 6:49am

    > why doesn't anyone ask how such a patent got approved in the first place?

    What, you think nobody asked this? You think nobody in the learning community has been talking about this? D2L got a big boost from the community in this case as people got together and argued - via a wiki - that the patents should never have been approved in the first place. This page - - was created specifically in response to the question you say nobody asked.

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    On the post: Oh Look, Citizen Journalists Can Do Real Investigative Reporting Stephen Downes (profile), Jul 2nd, 2009 @ 4:06pm

    Actually, that's rather more care than the traditional newspaper or media would take.

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    On the post: Student Found Guilty Of 'Disturbing The Peace' For Sending Nasty Political Email To Professor Stephen Downes (profile), Jun 18th, 2009 @ 2:46pm

    The original debate? No problem. The anonymous attack emails with the rude sender username? Harassment.
    The two cases should not be confused. And indeed, the presentation of the first case simply serves to prejudice discussion of the second.

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    On the post: Too Big To Fail Isn't The Problem... It's The Hidden Risk That's The Proble Stephen Downes (profile), Jun 18th, 2009 @ 7:51am

    > The answer isn't to stop companies from getting so big. It's to provide more transparency into the actual risk.

    No. Wrong. The problem isn't that we are unable to see what the consequences might be. The problem is that the consequences can't be determined, and could not be determined, even if we had perfect transparency.

    You are talking as though what we have is a complicated system - there are many moving parts, but if we look at it closely enough, we can figure out what's happening. Watts is saying that it's a complex system - the parts depend on each other and influence each other recursively, which is essentially a chaotic system, which cannot be predicted.

    When you have a chaotic system, you cannot prevent or mitigate conseuqneces. Your only defense is to minimize the influence of each part, and in addition, to lower the probablility that one part will directly impact another part (i.e., to regulate the market).

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    On the post: The Economist Debate On Copyright Needs Your Input Stephen Downes (profile), May 7th, 2009 @ 2:17pm

    Why do we care what the shills hired by the Economist to generate publicity have to say? The much more interesting - and free - debate is happening elsewhere.

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    On the post: UK Says Street View Is Fine... As Canadian Politicians Get Worried About It Stephen Downes (profile), Apr 27th, 2009 @ 4:27pm

    Yeah, well, if I stood on the street outside your house and started taking photos into your livingroom window, you'd freak out too.

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    On the post: Surprise, Surprise: Canadians Aren't Interested In ISP Levies Stephen Downes (profile), Mar 21st, 2009 @ 8:00am

    Nobody wants levies, sure.

    But if you word things a bit differently you'd get a very different result. Because Canadians have been paying levies for years without complaint.

    Ask Canadians this: would you be in favour of retaining current pricing on media, with this ensuring that there will be no lawsuits, restrictions on downloads, or DRM?

    You would get huge approval ratings.

    This, though, is the current state of affairs in canada, and it does include a levy.

    Even if the choice to increase the levy were offered, if it were given as the alternative to lawsuits, restrictions and DRM, I have no doubt most Canadians would choose the levy.

    Surveys are always a very questionable foundation on which to base a story, and this article is proof of that.

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    On the post: Jill Sobule Shows She Can Create A 'Professional' Fan-Financed Album Stephen Downes (profile), Mar 21st, 2009 @ 7:23am

    Done earlier and better. Issa (formerly Jane Siberry, a well known Canadian musician) solicited fan contributions for production of her recent album, Dragon Dreams, recorded it and released it, and now sells it using the self-selected pricing system she has used for a number of years now.

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    On the post: Florida Red Light Camera Law Doesn't Care Who's Driving: Car Owner Fined Stephen Downes (profile), Mar 11th, 2009 @ 11:56am

    The principle is, if you are the owner of a car, the you are responsible for what the car does. This is an extension of the same principle applied elsewhere.

    If somebody is driving your car and gets a red light ticket, sue them. That's what small claims court is for.

    As for people complaining about their rights - I am totally tired of having to watch for people running red lights. They are endangering everyone's safety for a few seconds saved - and they have the nerve to complain about _their_ rights. Pfaw.

    Oh - and for those complaining about due process - you _can_ have your day in court. That is your right. And at that day in court, a photograph will be presented with your car (probably with you at the wheel) easily visible running a red light. Fight it if you want.

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    On the post: Why Government Backed Businesses Will Always Be Inefficient Stephen Downes (profile), Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 3:30am

    As it turns out, not scrutinizing non-government business turns out to be a false economy. Or have you not noticed the financial crash happening all around us these days?

    And in non-scrutinized enterprise, business decisions are not made according to sound business judgment, but rather, based on the short-term greed of the person making the decider. Or, again, have you not noticed the crash.

    I think that if this crash teaches us anything, it is that the tired old reasoning recited in this post is simply wrong. Private enterprise is not inherently better. Life and economics are more complex than that.

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    On the post: Government Already Overpaid By $78 Billion In Bailout Money Stephen Downes (profile), Feb 6th, 2009 @ 7:57am

    I think in posts like this you need to distinguish between "the government" and "the Bush government".

    So when you say "The government isn't just throwing money at a problem that might not need money -- it's doing it badly" what you mean is "The Bush government wassn't just throwing money at a problem that might not need money -- it was doing it badly."

    The current government, which has a clue (unlike the Bush government), is far less likely to make $78 billion simply disappear.

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    On the post: Is Someone Playing A Joke? Why Would Penguin Force Colbert To Take Down Lessig's Remix Stephen Downes (profile), Jan 9th, 2009 @ 2:26pm

    Please do not use Hulu, not even if they pay you. Hulu just throws up a big error screen outside the U.S. - where 95 percent of people live.

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    On the post: Patent Lawsuit So Bogus That The Judge Ordered Sanctions And Attorney's Fees Paid Stephen Downes (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 6:06pm

    Actually, all this will do is limit the frivolous lawsuits to companies that are large enough to afford risking the costs.

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      On the post: When Life And Work Blend, Everything Is Commercial Use Stephen Downes (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 2:59pm

      > it seems that the distinction between personal, professional, commercial and non-commercial are becoming increasingly meaningless -- and that's not a bad thing.

      Yes it is. It is, because it means that everything is becoming commercial. And that's a bad thing.

      We need to have some space in our lives - and some space on the internet - that is not dedicated to dog-eat-dog scratching for a living.

      We need space and time in our lives to do things simply because we love them, not so they can be monetized.

      The conversion of everything on the web - or anywhere - into a commercial good is a sympton of a society that has collapsed in on itself, not one that is healthy and vigorous.

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      On the post: Sorry, But Google Ads Aren't Driving People To Gamble Stephen Downes (profile), Oct 17th, 2008 @ 3:08pm

      > An ad on Google is not going to drive someone to gamble

      If advertising didn't work, companies wouldn't buy them. But they do buy them, in droves.

      The simple little causal picture depicted in the quote isn't how advertising works - and nobody thinks it does, except for people who wish to make statements contrary to the obvious.

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      On the post: AT&T Says It May Inject Its Own Ads In Your Surfing... And You'll Like It Stephen Downes (profile), Aug 15th, 2008 @ 3:10pm

      The irony is reading this article in my RSS reader with an advertisement injected (by Techdirt? By Feedburner? By Google?) into the feed.

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      On the post: Is The iPhone App Kill Switch Really Such A Surprise? Stephen Downes (profile), Aug 12th, 2008 @ 4:47pm

      > if this is such a big deal, don't buy the iPhone.

      Sure. Just try saying that when they all have a kill switch.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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