Book buying day

Today is Queens Day, our national holiday, celebrated on the birthday of late Queen Juliana.

Tonight is Queens Eve, the party preceding the holiday. Since almost everybody has the day off tomorrow, most people start celebrating now.

Tonight was whiskey tasting with friends. I did not participate; I am a whiskey layman, and I felt it would not be right to taste expensive drinks I would never pay for. The man appreciated that, and I appreciated that he appreciated that.

Still, earlier there was excellent Chinese food (Haarlem, Botermarkt, reminiscent of the Indonesian food of Don Julio’s in Amsterdam, but much, much spicier), and later there were the new Hertog Jan beers.

For me, this morning will start book buying day.

Queens Day has many facets. One of them is the ‘Free Market’. Although there is no law regulating it (as far as I know), it is common knowledge that everybody is allowed to start a flee market in the streets. And people do! The streets will be lined with junk like you wouldn’t believe.

When I was around ten years old, I wanted to participate in this orgy of selling, and some of the hapless victims of my desire were books.

I have spent around 20 years buying them back. I am not sure if I have got them all, but I have got the important ones. If there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that I don’t like to throw stuff out. If there’s another thing I have learned, it’s that I absolute hate to part with my books. Nowadays, I even keep the lousy ones, just on the off-chance that one of them contained something worth remembering.

Today will be fun.

The frightening might of copyright

Copyright in the USA has devolved from a device protecting diligent authors from greedy, anti-societal middlemen, to a device ‘protecting’ these very same middlemen from the citizens. This may not be apparent yet to many people, because American law doesn’t mention these middlemen yet — certainly not as beneficiaries, as the most recent Dutch copyright law does.

Lawrence Lessig’s book Free Culture, published March 2004 by Penguin, describes the devastating consequences this development may have on the growth and proliferation of American culture. I don’t agree with many of his conclusions, and oppose his adoption of the propaganda language used by the evilest of middlemen (‘property right’ for ‘copy right’, ‘theft’ for ‘infringement’ et cetera), be they congressperson, publisher or lawyer, but he means well.

Where the book really shines is in the long list of shocking examples of where copyright has stifled free speech and prohibited many, many things that were perfectly legal (and ethical!) before. From the inventor of FM radio, who killed himself when the middlemen refused to license his patents, to the small children who got ‘prosecuted’ (the term used by the middlemen) for not licensing MP3s, the book perfectly illustrates how a weapon against publishers has fallen into exactly the wrong hands.

When it comes to copyrights in the US, I tend to agree more with Richard Stallman, who better differentiates between the values at stake. When file-sharing is deemed illegal, that is not wrong because of some obtuse, three-chapter long series of intermixed arguments of what’s good for innovation and of what property really means. It is simply wrong because sharing is a right value. The law should recognise that as soon as sharing becomes an endangered species.

So when Lessig proposes the Public Domain Enhancement Act, he does something right: he helps preserve culture. As webmaster of a website about abandoned text adventures I appreciate that very much, because many of these games can no longer be legally owned. However, he skips the many other problems involved by giving the likes of Sony and Disney the power they’ve currently got.

In the end, though, I cannot blame Lessig for attacking only the problem that is closest to him. His essay is an intelligent, yet passionate one, that should be read by anyone who is concerned about where this world is heading. The consequences of a dictatorial copyright regime influence the entire world, and are far-reaching: from news channels no longer reporting the truth to small children turning criminal for doing good.

Free Culture can be bought at any bookstore worth its salt, and is downloadable in many, many formats (from spoken to written text, and possibly in several languages) from its companion website at

Edit: when I wrote this review I used to publish my book reviews on third party websites. Later, I decided I would keep all my reviews under my own control. In August 2006 I added this entry to the books and review categories, and removed the phrase “(book review)” from the title.

International Day of Former Reporters

Today I got e-mails from two of my former editors. One hadn’t written me for two years, the other for almost ten years! Is there some special event going on that I am not aware of?

Spam, spam, spam, bacon and spam

The second house of our two-house parliament has given its blessing to the anti-spam law. Responses to that law have varied from out-right negative to timidly positive. Problems it is reported to have are that it is too weak (many would have loved to see it become part of criminal law), that it only deals with spam aimed at consumers, and that the enforcement agency, OPTA, is understaffed.

I can only agree with the latter.

Since fighting spam is a relatively new phenomenon, it is too early to say whether the repression of it should be tougher or weaker. Also, not everybody defines spam the same way, and it could be that we are outlawing modes of speech that are valuable. The law can always be changed when necessary.

The claim that the anti-spam law only protects consumers is true, but a moot point. From what I understand, the spammers’ business model is based on the fact that their costs are so low. They keep their costs low by keeping address harvesting cheap. No way will spammers be able to guarantee that their databases are free of the addresses of private persons. This should be reason enough for spammers’ customers not to order a spam run—the risk that they will engage in an illegal activity is too large.

In the end, what’s important is that a government that was more or less pro-spam (“what? you geeks want to outlaw free enterprise?” you could hear them think) is now saying that it is illegal to spam. There is nothing ambiguous about that statement, even though its backers in parliament might not fully agree quite yet. A judge won’t have much difficulty interpreting the meaning of this new law.

Memo to self…

Must write comic one day in which banana peels parody Hollywood blockbusters. Was thinking of Reservoir Banana Peels. Naturally, they walk in front of that wooden fence, all cool, wearing sunglasses and so on. Then they slip and fall.

My friend and I were having beer and boquerones on the terrace of the yuppy hang-out in my street (ah, the good life! where is Stef when you need him?). She was seated next to a flower box that contained sweet-smelling herbs. I said “Thyme is on your side”.

(But it was true! True, I tell you!)