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I like recursivity in acronyms such as GNU, which stands for “GNU’s Not Unix”, and also in cartoons. A recent example for a recursive cartoon is featured below, addressing a great number of issues regularly debated around the alternative copyright licensing standard Creative Commons. The author of the work is Patrick Hochstenbach, a comic artist, programmer, and digital architect at University of Ghent libraries. You can also find his work on Instagram and Twitter.

Patrick Hochstenbach, CC-BY-SA

Patrick Hochstenbach, CC-BY-SA

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About two and half years ago, I wrote a blog post on shifting baseline effects in assessing copyright regulation. My main argument was that a large proportion of researchers, practitioners and regulators cannot even envision how the much less restrictive intellectual property regimes of the past have worked because what we perceive to be a “natural level” of protection has changed.

Today, XKCD provides a great illustration of the concept of shifting baselines more generally by commenting on the recent debates on cold weather in spite of global warming:




Another witty animation by the RSA, this time featuring everyone’s favourite misanthrope. Slavoj Žižek’s provocative thesis is that attempts to weave ethics into consumption – for instance with the Fairtrade label – merely serve to make the inbuilt injustices more durable: “The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible, and the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim.”

We can buy exploitative and corporate items, and the anti-exploitative anti-corporate antidote is already included in the product, like ethical coffee at Starbucks. We can increase our wealth while pursuing sustainability or equity, like SRI. We can lend money for profit and promote virtues like entrepreneurship or “financial inclusion”, as in microfinance.

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A recurrent topic across most fields covered here at governance across borders is standards. In the field of environmental standards, for example, Olga repeatedly discussed how transnational standards and local practices are interrelated (e.g. “From Transnational Standards to Local Practices“). In the field of copyright regulation, many posts deal with the issue of standard proliferation (e.g. “Money Buys You Standards?“) and diffusion (e.g. “Iconic Standards: Regulating and Signaling“) in the case of Creative Commons.

But as always, at least in our recurrent series “Wise Cartoons“, all our words cannot live up to the simple wisdom of illustrations such as the one provided by XKCD below:

Fortunately, the charging one has been solved now that we've all standardized on mini-USB. Or is it micro-USB? Shit.


PS: For another wise cartoon on standards that features Scott Adam’s Dilbert check out “Google Books and the Kindle Controversy“.

Right on time before flying to Leuven for the upcoming ESF Workshop “Consuming the Illegal“, Google/YouTube published the copyright cartoon perfectly illustrating what the workshop will be about:

The copyright abolitionists over at “Against Monopoly” feature a series entitled “IP as a joke“. But this video, as funny as it may seem, is to be taken completely serious. The background for this crazy/disturbing/awkward “Copyright School” is a change in YouTube’s copyright infringement policies. As repeatedly discussed on this blog (e.g. “This Post is Available in Your Country“) and described by fellow workshop participant Domen Bajde (see “Private Negotiation of Public Goods: Collateral Damage(s)“), users who posted three videos containing (seemingly) infringing content to YouTube have not only lost those videos but all of their videos: their account was deleted.

But since even for copyright lawyers it is often difficult to distinguish between infringing and non-infringing (fair) use (see the workshop paper of Sigrid and myself), a lot of creative users remixing existing works were in constant danger to lose all their uploaded videos due to suddenly becoming a “multiple infringer”. This week, Google has softened this policy a little. “Infringers” are now first sentenced to “copyright school”. On the official YouTube-blog this reads as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Capitalism as a system transcends borders, and so does the latest capitalist crisis. Sometimes pictures tell a story better than words. A brilliant animated cartoon appeared this summer on youtube, illustrating a lecture by CUNY-based British social theorist David Harvey in which he outlines his explanation of the 2008-20xx economic crisis.

Harvey’s analysis of the structural politico-economic origins and mechanisms of the crisis is poignant. The witty animation brought to life by the RSA is a true delight, regardless of what one may think of his arguments. A certain part of Harvey’s narrative caught my eye in relation to microfinance (more below). But first, let me briefly recap his story (in an unduly simplified manner). Harvey says:

There are five common explanations of the crisis, all of which are somewhat true:

[1] It stems from human nature – predatory instincts, greed, etc.

[2] The regulators failed, therefore institutions need to be reconfigured.

[3] Everyone believed in a false theory – forget Hayek, return to Keynes!

[4] It has cultural origins – homeowning-obsessed Americans and lazy Greeks, your fault!

[5] It’s a failure of policy – too much regulation of the wrong sort.

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Governance across borders is all about building and/or changing institutions in a transnational realm. In this regard, existing institutions often turn out to be not so rigid or firm after all. The cartoon below, taken with permission of the author Winston Rowntree from a larger piece at (via), hits the nail on the head:Institutions how they appear and how they areIn the context of copyright as an institution, I like to think of the large monster’s feet representing international copyright treaties such as WTO’s TRIPS Agreement or the WIPO Internet Treaties, the small monster being Shawn Fanning, the programmer of Napster.


The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
March 2023

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