Sharing: the way to Make Poverty History.

Having a few people ask me when the "Candidate list available soon" message will be updated on the site, I thought I would post a personal note about what I've been up to.

Much of my work related time in the last few weeks has been for a customer that is a campaign called Make Poverty History. They have some scripts that are used to allow people to sign on to their campaign, and most recently (last few days) I have been working on an upgrade to allow people to select what riding they are in and to send letters to candidates. This season is always one where people think just that much more about helping others, with helping the poor being something that is likely on everyone's mind.

We allow people to "Click into action" in English and in French.

I have written about MPH in the past, including with my frustration that they had to waste almost $3000 in government fees because of crown copyright on the postal code to electoral district lookup table. This is an Canadian government embarrassment that every candidate should be made aware of. We should not have to pay the government to get tools and knowledge to communicate with our politicians and candidates.

This campaign has been interesting for me, and I feel that this is more than just a customer. I share many of their goals, but like anything political there are going to be aspects where I have different opinions on methods. When I signed up for the campaign I included some of these thoughts in my letter to the Prime Minister. And many of these differences come down to the issues we discuss on Digital Copyright Canada forum.

The campaign makes use of famous people to try to encourage people to get involved.

On the front page is Sarah McLachlan. In April of this year I sent an Open letter to Sarah McLachlan about the World on Fire and the future of music talking about the conflicts between what the recording industry is doing and the interests of the majority world countries. I tried to introduce her to the Development Agenda at WIPO, and the attempts of countries lead by Brazil and Argentina to fight the extremism of the recording, motion picture and "software manufacturing" industries.

I don't know if she ever got my letter, but I know the situation wasn't improved. Earlier this month I received a message from her label, Nettwork, warning me about the fact that Sarah Mclachlan's Bloom (Remix Album) was being recalled because it was infected by Sony-BMG's MediaMax malware. While Sony-BMG continues to falsely claim that this was a legitimate attempt at "copy control", most security professionals acknowledge that the line between so-called "copy control" and other malware like viruses and SpyWare is extremely thin. Ed Felten, professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton University, describes why all "copy protection" software ends up being SpyWare.

While there is no evidence that this type of harmful software has ever helped the bottom line of a musician, the use of technical measures further widens the digital divide between the West/Northern countries and the majority world (where most of the poverty is currently). Moving away from software that is paid for through royalties is considered critically important for the majority world countries, while these technical measures specifically tie the ability to access digital media with the purchase of specific brands of royalty-based software.

Will the major labels be excluding the majority of the world from being able to access any of this music, for the sake of their misunderstanding of technology and their false belief that it can help them stop unauthorized copying? No matter how strong a "lock" you put on your door (or digital lock on your content), it can't stop someone who you gave a key to (who paid to access the content) from opening the door and allowing anyone else in. So-called "copy protection" is snake-oil, and only harms the legitimate interests of paying customers and discourages people from buying digital content.

Probably the most famous of the spokespersons for this campaign internationally, which the Canadian Make Poverty History group is just part, is Bono, lead singer for the band U2. It is hard for me to trust what he says on poverty issues given that on behalf of the band their manager, Paul McGuiness, has made submissions to the European Parliament to increase the term of copyright.

Copyright expansion represents an increase in poverty, as trade deficits in intangibles between so-called "developing" countries and "developed" countries increase. Ever increasing scope and term of copyright is an issue that can have as negative effect on poverty as the debt issue, with debt cancellation being one of the four key issues in the Make Poverty History platform.

Finding alternatives to the currently too-expensive patented medicine system is one of the components of trade justice for this campaign. The justification that the drug industry uses to justify opposing generic drugs to solve critical health issues worldwide is the same justification that U2 has used in their support for increasing the scope and term of copyright. While copyright and patent law regulate different things, the false rhetoric of terms like "property" and "theft" used by the extremists to justify their position is the same.

In order to eradicate poverty worldwide we need to start to think differently. While knowledge is only one aspect of this issue, it is one where we have relatively easy solutions. We need to move away from "pay per" models to fund creativity and innovation which only increase the trade deficits and debts of the majority of the world. We need to move to "peer production" techniques which reduce knowledge development costs as well as moving to up-front payment systems.

Rather than sending aid money which boomerangs back in the form of royalty payments, the governments of the rich countries should fund the up-front costs of core knowledge development and then make the results freely available worldwide. We should not allow exclusive rights at all for things such as seeds or gene sequences, with seed patents being of critical importance to the health of farming in these countries with hunger.

Each of the planks of the Make Poverty History platform has an aspect to it that needs improvement with an understanding of the current problems in the so-called "Intellectual Property" industries.

Solving these problems will not mean following famous people who are asking third parties (governments and taxpayer money) to mask the problem, some whom are receiving personal benefit from the campaign. We need to support people who are using modern techniques to try to solve these problems. Whether you are in a rich country or a poor country, try to lead your life in a way that best fulfils those goals. Be a smart consumer, and when it comes to your choices of entertainment, knowledge and software you should choose those options which support techniques to end rather than perpetuate poverty.

And in the best of the season, share what you can! While small, one of the things I'm doing this season is handing out copies of the Ubuntu and TheOpenCD CDs. In the case of Ubuntu you can ask them to ship you copies (for free) and you get two CDs which include not only Ubuntu Linux but a few programs such as OpenOffice.org that can be installed on Microsoft Windows computers. On each of these CDs is a clear message: "You are legally entitled and encouraged to copy, share and redistribute this CD for yourself and your friends.".