January 24, 2017

Ed Talks in SANE

Today, I gave a keynote at the SANE (System Administration and Network Engineering) conference, in Delft, the Netherlands. SANE has an interesting group of attendees, mostly high-end system and network jockeys, and people who like to hang around with them.

At the request of some attendees, I am providing a PDF of my slides, with a few images redacted to placate the copyright gods.

The talk was a quick overview of what I used to think of as the copyfight, but I now think of as the technologyfight. The first part of the talk set the stage, using two technologies as illustrations: the VCR, and Sony-BMG’s recent copy-protected CDs. I then switched gears and talked about the political/regulatory side of the techfight.

In the last part of the talk, I analogized the techfight to the Cold War. I did this with some trepidation, as I didn’t want to imply that the techfight is just like the Cold War or that it is as important as the Cold War was. But I think that the Cold War analogy is useful in thinking about the techfight.

The analogy works best in suggesting a strategy for those on the openness/technology/innovation/end-to-end side of the techfight. In the talk, I used the Cold War analogy to suggest a three-part strategy.

Part 1 is to contain. The West did not seek to win the Cold War by military action; instead it tried to contain the other side militarily so as to win in other ways. Similarly, the good guys in the techfight will not win with lawyers; but lawyers must be used when necessary to contain the other side. Kennan’s definition of containment is apt: “a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of [the opponent’s] expansive tendencies”.

Part 2 is to explain. This means trying to influence public opinion by explaining the benefits of an open and free environment (in the Cold War, an open and free society) and by rebutting the other side’s arguments in favor of a more constraining, centrally planned system.

Part 3 is to create. Ultimately the West won the Cold War because people could see that ordinary citizens in the West had better, more creative, more satisfying lives. Similarly, the best strategy in the techfight is simply to show what technology can do – how it can improve the lives of ordinary citizens. This will be the decisive factor.

In the break afterward, somebody referred to a P.J. O’Rourke quote to the effect that the West won the Cold War because it, unlike its opponents, could provide its citizens with comfortable shoes. (If you’re the one who told me this, please remind me of your name.) No doubt O’Rourke was exaggerating for comic effect, but he did capture something important about the benefits of a free society and, by analogy, of a free and open technology ecosystem.

Another American approached me afterward and said that by talking about the Cold War as having been won by one side and lost by the other, I was portraying myself, to the largely European audience, as the stereotypical conservative American. I tried to avoid giving this impression (so as not to distract from my message), calling the good side of the Cold War “the West” and emphasizing the cultural rather than military aspects of the Cold War. I had worried a little about how people would react to my use of the Cold War analogy, but ultimately I decided that the analogy was just too useful to pass up. I think it worked.

All in all, it was great fun to meet the SANE folks and see Delft. Now back to real life.


  1. Forbidden
    You don’t have permission to access /doc/2006/sanekeynote.pdf on this server.

    Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.

    [Ed Felten replies: Oops. It’s fixed now. The file should be available.]

  2. Interestingly, Richard M. Stallman has made an analogy between the controls and monitoring necessary for copy restrictions for financial purposes in the US, and the controls and monitoring necessary for copy restrictions for political purposes in the USSR. It’s certainly an inflammatory parallel to certain ears. But I think, as a technological matter, there’s something to it.

  3. I confusem, you weren’t afraid of putting on a public performance that contains a few pics that you don’t have the copyright holder’s permission to use, but you are afraid to post them on your website?

  4. Methinks a certain troll needs a refresher on the definition of “public performance.”

  5. “the Marshall Plan for the Mind”
    …And it went on for thirty-seven years, lasting beyond the demise of the Soviet Union. Most important, well over ten million books and magazines–the best the West had to offer–were put into the hands of key individuals living in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union…


  6. I think that O’Rourke’s “comfortable shoes” bit might have had more to it than comic hyperbole – I recall reading (though I don’t recall where) many years ago a comment by a Soviet citizen that he could always tell the plains-clothed KGB agents because they had decent shoes…

  7. Giggle, Besides the crack-addled-sounding “I confusem,” which, obviously should have said “I’m confused”, that wasn’t intended as a troll. Giving a talk with slides is a public performance of a copyright protected work (at the very least, Ed holds a copyright interest in the material), and if it contains copyright protected materials which for which the copyright is not held by the presenter, then permission is required unless the use is a fair use. However, if you prefer, call it a “public display.” The rights entailed are nearly identical (e.g. http://www.bitlaw.com/copyright/scope.html).

    Of course, the Dutch probably have different laws on this.

  8. Steve R. says:

    A better analogy than the cold war would be one based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs) At first blush this may not seem applicable, but there is a way to parse it. Basically, if you have unmet needs you will work to satisfy those needs. For example, the introduction of the VCR by Sony was a method to meet the unmet need of growing the company (safety level). Once the need is met (the sale of VCRs was a success) one can move up the ladder to a higher need (love/belonging level). However, in moving out of the “safety level”, companies “lose” risk taking innovative behavior and substitute it with restrictive actions designed to preserve their safety (the status quo). As an example, Sony-BMG’s recent copy-protected CDs and legislative lobbying (DCMA).

    I am sure that others who have studied organizational management might have this evolutionary process better articulated. In summary, on the way to the top challenge the system. When at the top, squelch competition.

  9. bill,

    “Public display” is closer, but you missed a page: (http://www.bitlaw.com/copyright/fair_use.html). Note exemption #1. Note the footer at the bottom of the slides. An academic presentation is probably more clearly exempted than mass redistribution is.

  10. Also, the licensing terms of, say, stock photos often expressly prohibit redistribution while allowing many other uses, including public, even commercial display.

  11. I wonder who it was that thought erecting all these legal barriers to clear communication might actually benefit anybody? Making lots of toll roads in academic territory is especially useless, given how little money students and even researchers often have. The road just falls into disuse and its operator doesn’t get rich or anything, and the whole community is more poorly connected than otherwise.

  12. Giggle, believe it or not, I know about those things, too (in fact, I even mentioned fair use in my reply!!). My original post was intended as a prompt to Ed to see if he’d explain the reasons for his redaction (other than the copyright gods requiring it). My question probably would have gone over much better in person.