On June 20, 2009, nearly 150,000 people witnessed the death of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan, but unlike the Iranians who passed her by in the street, they weren't bystanders to the post-election turmoil in Tehran that claimed her life. They were merely the first of over 600,000 who have since viewed a now-symbolic YouTube video that helped propel the opposition political movement forward in the following days of protest. The democratizing power of the Web lies in video like this one--not just because of its content, but because anyone with an Internet connection can contribute to a global dialogue.Video Prison: Why Patents Might Threaten Free Online Video (Thanks, James!)
But imagine if the person who shot this video had been unable to post it anonymously or if YouTube viewers had to pay to watch it. If online videos were subject to patent licensing fees, users could be charged per-view to capture those fees. Beyond the ethical dilemma profiteering from a tragic death, video licensing could reduce the democratic nature of free and open Internet content to monetizable media. The funny cat videos would be gone forever (perhaps not the greatest loss), but so too would the movement-inspiring Nedas of the future remain unknown.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.