10 Rules for Radicals: Lessons from rogue archivist Carl Malamud

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud's 10 Rules for Radicals is the transcript of his keynote at the 19th World Wide Web Consortium conference in 2010. It's a thrilling and often hilarious account of his adventures in liberating different kids of information and networks from various bureaucracies in his storied and exciting career. Malamud has instigated the liberation of American law, the Blue Book describing the workings of the telephone system, the EDGAR database, the video archives of the National Technical Information Service, and many others. On the way, Malamud boils his experience down to ten amusing and useful rules for people who want to do the same work, including "When the authorities fire the starting gun [and authorize the experimental liberation of some data], run as fast as you can, so when they get that queasy feeling in their stomach and have second thoughts, it is too late to stop," and "Get standing: one can criticize government all one wants, and they'll often ignore you. But, if there is something clearly wrong and against the law and you can document that malfeasance and wrongdoing, they have to talk to you. If you have standing, you can insist."

It's all so engagingly written, and so useful, that it is truly a must-read for anyone interested in the history or future of universal access, open networks and free societies.

10 Rules for Radicals (Thanks, Carl!)


  1. There are some really great stories in that video – well worth the ~45 minutes to watch, in addition to the great insights stated by his rules.

  2. That was facinating! Recommeded reading. Great interesting stories.

    The standard wisdom is that people can on read few paragraphs online. But this document held my attention for pages and pages. I learned things, was inspired and laughed out loud a few times.

    As someone who has fought (and won) a copyright battle with ABC/Disney I used some of these rules without knowing them. I got help from Boing Boing and the EFF as well as a bunch of likeminded blogosphere members.

    My next project has to do with exposing the weak science of the FDA testing rules for Gulf Seafood. Hopefully I’ll be able to use these rules to inform the public that the seafood isn’t tested for Corexit and heavy metals and doesn’t take into account body weight.

    Maybe I can get the FDA to threaten me.

  3. Really interesting video from someone who thinks the law still works and has plenty of experience to prove it. But after 8 years of Bush I think the only laws that work are the ones powerful people don’t care about. I hope I come to believe I am wrong.

    Still, good work.

  4. That is so awesome. Bureaucracy aside, the fact that this guy personally fed thousands of videos into a converter so they could be online forever is an act of… heroism. That’s really the right word for it.

    Welcome back, Cory!

  5. seems the basic message is, putting a .0001 price tag on something will cut the number of people with access to 1/1000 or less.

    and this is very worriesome when it deals with information of the very nation one be living in at the time.

  6. oh btw anyone else reminded of the ferengi episodes, especially from the homeworld, when hearing about the various paywalls?

  7. Give this man a medal. Seriously. Incredible. And thank you Cory, this helps me understand the import of much of the work you do.

    I have been a supporter of Creative Commons and the EFF, but this very clearly illustrates the issues and mechanics at hand, the human intelligence and innovation necessary to shift paradigms and the great spirit needed to get things done. Really inspiring. Thank you so very much for posting this.

  8. “Rogue Archivist” – sounds like a rather geeky film title…

    Still, I enjoyed the video, and I’ll be bookmarking FedFlix!

  9. I’ve seen only one other person say it so far, but I’ll say it again.

    Good to have you back, Cory.

  10. Thank you for sharing this.

    As a law student, I’m really, really hopeful about Law.gov. PACER is awful and exploitative, and LexisNexis and WestLaw are probably worse. I’ve been explicitly told not to use certain databases when doing research as it would cost my non-profit employer money they couldn’t afford to lose.

    Keep it up, Carl!

  11. Maybe all us crazy Internet people know something innately about how much data there is and how much we could really do with it.

    Maybe all that data we reason is out there is just hidden away behind a barely visible pay-wall.

    Can you imagine how much more significant the Internet would be if all that data really were instantly accessible?

    Maybe “the Internet” (referring greedily not only to the technical manifestation of the Internet but also the loose cultural institutions made possible by its medium) should, in the fashion of all other evolved and sophisticated meme-complexes, seek to expand in membership and capacity.

    Lots of people use the Internet, but I feel more comfortable saying lots more people operate Internet-connected devices. A lot of computer-user experiences are narrow tunnels of potential. I think the Internet brings people together who are passionate about doing more with the Internet.

    I think people just have a vague dream we collectively recall from the world of fiction of how powerful the Internet will be in the future, and I think everyone pretty much just accepts this future as being, to varying degrees, inevitable.

    But very few people are asking how we can make this dream a reality. This man does!

  12. excellent points, well backed by interesting examples. anyone finished their cloning machine? we could use a few more of this guy!

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