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Going the Other Way: Vlad Teichberg, Occupy's Video Curator, on Internet Censorship

Vlad Teichberg can't stop looking toward the door. As a curator with "globalrevolution.tv":http://www.globalrevolution.tv, arguably _the_ online aggregate for live video feeds from populist demonstrations from around the world, Teichberg is no stranger...
January 18, 2012, 4:30pm

Vlad Teichberg can’t stop looking toward the door. As a curator with globalrevolution.tv, arguably the online aggregate for live video feeds from populist demonstrations from around the world, Teichberg is no stranger to constant snoopage and harassment. On January 2, portions of GlobalRev’s sprawling Bushwick studio were subject to an early morning raid carried out by a gaggle of armed officials from a Manhattan Task Force. Teichberg and five others were tossed in jail. The entire debacle played out live on video, of course, after which Teichberg, a former Wall Street derivatives trader, says some $16,000 in donations came pouring into GlobalRev.

And so now, two weeks later, we’re cooped up with Teichberg at GlobalRev’s original studio, a ramshackle, humming wire nest near Lafayette and Bleecker. It’s the sort of place where for every empty coffee cup or pack of smokes there are five Hackintosh laptops at the ready to strengthen GlobalRev’s mesh of 80-plus real-time video editors scattered around the world. It all winds Teichberg’s clock. He truly is something straight out of Neuromancer. Just sitting and watching him do his thing is tiring.

But his eyes constantly shift. “They could come here and try and shut this place down, too,” he tells us, looking again toward the door, then back at the countless tabs of live feeds and chat windows screaming out from two large monitors. “No place is safe. But we don't care.” He says he’s not paranoid. And that the Stop Online Piracy Act, that contentious bit of legislation that a growing legion of opponents say would straight up nuke the Internet, would be toxic to the free flow of information. But as we come to realize, Teichberg’s view on SOPA is nuanced, doing away with some of the traditional Kill SOPA noise coming out of, say, the Reddit masses.

We want to hear more.

Will Globalrevolution.tv go black on Wednesday?

We're global. If shit really goes down, if stuff really starts happening globally on Wednesday for whatever reason, we'll not necessarily go black. But notwithstanding something really big happening overseas, we'll go black. That's just in solidarity with a lot of other people doing similar kinds of actions. I think at this point, given the exposure SOPA has received, that it's actually a good example: When you shine a bright light at something, the roaches scatter. Although, that's not necessarily true. The administration sort of came out against the National Defense Authorization Act, which they signed in the dead of night on Dec. 31.

But I think the more important thing we're going to have to ask ourselves is to what degree should ideas be private property? I think under the lobbying pressure of all these corporations that are basically engaged in the trading of content that we're going a little far in assigning private property to ideas to the degree that we're gonna stifle progress. Because the way human progress works is that someone comes up with an idea, then that idea gets improved and incorporated into something else, and then a new idea comes up, and so on.

If you stop that, you're gonna stop progress. If the people who want to create that kind of a system succeed, all that's gonna happen is it's gonna make the U.S. very, very uncompetitive compared to the rest of the world. You can try and sensor things. Censorship has never worked for anyone. It didn't work for the Soviets. It didn't work for the Inquisition, when they burned all the books. In general it doesn't work.

So you're not blacking out, then?

Our audience is global. SOPA is very much a U.S. thing. Certainly it's global to the degree that the U.S. has pressured Spain to adopt it, and so on. But it's still not a global issue, pretty much. We will not black out news about international stuff due to the fact that the U.S. is going through these crazy exercises in self-censorship.

But if there's nothing going on, obviously we'll be black, just like everyone else. [At the time of this posting, 11AM EST Wednesday, January 18, globalrevolution.tv is not blacked out.]

But hasn't SOPA maybe sort of been defanged? They removed DNS blocking.

They "removed" a lot of stuff from SOPA. They didn't really remove it – Obama just said he's not going to support it. The fact Obama said he's not gonna support it does not mean he's not gonna support it, as we've seen with NDAA.

I think there's definitely enough outcry that whatever they're trying to do is going to be modified. But I think right now is a very good time to engage in the conversation: To what degree should ideas actually be private property? And not be reused? If you consider the open-source culture, where ideas can be shared and improved upon freely, and this very private intellectual property model where it's not even the original creator who controls the property, it's the owner, the corporation [who bought it].

We have corporations owning ideas. It stops progress because you can't really involve these ideas. Or, in the name of facilitating the creation of ideas, because people can get a high financial reward – but the way we're seeing it, it's not the people who are "creating" the ideas, it's the people who are actually engaged in the trade of ideas. It's the Wall Street equivalent of idea sharing.

So you have that going on. And then obviously there's major corruption within our political system, which is clearly illustrated because all these congressmen who are planning to vote for SOPA are not spearheading it on behalf of their constituents. They're spearheading it because they're basically being paid off by the television and record industries, and God knows who else.

Is that the bigger issue here? Political representation going to the highest bidder?

It's not bigger. They're all big issues.

Take remix culture. One of the big things – artistically – happening in the last 10 or 15 years is people remixing things. We live in a world where there is a cultural language consisting of the songs we hear, the movies we watch, the stories we hear. These are elements of our language. When you communicate you have to use those elements to communicate because you're making cultural references. In a sense, what SOPA is trying to do is to stop communication using that language.

We're basically coming to the point where the Inquisition was in the 15th Century where they started burning books. Or where Mao was when they started burning books. They're trying to censor ideas, the exchange of ideas. And we know where that ends. It ends nowhere.

Teichberg at an OWS demonstration near Mayor Bloomberg’s mansion, January 6, 2012

Has technology superseded the political process? And has the discussion about SOPA – the outcry – been moving in the right direction? Is it time to focus on something else?

No. And maybe it's time for us really to rethink intellectual property, period, and start throwing something back. Maybe we should be going the other way.

What's that?

We should be stripping corporations of their intellectual property rights. Maybe you shouldn't be able to sell ideas. You can have the idea, you can have a patent on it, but you can't sell it to anyone else.

So then what's an idea? What about those who want to own their ideas or their property?

To what degree are ideas property?

Let's say a book, or an article…

And if that book's ideas were thought up by someone else?

It's the idea of a "work." An original composition.

So, if a work is original – if it doesn't reference the Bible, doesn't reference cultural history… If it's a language? Maybe. But if it references all those things, the question is how original is it really?

Has this strain of discussion been coming up in the SOPA debates?

Not yet. But I think it's time for us to start thinking about it. Now is a really good time. Because look at what's happening with copyright in all these intellectual property cases. There used to be a very finite amount of time under which this stuff was protected under law, and then it became public domain. But the corporations have brought various changes in the law over the past 50 years, where ownership is basically infinite. So maybe we should go back to the original intent and limit the copyright to 20 years, or 15 years, whatever it was.

And it gets even better. There are corporations that are patenting things like DNA. Which raises an interesting question: Who actually owns DNA? And can you patent a human being?

But look, SOPA can be used for other things, as well. Because there is no oversight to how it's applied, this law could be used to knock out any content the government sees to be unwelcome. These presenters in Congress pushing for it are essentially latchkeys of the people who are pushing it. They're hired hands. They're gonna try and salvage as much as they can out of it. I'm sure at some point they're gonna pass something at midnight when nobody is watching. I'm sure Obama will sign something at midnight when nobody is watching.

At the end of the day, all this creativity, all these new ideas are gonna move outside of this country to places more welcoming to freedom. We're gonna be a bunch of idiots with a big army.

Is this army – [we point to demonstrators in myriad videos livestreaming off Teichberg’s monitors] – at risk?

No, because it's global. What are they gonna do? Unless they're gonna send in their Army everywhere to stop expression, it's not at risk. This is an idea, not an infrastructure. We don't care what platform we use. We can switch from Livestream to something else. People are building open-source frameworks right now.

They can try and go for this whole idea with knocking out Domain Name Service, but people would just set up a new DNS. Everything is just going to move underground. What happened when they did Prohibition? Everything moved underground, and did very, very well. And the negative consequences? That's how organized crime started in the States. We're going to have something along those lines, as well.

Doesn't that already exist? Only not officially stratified?

Not yet. But it's only going to make that part stronger. And the Internet business is going to get destroyed. Facebook is gonna be gone. You will not be allowed to upload anything. YouTube is gonna be gone, because you would be infringing under this new law. No one would be able to upload anything.

It may be a good thing, actually. SOPA would kill off Facebook. It would kill off YouTube. It would kill off these centralized networks, which are actually very dangerous because they can be shut down so easily. And because they exist as our central information conduits. We'll be forced to start using decentralized conduits.

-by Brian A. Anderson and Alex Pasternack. Reach Brian at brian@motherboard.tv, and Alex at alexp@motherboard.tv. @TheBAnderson @pasternack. Follow Motherboard on Twitter.

Images via steffiekeith.