Category Archives: ecology


AralShip.jpg Knight Ridder, America’s second largest newspaper company, operator of 32 dailies, has been purchased by McClatchy Co., a smaller newspaper company (reported here in the San Jose Mercury News, one of the papers McClatchy has acquired). Several months ago, Knight Ridder’s controlling shareholders, nervous about declining circulation and the increasing dominance of internet news, insisted that the company put itself up for auction. After being sniffed over and ultimately dropped by Gannett Co., the country’s largest print news conglomerate, the smaller McClatchy came through with KR’s sole bid.
McClatchy’s chief exec calls it: “a vote of confidence in the newspaper industry.” Or is it — to riff on the cultural environmentalism metaphor — like buying beach front property on the Aral Sea?
For a more hopeful view on the future of news, Jay Rosen (who has not yet commented on the Knight Ridder sale) has an amazing post today on Press Think about online newspapers as “seeders of clouds” and “public squares.” Very much worth a read.

cultural environmentalism symposium at stanford

Ten years ago, the web just a screaming infant in its cradle, Duke law scholar James Boyle proposed “cultural environmentalism” as an overarching metaphor, modeled on the successes of the green movement, that might raise awareness of the need for a balanced and just intellectual property regime for the information age. A decade on, I think it’s safe to say that a movement did emerge (at least on the digital front), drawing on prior efforts like the General Public License for software and giving birth to a range of public interest groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Creative Commons. More recently, new threats to cultural freedom and innovation have been identified in the lobbying by internet service providers for greater control of network infrastructure. Where do we go from here? Last month, writing in the Financial Times, Boyle looked back at the genesis of his idea:

stanford law auditorium.jpg
We’re in this room…

We were writing the ground rules of the information age, rules that had dramatic effects on speech, innovation, science and culture, and no one – except the affected industries – was paying attention.
My analogy was to the environmental movement which had quite brilliantly made visible the effects of social decisions on ecology, bringing democratic and scholarly scrutiny to a set of issues that until then had been handled by a few insiders with little oversight or evidence. We needed an environmentalism of the mind, a politics of the information age.

Might the idea of conservation — of water, air, forests and wild spaces — be applied to culture? To the public domain? To the millions of “orphan” works that are in copyright but out of print, or with no contactable creator? Might the internet itself be considered a kind of reserve (one that must be kept neutral) — a place where cultural wildlife are free to live, toil, fight and ride upon the backs of one another? What are the dangers and fallacies contained in this metaphor?
Ray and I have just set up shop at a fascinating two-day symposium — Cultural Environmentalism at 10 — hosted at Stanford Law School by Boyle and Lawrence Lessig where leading intellectual property thinkers have converged to celebrate Boyle’s contributions and to collectively assess the opportunities and potential pitfalls of his metaphor. Impressions and notes soon to follow.