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Author romps through the culture of high-tech
Susan Walker

``Information wants to be free,'' a byword of high-tech culture as outlined by Paulina Borsook in Cyberselfish (HarperCollins), is the kind of thinking that leads to total disdain for intellectual property on the Internet, she says.

``Art is not information,'' Borsook told yesterday's audience of fellows in the Bell H@bitat new media program at the Canadian Film Centre.

Copyright issues, also the chief topic at the World Summit on the Arts and Culture, opening tomorrow in Ottawa, are the least concern of the techno-libertarians, as Borsook dubs the Silicon Valley inhabitants.

In Cyberselfish, subtitled A Critical Romp Through The Terribly Libertarian Culture Of High-Tech, Borsook, an early techno-savvy writer herself, makes it clear that she shares the libertarian desire for free speech.

That doesn't mean everything you find on the Net should be free of charge. And indeed, the World Wide Web, created in the spirit of sharing of information and knowledge, has quickly become a huge marketplace.

Borsook quoted a New York intellectual property lawyer, Barry Rein: ``Face it, Paulina. Artists have always gotten screwed.'' The California author likens artists to the Belgians: ``For hundreds and hundreds of years, armies have marched back and forth across the country now called Belgium.'' The armies in this analogy are the ``Net Hipsters'' versus the ``Copyright Mercantilists, (Time-Warner-AOL, Disneys et al), who basically want to do away with Fair Use.''

Because a lot of computer-types are amateur musicians, because e-mail has revived the habit of letter-writing, because desktop publishing and the Internet has made it possible for anyone to be published, Borsook theorizes, high tech culture has little regard for professional artists and the work they produce.

Intellectual property protection is just one of the problematic areas Borsook outlines - in a metaphor-laden, gunslinger style of writing - in Cyberselfish. A fiction writer who parlayed her undergraduate schooling in computer science (part of her psycholinguistics course studies) into a day job as a technical writer, Borsook might well have adhered to one of two techno-libertarian philosophies she identifies: the ravers.

``Ravers are neo-hippies whose anti-government stance is more hedonic than moral choice,'' she writes. ``More lifestyle choice than policy position.'' She anoints John Perry Barlow, former Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as chief raver.

The other brand of libertarians, more allied to traditional Republican values, she calls gilders, after George Gilder, a former Reagan speech writer ``who is in love with the spirit of enterprise and the spirituality of the microchip.''

But Borsook, a de-frocked former contributor to Wired magazine, has become a critic of the interests they represent, at pains to remind those who thrive on, or have made millions in, the high tech industries, that without the U.S. government, the Department of Defence-funded Internet wouldn't even exist. Nor would taken-for-granted protections such as building and food inspection exist without government. And what are they complaining about? asks Borsook. ``Last year (Internet giant) Cisco paid no corporate taxes.''

``There's a lot of hypocrisy that goes on,'' she says, in an uncharacteristically understated way.

Referring to herself as an ``old hippie,'' Borsook makes her point: ``No one has benefited more or suffered less from government than high tech.

``I get accused of being everything from a debutante to a Stalinist to a Luddite - which I'm not,'' says Borsook, ``I've been online since '86.

``They think I'm advocating collectivizing farms or something. I say, no, I think there's a good dynamic tension between government and market and that's a healthy thing.''

paulina b.

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