FC: Peter Trei: "The Original SSSCA," a short story

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Sat Mar 02 2002 - 08:11:35 PST

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    Politech SSSCA archive:
    From: "Trei, Peter" <ptreiat_private>
    To: "'declanat_private'" <declanat_private>
    Subject: The original SSSCA.
    Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2002 14:51:19 -0500
    I've been watching the entertainment industry's
    approach to computers with what I can only think of as
    Kafkaesque horror.
    It's simply unthinkable that preserving the business
    models of entertainers trumps the utterly central role
    of computers and the Internet in improviing our
    You say the politicians actually seemed *receptive* to
    this? I guess this just shows how money corrupts - the
    heavy donor's interests outweigh those of the nation.
    I've been trying to think of an analogy to show just
    how awful the idea of the SSSCA is. I've had to go back
    a way. A long way.
    (start satire)
    The Original SSSCA.
    Statement of Yakval Enti, spokesman of the MPAA
    (Mnemonists, Praise-singers, and Anthemists
    Association) to His Highness Hammurabi, King of
    Your Majesty: I wish to call you attention to a severe
    threat to the security of your kingdom, and the
    livelihoods of thousands of your subjects.
    After Shamash sets and the people kick back after a
    long day of growing millet, they desire entertainment.
    Their favorite forms are stories, tales, and sagas,
    told by the members of the MPAA. Talented boys spend up
    to 12 years learning the tales by heart at the feet of
    the masters. Any evening MPAA members can be found in
    the taverns singing the old tales, praising the
    praiseworthy, and creating new tales from the old.
    This system has worked well since the beginning of time
    - there were storytellers at your coronation, there
    were storytellers at your father's coronation, and
    there were storytellers in the caves of our ancestors.
    This natural arrangement is now threatened from an
    unexpected direction - the scribes and accountants.
    The geeks' system of recording numbers and quantities
    has been perverted to freeze speech onto clay.
    Understand the threat to our business model. At the
    moment, if someone wants to hear 'The Tale of the Ox,
    the Ass and the Sumerian', they find an MPAA member,
    pay him, and sit back to listen to the whole four hour
    saga. While anyone could recall and tell others the
    general outline, only MPAA members know every detail
    and can give the listener the whole story. If you want
    to hear it again, you pay again. Thousands of MPAA
    members rely on this fact for their livelihoods.
    With the recent invention of "writing" the system is in
    danger of collapse. We've found that some scribes are
    actually "recording" entire sagas onto clay.  Any
    scribe can "read" these out to people for free or for
    money, complete and word-for-word, without being a
    member of or paying the MPAA!  A scribe who has
    obtained a set of tablets of an story can even read it
    an unlimited number of times, or (worst of all) make
    copies. This is starting to have an economic impact on
    our membership.  Consider Rimat-Ninsun, whose
    masterwork "The Epic of Gilgamesh" took him three years
    to create, and who looked to it to put bread on his
    table into his old age, as he told it for money, or let
    others tell it under paid license after learning it
    from him.  'Gilgamesh' is now circulating on 12 clay
    tablets, and Rimat is starving. Who will bother to
    create new tales if they are just going to be written
    "Writing" presents insidious dangers to your kingdom as
    well. It can be anonymous. Before writing, any message
    arrived with a person to speak it, who could be held
    accountable for their speech. With writing, it is
    impossible to tell what scribe "wrote" a
    message. Anonymous threats, kidnap notes, and
    untraceable sedition are now possible. Clearly
    "writing" carries with it far greater problems for our
    civilization than it does advantages.
    However, scribes, accountants, and their skills are
    essential to business, contracts, laws, and the
    collection of taxes. We just need to make sure that
    they are controlled properly.
    I therefore propose the Scribal Stylus Safety Control
    Act. (SSSCA). This requires every scribe to have an
    MPAA approved, "literate" slave with him at all times,
    peering over his shoulder. If a scribe is seen to be
    "writing' something other then accounting information,
    for example a story (stories are the province of MPAA
    bards), or a message (which should have been given to
    a paid mnenomist for delivery), or anything seditious,
    then the slave will take away the scribe's stylus
    and call the authorities. I ask you to have this Act
    "written" into your Code of Law.
    Is this difficult? Yes. Is it expensive? Yes. However,
    it is clear that without strict controls, widespread
    "writing" will not only destroy the entertainment
    industry, it will threaten civilisation itself!
    (end satire)
    The SSSCA threatens to return us to a Stone Age model
    of information use.
    The above are strictly the personal opinions of myself,
    and I'd be astonished if my employer had any official
    position on the matter (so don't pretend otherwise).
    Feel free to copy this document in its entirety, with
    proper attribution.
    Peter Trei
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