Maybe it’s because Apple’s lawyers have had their hands full with other matters, who’s to say? All I know is that the three-week auction of the Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition went off without a hitch. 20 people submitted 31 bids, with the winner being Francis Schmit, with a high bid of $667. Francis actually lives in Luxembourg, and tells me he heard about the auction from the article in the French newspaper Libération. Vive le France! Or, I suppose, Luxembourg.
After I got Francis’ money, I donated $217.50 of it—the final bid minus the $449.50 cost of materials—to Downhill Battle. Then I packed up the iPod, and shipped it off. Part of me feels wistful at sending it away, while the other part is glad to have the thing out of my bedroom. Now somebody else can have his hands on it. Whether Francis mounts it in a glass case or takes it on the metro is up to him.
It’s been an interesting six months. The so-called mainstream media gave my iPod plenty of coverage: There was the aforementioned Libération article, two articles in Wired, a killer editorial in Canada’s Globe & Mail, and an Alternet story that used my iPod as a lead-in to Downhill Battle and intellectual property issues in general. And of course, there were dozens of blogs who were kind enough to link to me—check out the tracked referrals on these three pages to follow the feedback. I also received lots of supportive emails from complete strangers, and a little bit of hate mail. I still don’t understand the rationale behind the hate mail: If I took the time to write an email to every person who I thought was an idiot, I’d never get out of my apartment.
My fifteen minutes of fame had two difficult aspects to it—I mean, besides the part about playing chicken with a legal team bigger than a city block. First, it’s pretty much impossible to explain this to your parents, unless your last name happens to be Lessig. I tried to fill my parents in on why I was doing the whole thing, but only found myself spinning a byzantine web of unfamiliar names that only served to further their suspicion that all this highfalutin’ talk about the future is a smokescreen for the fact that I don’t actually have a career. “See, back in 1991 Island Records sued Negativland over an album called U2 which sampled U2 but wasn’t by U2 it was by Negativland, and then Apple and U2 made an iPod together last year, so I bought one and pre-loaded Negativland songs onto it, sort of like a DJ remixing two songs together, or maybe like Duchamp, right, and then I offered it for auction on eBay and I was going to give the profits to Downhill Battle, no, they’re not related to U2 or Negativland or Apple or Island Records, but they’re a non-profit that—ah, forget it. So, you still want me to take the LSAT or what?”
The second difficult aspect was slowing down from internet time to legal time when it was necessary to do so. When the auction was up on eBay, it was fun to reply to people’s emails and read the new blog entries that came flowing steadily down my PubSub feed. But after the auction was shut down, I decided not to make any moves until I got some good legal advice. That took months (it didn’t help that I did a lot of travelling in December), and meanwhile I could feel the restless minds of the blogosphere move on to the next topic. You like to think you’re mature enough not to be swayed by the high-school-prom aspects of online life, but hey, I’m only human.
Still, I did wait ‘til I had a good sense of where I stood legally, and I’m glad I did so. I suppose now is a good time to reveal that I had, in fact, been advised by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In particular, Jason Schultz patiently answered all my questions, even though I was probably the least world-changing case he’d handled all year.
It’s fair to say that this wouldn’t have been possible without Jason and the EFF. So if you think what I did was funny, and you wish there were more of this sort of thing in the world, one way to help make it happen would be to donate to the EFF. The world already has plenty of bratty artists eager to thumb their noses at big corporations. What it needs more of is smart, dedicated lawyers who will give those artists expert advice about exactly what lines to cross, and who might even represent them if their targets go on another legal rampage.
After all, it’s one thing to talk about a case like this on your blog, or on an email list, or over drinks after work, but it’s another to decide to be involved, even just on the level of making a small donation. Do you want to help fight for the future and risk losing? Or do you want to give up ahead of time so you can feel smug about knowing your side never had a chance? Like I told Wired News, I was never in this to be a martyr. I was in this to win. And if I have won, it’s because I had the EFF in my corner. Whether you know it or not, they’re in your corner, too.