Five lessons the Grateful Dead Taught Me About Copyright

Greg McVerry
Oct 18, 2015 · 5 min read
Was it real or fake? Lost photo credit. My bad.

I love music as a metaphor for the Web. So I found great joy in Adam Croom’s and Jim Groom’s talk on the #indieweb.

h/t to #edcampCT at #faretheewell

Their talk described how distribution patterns in the music industry mirrors #IndieEdtech. I could not make it out to Stanford for #dlrn15.

I expected more 80’s hardcore, but I blame Jim for that one not Adam. For me I don’t look to Bad Brains but to the Grateful Dead as a metaphor for #IndieEdTech.

So I wanted to share the last time I made it out to Santa Clara. Citing hippie culture is a common trope in reflecting on the Web. In fact in the #dlrn15 keynotw Adam cited John Markoff’s piece: What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. If you listen to the history of Internet podcast (as a Medium reader that’s a given) Brian McCullough talks about how the Web was born of the Bay Area vibe and right wing libertarianism. To illustrate, Marc Andreesen, of Netscape fame, calls himself a McGovern Libertarian.

Heck John Perry Barlow, founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote some of the best Dead tunes with Bob Weir (so I am a little hyperbolic, sue me).

So lets keep Adam and Jim’s music metaphor going. For me the Grateful Dead (as well as people like KevinHodgson, W. Ian O'Byrne, Laura Hilliger, Alan Levine and Doug Belshaw) have shaped my view of content and copyright.

All the thoughts are broken
Perhaps, they’re better left unsung
Well, I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs, to fill the air”

Make cool shit. Do what you want.

The Dead, in their fifty year career, only had one top ten hit. Yet sold out almost every venue in the States and played across the world. Even at the Pyramids. How?

By giving most of what they made away.

The Grateful Dead did not officially sanction Tapers (by creating a special section and writing some legal mumbo jumbo) until the 1980’s. Yet for most of their storied career you could find someone recording the music and giving it away.

This spirit is reflected in how I share content. I want to work in the open. My posts are given liberal creative commons licenses.

You own what you make and giving away creations allows community to grow.

I’d rather be a free man in my grave, than living as a puppet or a slave.

Community is the Content

You can not build the largest touring act in Rock and Roll history without a little help. The Grateful Dead spawned a subculture commonly known as Deadheads, folks who nerd out hardcore…like pack up the van and hit a run of shows across the country…for a decade or two.

By creating a culture of giving away content new fans were easily on-boarded. Tapers spread the love and the community gives back.

Grateful Dead Archive

In fact the audience became part of the band. An energy flows back and forth between the boys on the stage and the spinning masses. The vibe would change with venues. The pit on the West Coast different than the East. Yet everyone always welcome.

You got to listen to the heavens, you got to try to understand. The greatness of their movement is just as small as it is grand.

Open isn’t Free

The Grateful Dead made money. A shit ton of dough. In fact they captured American entrepreneurism in a way that wasn’t reproduced until the emergence of hip-hop.

So if you give away your primary product think about different revenue streams. The Dead charged for studio albums. Part of making cool shit and doing what you want is deciding when to charge. Grateful Dead touring the world built their empire. Ticket sales and merchandise made millions upon millions. They tried to enforce their copyright with merch.

For me I have a day gig that allows me to write and give away what I make. Yet there are many who follow a more Dead-like ethos and strike out on their own. Like the Dead the community supports each other. In the #indie #edtech space you see a virtual Shakedown Street emerging.

A micro economy emerged whenever the Grateful Dead buses rolled in. No oversight. No government. Just commerce. On Shakedown Street, the term given to the rows of vendors in the lot, thousands of people would hock burritos, beer, trinkets, and clothes. Most of these homemade.

We need a similar scenario if the developers of #indie #edtech are going to eat. Jerry Garcia famously complained about having to tour just to keep so many people employed. We can not do the same in #edtech. I am reminded of Ben Werdmuller posts on how to do open and not go broke.

I think we are close. The idea of not just a Domain of Your Own but an API of your own sounds great…and I have no idea what an API is. The idea that students build their own operative system for learning by connecting and paying for tools they want could be the future.

“I don’t know, but I’ve been told it’s hard to run with the weight of gold,
Other hand, I’ve heard it said it’s just as hard with the weight of lead”

Be Kind

At what may be the last Grateful Dead show ever Mickey Hart left the stage declaring,“I’ll leave you with this: Please, be kind.”

Simple rule. Hard to follow. Try.

strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand

Get on the Bus

Furthur Bus. Wikipedia

#IndieEdtech will take a movement. Almost a counter culture to the rise of “disruption based personalized learning” that places institutional value over the individual. Audrey Watters recently wrote about the Californian ideology as a form of technoimperialsim. She is right.

Yet there is another Californian ideology that traces its roots to the history of the Web. We need to celebrate the web that Haight-Ashbury helped to spwan. Let the kids dance and shake their bones. You can stick with Uber, I’ll take the bus.

Community comes first. It is the content. Together we will make cool shit and do what we want.

Faring thee well now.
Let your life proceed by its own design.
Nothing to tell now.
Let the words be yours, I’m done with mine.

Digital Teaching and Learning

Collection of articles and a space for writers interested…

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Digital Teaching and Learning

Collection of articles and a space for writers interested in documenting how technology enhances our pedagogical goals.

Greg McVerry

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I am a researcher and teacher educator at Southern Connecticut State University. Focus on literacy and technology.

Digital Teaching and Learning

Collection of articles and a space for writers interested in documenting how technology enhances our pedagogical goals.