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On stage in Perugia

I often blog from the stage at conferences – it’s a way for me to keep track of what people are saying on stage, and a good way to stay focused. But it usually requires a cerain amount of explanation. And at the Perugia Journalism Festival, where I’m literally the only person with a laptop, it seemed like it would be over the top. Which is too bad, as some fascinating things got said during the panel I did this afternoon with two top Italian media professionals – Luca Conti of the Pandemia blog and Luca De Biase, the editor of Nóva 24, and with Jan Schaffer from J-Lab, a project currently based at the University of Maryland. Jan is a friend from the citizen media conference circuit; De Biase is someone I know by reputation and because he’s been kind enough to interview me in the past. And I got a chance to meet Conti over lunch, discovering that he’s one of the key figures in the Italian digiterati… helpful, as much of our discussion on citizen media ended up focusing on the unusual situation of the media in Italy.

As I understand it, Italian media has a reasonably strong state subsidy system, with government money available for editorial functions for publications that meet certain standards, including for periodicity. Journalism is a profession that’s regulated, in part, by a trade union, which both sets professional standards for journalists and negotiates on their behalf with regard to payment and benefits. Needless to say, this changes the background for the “journalists versus bloggers” debate that we so often deal with in the US. Luca De Biase pointed out that many bloggers are trying hard to distinguish themselves from professional journalists in Italy – I mentioned that one of the key issues in America is ensuring that American bloggers are protected with the same laws and institutions that protect journalists when (and only when) bloggers are committing acts of journalism.

Grillo addressing the crowds in Bologna

Much of the conversation centered on Italian provocateur, blogger, comedian and politician Beppe Grillo. Grillo has been an outsider for years in Italian politics, with his comedy banned from Berlusconi-owned stations. He’s become hugely influential in Italy both through popular standup comedy routines, and through a regularly updated blog. And lately, he’s been a very effective network organizer, bringing 300,000 people into the streets of Bologna to celebrate “V-day“. “V” in this case stands for “Vaffanculo” or “Fuck you”, and the day was organized to support a bill to remove Italian parliamentarians who have criminal convinctions from office. De Biase pointed out that fewer than 2% of the people who turned out in the streets of Bologna are regular Grillo readers – they found out about the event through a network of friends, often leading back to regular readers. This sort of coordinated network action is the sort of stuff that would make Clay Shirky proud, and I plugged Clay’s new book “Here Comes Everybody” to the crowd.

If you watch the video embedded above, you’ll see Grillo reference Creative Commons, copyleft and other movements designed to shake up the intellectual property establishment. De Biase and Conti talked about one of the strangest copyright provisions I’ve ever head of – an exception in Italian copyright which allows the use of copyrighted works for educational purposes so long as they’ve been “degraded” in some fashion. De Biase tells us that there’s a movement called “degradare” (I believe) that seeks to degrade and thus free works of art from copyright – he points to the story of a protester “degrading” the Mona Lisa by overlaying a reproduction with Neopolitan trash and wonders if this is sufficient degredation to free it from the Louvre’s copyright control. I would love more information on this movement, if anyone has it, especially web pointers. De Biase’s point is that legislators need to understand this medium better before attempting to regulate it, which is true of regulators in almost every nation.

Good fun. I wish it had gone on a bit longer, and, as always, wish I spoke Italian. Ah, eventually direct brain/circuit interface should make all that obselete.

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