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Culture Getting Loopy

The cost of maintaining the current idea of copyright is permanent martial law with a private police force and a wet blanket over the Internet. By Rasmus Fleischer.


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The trial of The Pirate Bay, of which we've only seen the first act, has primarily a pedagogical function: to portray a good side and an evil side. The basis of the conflict is that anything in digital form can be copied without limit with the help of a technology which at least in the west is available for all. To paraphrase Karl Marx one can say that the means of reproduction have come into acute conflict with the lawful conditions of reproduction.

The Pirate Bay is only one of many helpful tools for file sharing with millions of users spread across the globe. The state prosecutor talked of a primary crime committed by the 'swarm' but because you can't get at this crime you instead prosecute people for assisting in the swarming. The assistance consists of allocating web space for links. The links are simultaneously the foundation of the Internet itself and for its culture. One links one's thoughts and work to others. If one introduces a legal responsibility for what's found on the other side of the link then one can just as well prosecute anyone who reveals that such linking services exist - for being 'an accessory to an accessory to...' And so forth.

The Danish ISPs are already required to block access to The Pirate Bay - something the Danes still the same massively circumvent - but what's going to be the next step when Internet censorship has been established?

The war on file sharing targets in a broader and broader way different methods of, verbally or technically, facilitating or encouraging copying. At the same time copying - the 'primary crime' - gets easier, and not only on the Internet. In the not too distant future all music that's ever been recorded will be stored on cheap pocket memory sticks.

The abstraction of the law is met by the politics of the trial. In order to draw a rather arbitrary line between The Pirate Bay and Google the prosecutor tried to badger the defendants about their political views. In his view it's more serious to operate a search engine if one is critical of the form of copyright legislation. At the same time - and this gets confusing - the prosecutor insisted The Pirate Bay was a commercial operation.

Of course there's money involved because servers and bandwidth cost a lot. This is paid for by advertising managed by an external corporation where things are surely turning a profit. And therefore, the prosecutor insinuated, The Pirate Bay is a profitable major corporation. He's looking desperately for a boss who barks out orders, totally incapable of understanding the anarchistic swarm structure where people help out with things because it's fun and not necessarily with a higher motivation in mind. This gap between the organisational models of the pyramid and the swarm permeates the entire spectacle.

Music industry lobbyist John Kennedy testified in the trial, totally seriously, that music can only be made with a 'top list' in mind. To be sure The Pirate Bay also has a 'top list' not totally unlike official lists. But the top list's share of the total cultural exchange is less in the file sharing networks than in the unidirectional mass media. And control is lost over what is exposed and when, a crucial control for Hollywood, and a wild remix culture sprouts up in its stead.

The issue is thus a lot bigger than 'how are the copyright holders going to be paid'. We have to abandon the thought that digital copies have an intrinsic value. When something is found in abundance it's only important when it's linked back to a time, a place, and human fellowship.

Reality's cultural life is already a loop between digital and analog with both gift economies and markets, private monopolies, and taxpayer revenues. The starting point has to be taken from this reality. And then one finds issues about things other than the regulation of the Internet, not in the least concerning cultural life accessing the city's physical space.

The solution therefore is not only inventing a number of new digital business models that get the file sharers to pay, as so many tech-happy liberals blog about. And it's not only shoveling money to the diffuse group of 'copyright holders' as the leftists like to suggest.

This is not a conflict between file sharers and copyright holders - who often are the same people - but between a base and a superstructure, if we choose to continue to paraphrase Marx. Of course the struggle is not about the final collapse of capitalism. More likely it's a comparison of the current crisis with the guild noise of the 1800s.

The most important thing today remains to assess the cost of maintaining the current idea of copyright: a permanent martial law with a private police force, a neo-corporate system within the entertainment industry, a wet blanket over the Internet, and artificial resuscitation for a rotting 'top list' structure.

The new IPRED law is a major catastrophe for the open networks - for the Royal Library and for the entire ALM (archive library museum) sector.
 - Per Snickars Royal Library Stockholm

Today the Royal Library has an open network. This is the foundation for the future development of the Royal Library. Researchers can connect to our open network where we have our catalogues, media materials, and scanned books. But with the new IPRED law this won't be possible. We're going to have to shut down our network.
 - Per Snickars Royal Library Stockholm

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