Lachlan Brown on Mon, 3 Dec 2001 20:47:25 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Copyright

Copyright, consumer to consumer publishing and distributed computing.

Lachlan Brown

        Somewhere in the debate and contest between academic and
scientific economies of sharing information, knowledge and research and
corporate commercial economies of accumulating intellectual properties, we
have forgotten how and why the copyright law came into being. Around the
time that the public emerged as an economic and political force in the
late eighteenth century the rights of the primary producer to the friuits
of his or her labour for a period of seventy years were guaranteed.  
Prior to the appearance of the copyright law, which was of course
associated with the emergence of 'publishing' industries (as opposed to
patronized production and printing industries) a wide range of contracts
of an 'obligation' form existed between patron and producer.

What we see now and not only in culture based in digital transactions but
inflecting culture at large is an ad-hoc regression into these
'obligation' economies which are feudal in their character without any of
the 'guarantees' for welfare of feudalism,such as they were.  While people
who occupy new roles of mediation in these economies may temporarily
assume positions of power, this is likely to be mere proxy by corporate
entities whose interests (public service and/or commercial) are best
served by a knowledge and articulation of such power relations.  The only
possible winners in a contest on these terms are those who already have
accumulations of power, economic or political. If, that is, we did not
have copyright to protect the labour and the moral rights of the primary
producer under law.

        Napster provides a case in point of a failure to tie new relations
of distribution and mediation with the economy. First a technology of
consumer to consumer (or peer to peer) sharing through distributed
computing was made available. Ironically, the 'meaninglessness' of
consumer to consumer exchange meant that the deployment and growth of this
technology was 'invisible' to conventional media, media industries and
economies. They didn't really understand it, and they still don't, except
in the goodwill value and the potential value for marketing of the brand
and the user lists. One can imagine conventional business plan assessors
trying to wrap their heads around an analysis of the economic viability of
consumer to consumer music distribution... .

Second a community of users engaged with a passion for sharing and a
passion for music (and no doubt a passion for community) began through
principles tying new relations of mediation to new means of distribution
of music in the digital form to threaten through declining growth insales
and revenues across the music industry retail, promotional, legal,
marketing and distributive segments of the industry - ie around 85% of it.
. Third, with media conglomerates in a heightened state of distress, (one
of my research subjects in the music industry in London illustrated this
distress in 1998)  over Napster the company and the community of users who
formed Napster (and arguably had a stake or share in the organisation - as
well of course responsibility for the actions of the community). The
detail of 'librarianship' of transactions and administration of payment of
royalty were not developed.

Artists receiving royalty they had not expected from Napster and its
stakeholders, now that would have been the radical move.

Its always the third step that's difficult in any revolution.  The
development of an alternate way to ensure that royalty was paid and the
rights of the primary producer were protected would have been the radical

 A wide range of e-commercial subscription and micro-payment models were
available of course, but no thought was given to the boring and mundane
work of administrating the exchange.

I find it really strange that the 'shareware' priciple of research
supported by public service institutions, or supported by commercial
research and development is carried over to the implementation of the
circulation of the cultural product as publishing. The cultural product
(music, artwork or writing) is the outcome of labour that is not
necessarily supported by either commercial nor public service institutions
(nor should it be). Do any of us have any objection to paying for
alternative media?

There have been many tentative steps to query the ideology of shareware in
the publishing market for digital content. (Quim Gil of Metamute tried
obliquely to raise the question in Nettime last spring since revenue via
metamute might help further cogent and intelligent mediation, analysis and
critique of digitalartnculture in the Mute Media Empire as a whole).

Ironically, the copyright law articulated around protecting the rights of
the primary producer, the writer, artists, musicians. Its not right to
copy and pass off work that is the outcome of someone else's intellectual
labour, full-stop. Its not right to query the moral right the artist has
to the fruits of his or her labour.

Of course, after seventy years (the initial proposals in the 1780s were
for a 10 or 12 year period) copyright reverts to the 'common treasury'.

Just thought I would state the position. Somethings got to give in the
present ideological log-jam in the broadband river that is contemporary
Digital Culture, (so to speak) and while 'copyleft' and 'copyrites' are
welcome , they do not give comfort to those who would like to make a
living from writing and producing.

Lachlan Brown

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