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<nettime> law and theft
McKenzie Wark on Thu, 5 Dec 2002 17:29:40 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> law and theft


Richard writes that

>Passing laws is not the same thing as making people obey them. The DCMA or
>the EU Copyright Directive haven't stopped the sharing of information among
>Net users.

Just as privatising land and the means of production did not stop cattle
rustling or hijacking trucks of cigarettes on the interstate. Not to
mention the fabulous history of coastal smuggling....

The important thing is that until quite recently, this kind of
info-sharing was not theft, for what was appropriated was not really
property. In 19th century America, foreign authors had no protection at
all. The idea that translations are copyrightable is also very recent.

>As even the simplest versions of historical materialism point
>out, the legal superstructure can - at best - only slow down the evolution
>of the socio-economic base...

I think this seriously underestimates law, and Marx's appreciation of law.  
What drives *changes* in the law is outside its provenance, and clearly
comes in a large measure from "the evolution of the socio-economic base".
That will do as a preliminary formulation. But law is much more than that.
It creates a world of distinct objects that can be assigned criteria of
owership and responsiblity. Without which there is no developed commodity
economy.

What is significant for our purposes is the creation of law that assigns
rights to 'information'. On the basis of those rights, you can take your
'information' to market much as you would any other legally recognisable
asset. This law, in its strict form, is very recent. It may be driven by
technical-economic-social forces, but it legitimates the claims of those
forces to a private right, and creates a much stronger basis for the
commodification of new realms.

As Jameson usefully points out, when Marx speaks of 'base' and
'superstructure', he is using railway terminology, for the tracks and the
rolling stock. Its a much more useful -- and less dogmatic -- concept when
undestood in those terms.




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