The Economy of Ideas
WiReD 2.03 article: A framework for patents and copyrights in the Digital Age. (Everything you know about intellectual property is wrong.)
By John Perry Barlow
Throughout the time I’ve been groping around cyberspace, an immense, unsolved conundrum has remained at the root of nearly every legal, ethical, governmental, and social vexation to be found in the Virtual World. I refer to the problem of digitized property. The enigma is this: If our property can be infinitely reproduced and instantaneously distributed all over the planet without cost, without our knowledge, without its even leaving our possession, how can we protect it? How are we going to get paid for the work we do with our minds? And, if we can’t get paid, what will assure the continued creation and distribution of such work?”
So begins this classic from Wired 2.03 March 1994. He had insights then we still grapple with now:
The other existing, model, of course, is service. The entire professional class – doctors, lawyers, consultants, architects, and so on – are already being paid directly for their intellectual property. Who needs copyright when you’re on a retainer?
In fact, until the late 18th century this model was applied to much of what is now copyrighted. Before the industrialization of creation, writers, composers, artists, and the like produced their products in the private service of patrons. Without objects to distribute in a mass market, creative people will return to a condition somewhat like this, except that they will serve many patrons, rather than one.
He was speaking about this early in the digital story… where has this discussion gone since then… Some of that is on this blog in earlier items – I will keep surfing…
Free Software and the Psyche
What are all these posts on open source and free software doing on my weblog? What is the link with psyche?
Well there is a link with my psyche, in that I gravitate to the of edge. Free software is on the edge of some sort of cultural social advance. It may peter out like the “counterculture” or it may actually be a continuation of something of that spirit.
More directly there is a psychological side: identity in a virtual realm relates to ownership. In the early says of the well there was the phase You Own Your Own Words. The theme has a powerful presence on the Net, relates right back to notion of “free speech” with its elevated, sacred, archetypal complexities.
I’m not all that clear, I know. I just have a sense that probing the noosphere here involves fully grasping the free software phenomena, with its associated stories of cathedrals and bazaars etc. Anyway, I run Linux for that reason, to travel into the different realms of the cyber-world. I think of it as a journey into the psyche!
Open Source Software: A History
The Open Source Definition allows greater liberties with licensing than the GPL does. In particular, the Open Source Definition allows greater promiscuity when mixing proprietary and open-source software.”38 This is Richard Stallman’s objection to OSS – that it allows the inclusion of proprietary software and ignores the philosophical issue of software freedom. Without these freedoms, there is no philosophical imperative to improve one’s community. Nevertheless, “[w]e disagree on the basic principles, but agree more or less on the practical recommendations. So we can and do work together on many specific projects. We don’t think of the Open Source movement as the enemy.39
This is a point reiterated by many who are active in various competing open source and free software packages. While this article has focused on a number of differences between operating systems, approaches to collaboration, and the evolution of various license agreements, this focus is at the micro level. At the macro level, nearly everyone mentioned in this article would prefer a competing open source or free package to a proprietary software package. In the future those who have blazed new trails will continue to argue the finer distinctions between their respective works. However, the various groups involved are willing to work with and support one another’s right to choose a different approach to solving a problem. And it is clear these individuals look forward to another generation building upon the successes of the past thirty years.
A useful history – with a valuable conclusion which I have quoted above. Another item from the Information Technology and Libraries site. This link is to a special issue of the magazine: Volume 21, Number 1, March 2002 – SPECIAL ISSUE: Open Source Software – JEREMY FRUMKIN, Guest Editor.
Karen Coyle’s Home Page
The author of the article linked in the previous item – great stuff! Karen has a powerful message – well put. Heaps of references here about copyright, libraries, the net and Why Librarians Should Rule the Net.
Open Source, Open Standards
An item by Karen Coyle
Information Technology and Libraries vol.21, no.1
When people speak of open source software they are referring to computer code – programs that run. But code is only the final step in the information technology process. Prior to writing code the information technology professional must do analysis to determine the nature of the problem to be solved and the best way to solve it. When software projects fail, the failure is more often than not attributable to shortcomings in the planning and analysis phase rather than in the coding itself. Open source software provides some particular challenges for planning since the code itself will be worked on by different programmers and will evolve over time. The success of an open source project will clearly depend on the clarity of the shared vision of the goals of the software and some strong definitions of basic functions and how they will work. This all-important work of defining often takes place through standards and the development of standards that everyone can use has become a movement in itself: open standards.
A great overview of the whole business of standards. What a great complex human endeavour this is.
In the blog right now I am entertaining the idea that free software is significant in a political sense; people taking ownership of the product of their labour and making it socially available.
As I read this article the idea of “use value” came to mind. Use value was the term used by Marx for things that we need and are valuable but not commodities. Air, the work we do around the house. It seems that these open free products create huge use value, but to be useful they need to be of little commodity value. The reason is that the products become more useful through use. The reward for creating such value needs to also come from social sources.
I saw an item by Richard Stallman where he compared creating non-free software to polluting the air.
It is shocking that the use of things naturally free can be prevented for profit.
Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism
Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism (1999) provides an analysis of information-age capitalism and the movements currently dissolving it. The text version is available from University of Illinois Press, and can be purchased from the UWO Bookstore or on-line book stores.
The book is online, each chapter in one pdf file. The opening is intriguing. Nick Dyer-Witheford (the author) refers to the sf book The Difference Engine by Gibson and Stirling. Babbage’s mechanical computer in this alternate history works – and is steam driven. Here is a quote from Chapter 1:
For in the world of The Difference Engine, Karl Marx is
alive and well. His employment by the New York Daily Tribune (for whom the actual
Marx worked during the 1850s as a foreign correspondent in the biggest `information
industry’ of his day) has clearly resulted in migration to the United States–a visit yielding momentous consequence. For, in a North America wracked by regional separatism and
civil war, revolutionaries have seized the “means of information and production” of the
largest city of the New World.2 And the Manhattan Communards now provide a nucleus for
an international ferment of dissidence which, combining re-emerged Luddites, renegade
clackers, anarcho-feminists, Blakean-situationist artists and immiserated proletarians,
boils beneath the surface of the bourgeois universe, waiting for the next calamity to burst
In what follows, I propose a Marxism for the Marx of The Difference Engine. That
is to say, I analyse how the information age, far from transcending the historic conflict
between capital and its labouring subjects, constitutes the latest battleground in their
encounter; how the new high technologies–computers, telecommunications, and genetic
engineering–are shaped and deployed as instruments of an unprecedented, world wide
order of general commodification; and how, paradoxically, arising out of this process
appear forces which could produce a different future based on the common sharing of
wealth–a twenty-first century communism.
The Political Economy of Free Software
A link to my own writing:
If my proposition about this fundamental nature of the Free Software Movement has merit it certainly puts the struggle around its survival against the commercial and legal opposition into a context with very high stakes.
Copyleft vs. Copyright: A Marxist critique
Later New Link
“Copyright was invented by and for early capitalism, and its importance to that system has grown ever since. To oppose copyright is to oppose capitalism. Thus, Marxism is a natural starting point when challenging copyright. Marx’s concept of a ‘general intellect’, suggesting that at some point a collective learning process will surpass physical labour as a productive force, offers a promising backdrop to understand the accomplishments of the free software community. Furthermore, the chief concerns of hacker philosophy, creativity and technological empowerment, closely correspond to key Marxist concepts of alienation, the division of labour, deskilling, and commodification. At the end of my inquiry, I will suggest that the development of free software provides an early model of the contradictions inherent to information capitalism, and that free software development has a wider relevance to all future production of information.”
Now that is along the same lines as the thing I wrote after the discussions with Josh – will link to ot in the next item. It all sounds plausible to me, but nothing is a sure thing.
Conversation with Manuel Castells, p. 5 of 6
Castells is famous for the thesis that this *is* an Information Society.
A sample quote:
“Absolutely. You see, and it goes both ways. On the other hand, as much as I think the Internet’s an extraordinary instrument for creation, free communication, etc., you can use the Internet to exclude, because you can exclude in terms of the access to the network, the digital divide. But you can also exclude in terms of the culture and education and ability to process all this information that has happened on the net, and then use it for what you want to do, because you don’t have the education, the training, the culture to do it, while the elites of the world do.”
Hmm… books require an even more elitist culture?