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maike about napster
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Newsman wrote on Sep 21st 2000, 21:13:01 about


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Napsters, Macsters, and History Speeding Up

Michael H. Goldhaber,

Napster shows how the existence of the Internet combined with highly self-connected communities allow new ways of doing things to be adopted very rapidly, with little thought of the long-term consequences by any of the individuals involved

I have just finished listening to a piece of music I had never heard before, along with a favorite I hadn’t heard for thirty years, thanks to “Macster” software, which I downloaded a few minutes earlier. isNapsterfor Macintosh users, and my real interest in this program was to see how easy it would be for me, no teenager, to master. Even though up to about a minute before I began downloading I had never heard of Macster, the whole process went as smoothly and quickly as reading the newspaper.

I f Macster, and Napster, prove anything, it is that with the Internet we now have a very powerful, very rapid machine for cultural, social, political and economic change. Napster already has significantly altered what choices of music can be listened to, how music is heard, the social relations among the listeners, the economic returns to musicians and record companies alike, and the power relations between the record companies and the rest of the world. Quite something for a program written by a 19-year old, and first used little more than six months ago.

A Two-Sided Blade

I was led to these thoughts by a recent well-attended meeting on the effects of technological change organized by Douglas R. Hofstadter at Stanford University, the epicenter of Silicon Valley. The first speaker was the inventor Ray Kurzweil (best known for his reading machines for the blind). As in his recent book, ‘The Age of Spiritual Machines,” he made the point that new “paradigms” are replacing old ones at an accelerating rate. It might have taken 500,000 years for early hominids to realize the advantages of sharpening two sides of a flint blade, but it has taken much of the world barely a decade to realize the advantages of using the Internet. To take my example, Napster has been quite widely adopted in far less time – months. Soon comparable shifts will take only one month, then a week, then a day... or so, Kurzweil suggests.

K urzweil and others don’t look much at the ultimate sources of the speed-up. Its easy to see that some of the impetus comes from the rising interest in getting attention – through doing something new and original. But perhaps even more central are the pressures of contemporary capitalism. As more and more people, first Americans, but by now Europeans and East Asians as well, each begin to think of protecting their own personal future lives by investing in stocks, they naturally seek out those stocks that they believe are likely to grow the fastest in value. Inevitably this leads them to invest mostly in new companies, doing new things. Share values of companies in more traditional businesses tend to grow more slowly, since the market for whatever goods or services they supply is already close to saturated, as a rule.

This new investment behavior itself not only rewards but actively encourages change: the latest “new, new thing;” the new kind of dot-com, and so on. Everyone who succeeds in making a splash or getting rich starting a dot-com attracts many imitators, and the game of trying to come up with new ways of doing things becomes more prevalent. It may not be long before investment itself seems less promising than starting ones own dot com, with everyone who can possibly manage to come up with any kind of new idea feeling encouraged togo for it.”

F or several years now, in fact, there has been a contest for undergraduates at US universities to come up with new business plans, and many of the contest winners and runners up can expect that venture capitalists will be waiting around eagerly to fund them. Many of these new companies will do little really new, but a sizable minority will be different enough, inventing new ways of carrying out basic human activities, or even defining new activities.

It probably won’t be long until one of them hits upon the idea of automating the whole process of creating a dot-com. Just write down your basic idea, log onto the appropriate web site, answer some key questions, perhaps indicate the type of new connections that have to be created, and the software takes over, helps you come up with a name, generates a list of promising venture capitalists, sets up the web site, and does almost everything else for you, for some small cut of the share price.

So not only is it going to get easier and easier to come up with new dot coms, dot-nets or dot-orgs, but an ever larger number of people will be motivated to do just this and will have access to what it takes to carry it off.

Groping, Not Coping

L et’s suppose that one person in six thousand sets up just one new dot something every year, and that only one percent of these offer significant changes in ways of doing anything thats important for an average person. Given the worlds present population, that works out to ten thousand significant new dot-somethings a year, or 300 a day, about one every five minutes, round the clock. A Napster every five minutes? How would anyone cope? And how can society change that fast without horrible problems?

First, at the personal level, which of these innovations should you bother to investigate or learn how to use? Do you just proceed at random? One proposed solution is that you rely on certain experts who have offered you wise suggestions in the past to point you towards new sites worthy of your attention now. But the past is the past; the experts might have done well for you in a different environment, but the constant flux of dot-somethings changes the environment, and challenges the abilities of even experts to catch up; so you need newer more up-to-date experts who still know what you are likely to want to help you. In fact no such experts exist, since they cannot keep up any better on the whole, and you have no means by which to identify anyone who by some miracle has stayed on top of all changes. It doesn’t matter to this scenario if you decide to rely on friends or members of communities who share common interests with you, because the friends are only friends in the earlier situation, the communities of common interest keep dissolving as new situations arise, and in them different aspects of who you are keep coming to the fore.

Leave it to a Machine?

T hough Kurzweil and his fellow predictors ofpost-humanlife don’t put things in quite that way, they do agree that ordinary humans will have trouble deciding how to adapt. To get around such situations they suggest we shall have to rely on intelligent computers themselves, each now more intelligent, it is supposed, that any single human being or even than the entire human race.

But how can you meaningfully rely on a computer for this? You can rely on the electronic fuel injectors in your car to know when to inject fuel because they are programmed to do just this one task, and you, stepping on the gas, decide when it should be done. How hard you press on the pedal depends on what you decide about how fast you should go. You remain the one who determines where you want to go. But in the situation of endless newness, where you want to go is itself at issue. No machine is capable of deciding what you want if you don’t know yourself.

All right then, lets suppose that the computer knows basically who you are, what you are about, and what your values are; it then can plot out the best course of action consistent with that knowledge. But this too is patently absurd.

Y our identity itself is a result of your actions and responses in a given human environment and culture. Suppose you had been born 100,000 years ago. What would your values and goals have been? There is no telling; in such a different environment you would not have been you. Anyone, even with your same exact genetic constitution, would have been an entirely different person.

As society changes, individual people cannot remain the same, since to a good extent you can only make sense, even to yourself, against a certain background consisting both of possibilities and of others’ actions and expectations. These themselves will all be constantly changing in the world that seems about to unfold. Even if the machines that you might rely upon try to help you decide what course to follow, they will already be programmed, even if self-programmed, for an environment which already no longer exists.

The Transvaluation of Values

V alues themselves cannot help you, as they are no more permanent and unchanging than likes, dislikes, and cultural norms. If society changes, values change. One such change that I have considered with some care is that which revolves around privacy, which is typical of many others...... In feudal times, privacy was not terribly realizable nor terribly important. You didn’t have much opportunity to keep secret what your religion was, for instance, because perforce it would have to be pretty much the same as your neighbors’. Nor would it make much sense to hide your income, since the vast majority of people had no cash income, and their wealth was readily apparent from the richness of their fields, the reserves in their houses, and the like. Living, as most did, in some small village, meant your life was an open book, and it wouldn’t have occurred to most people to object to that.

Several centuries later, at the heart of the industrial era, privacy had become an important matter. What went on inside the walls and behind the curtains of your house was private, and that privacy was basic to the workings of the whole system; you went to work in a factory so that you could take home wages that would permit you to live a private life, and if no privacy were available, such life would have little meaning. What you earned, where you kept your money, what you bought with it was your and your immediate familys business and that of no one else.

Now, however, in the throes of the transition to the attention economy, standards of privacy are rapidly changing. To get attention, you must use all you can about who you are; privacy in the sense of not being too self revealing can seem a very antiquated notion, as you long as you can arrange that no one can get your attention when you don’t want to give it.

T he privacy that is valued is precisely the privacy of not having to pay attention, not the privacy of not getting attention. Many of us don’t want dot coms to be able to gather information about us, because we don’t want our e-mails to be crowded with sales pitches that sound important enough to make us take a look since they are based on a crude analysis of our likes and dislikes. If they really did tell us something we wanted to know, we would have little reason to mind.

As the case of privacy shows, therefore, as circumstances change, values change right along with them. If circumstances, meaning the whole social, cultural and economic environment change very rapidly, then values become utterly uncertain and have to be forged anew along with and as fast as everything else. Even machines, no matter how smart, cannot anticipate new developments and therefore can hardly prepare for tomorrows changes. Even with machines to aid us, everything would be in constant flux, and we would find ourselves increasingly able to act upon nothing other than random impulse. We might each join new communities, but just as quickly abandon others that seem to have less momentary appeal. In such a world, where nothing is stable, nothing has much meaning either. We can lose sight of who we are very quickly, and there is nothing that will root us again, as long as the speed of change continues to accelerate.

A Hell of A Ride

T hat leads us to the second challenge, a speed of change in which nothing can be taken for granted. All that we know and makes sense to us, all that gives us individually and as a society some means of making sense of our world, al that permits us to know, to some approximation, our place that world – all this changes as fast as we can possibly register, and then faster

Such a speed of change has to be pure hell for everyone involved, a roller-coaster ride that keeps speeding up, keeps having new kinds of dips and never lets up. In such a world we cannot rely on anything or anyone. Such change surely, is very undesirable. Whatever good it may lead to in detail, we need some way of limiting it. How short of an utter social breakdown can this come about?

Or Is It?

L et me backtrack. I have posited these changes arising from thousands of individual acts that set up the equivalent of endless new dot-coms every day. But if the new dot-coms so swamp our abilities to make sense of them and rationally choose among them, wouldn’t the kind of change that results from them be automatically self-limiting? Do we not have to worry because we will in fact not adopt changes at such a rapid pace, no matter how many such possibilities are offered us?

This is where the Napster case comes in. Napster shows how the existence of the Internet combined with highly self-connected communities such as college campuses or high schools allow new ways of doing things to be adopted very rapidly, with little thought of the long-term consequences by any of the individuals involved. Only after the new methods and associated implicit values become widespread is there likely to be much debate about their effects. The adoption is not individual so much as social, and no matter how intelligent the individuals in a social organism are, it does not follow that similar wisdom or intelligence is held by the totality, when there are no explicit mechanisms for social reflection and debate in advance. As I pointed out in my ‘80’s book “Reinventing Technology,” technological innovation is a form of law-making or legislation. Good legislation usually results from wide public deliberation. That is absent here.

But we can learn still more from the Napster case. It shows why there is in fact some limit to the speed of adopting the new. As I discovered, N apster software takes little attention to download or to learn how to use. As user friendly software and easy use of the Internet continue to be perfected, we can expect the amount of attention needed to adopt any similar transformation will continue to shrink towards very little. But Napster and its relatives (such as Macster) would have little impact were it not for the fact that they create a great deal of buzz and that they change how attention is paid on a wide scale. If teens and the rest of us didn’t devote considerable attention to music anyway, then Napster, even if widely adopted, would not have had much real importance, whether culturally, socially, politically or economically.

The same is true for other recent, rather swift changes, such as day trading of stocks or Internet pornography. What matters by definition has to occupy considerable social attention, which links together lots of individual attention. Since total attention is limited, then, even though innovations are adopted without careful thought, the speed of meaningful change cannot keep accelerating forever. Changes may be fast relative to the past, and changes may suck up a larger fraction of our attention than they have before, but it makes no sense to expect an infinite speed-up in the sort of changes that make any significant difference (as Kurzweil posits).

Roughly, we may even put numbers on what constitutes meaningful change. To matter, a change has to take up at least two percent (or five per cent or one percent) of the available attention of at least a few percent of the worlds population, for some considerable period, if not for life. That means we will never get to the point of averaging more than one significant change a day, if that. Still speedy change, but not infinitely speedy.

Still, We Need Brakes

T hat the speed of significant change is limited may still prove small comfort for those who are deeply affected by many of the changes that do happen. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that change will be slow enough for the average person to retain a meaningful sense of social place. These problems, again, cannot be handled simply by turning our planning over to computers – nor by turning our selves into computers. It can only be handled by improvement in social methods of reflection on changes, by new means of “anchoring” social identity, and possibly by a movement for taking the sum of changes at reasonable speed. The last would entail a moratorium of some kind – not on innovation per se but rather on its rapid social acceptance – so that the effects of each change can be mulled over and digested.

Ironically, the moratorium itself would require rather rapid acceptance of a new social norm. But his new norm is surely not unprecedented. All societies up to now have had built in factors that helped lead to inertia when it came to change. Now we may have to invent social means of building such inertia into ours.

We probably can. The very same properties of the Internet and of todays society that allow the rapid transformations I’ve been discussing can be very well suited to creating the kind of social quorum needed to take change more reflectively and more carefully. What is needed a deliberately social innovation. It would involve building new mechanisms for critical discussion, spreading the word about the need for integrating changes more carefully in to existing social fabrics, and offering more, not less, chance for new, well-supported social identities to take root.

T here is one important area in which such a development will hasten a change that is both inevitable and difficult. The fact that western and especially American capitalism relies right now on ever-greater growth ultimately puts it at direct odds with any movements to slow changes, as well as with the inevitable limits to the absorption of change. Investments that result in slowing change are unlikely to be profitable.

For the attention economy, however, things are different. Taking part in deliberating efforts or building good structures for stable social identity can be just as effective as means for obtaining attention as flashier kinds of hi tech innovation, once the case for them can be made effectively.

Sheer Terror?

O f all the problems related to our era of rapid technological change I think the broad socio-cultural ones I have considered here are the most important and worrisome. But another speaker at the Stanford seminar singled out different worries. Bill Joy, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems and a foremost innovator himself, now believes that new technologies are going to permit a kind of terrorism on dangerously global scale. He believes it will soon be possible for one person to prepare and spread unstoppable biological pathogens throughout the world, thereby decimating humankind.

That fear of Joys can be added to a long list of public worries about terrorist threats, either with stolen nuclear weapons, or, as was actually attempted by the Japanese Aum-Shinrikyu cult, nerve gas attacks on confined populations, such as those in the Tokyo subways. So far, I must note, these cults have been far less deadly than those, such as the Interhamwe group in Rwanda, who inflicted genocide with no technology more sophisticated than radio communication. Or take the similar brutality of the rebel followers of Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone, hacking off arms and legs of non-belligerents with primitive weapons. Thus, the fear of a new breed of high-tech terrorists seems somewhat paranoid to me; no one (except governments) has ever done much real damage with heavily science-based weapons.

I f we do fear future terrorists, or future Nazis for that matter, we ought to focus the conditions of social alienation that give rise to such groups. While the origins of evil can never be fully understood, we do know well that extreme movements always seem to come to life in periods and places experiencing major disruptions of long-held patterns of life, where no good alternatives present themselves to take up the slack. In the case of the Nazis, the rapid industrializing and modernizing of Germany following its establishment as a unified nation in the late nineteenth century, accentuated by the chaos of World War I, led to social upheaval, widespread alienation and the search for scapegoats.

While we can hardly hope to live without some rapid change, and we probably cant evade the ultimate end of capitalist rapid growth, the challenge for the entire human race is to find ways to keep the disruptions from being too great. That, rather than steps taken to hunt down or defend against terrorist or genocidal acts themselves, will probably be the most important thing we can do.

Just Do It

As capitalisms survival has come to depend on hyper-rapid growth, the most severe disruption – the greatest pain – occurs in places where industrialization is still the main event, in the third world. The most deeply affected don’t have electricity, much less the Internet. Yet innovations and movements that arise on the Internet are likely to be their best hope.

Nothing prevents Internet-based innovations that knit the world together rather than tearing it further apart. Its only a question of figuring out how to make them – and doing it.

Newsman wrote on Sep 21st 2000, 21:16:01 about


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The Regulation of Liberty

Richard Barbrook, 14.09.2000
Free speech, free trade and free gifts on the Net [Telepolis Mix]

»What makes the constitution of a state really strong and durable is such a close observance of [social] conventions that natural relations and laws come to be in harmony on all points, so that the law... seems only to ensure, accompany and correct what is natural.« – Jean-Jacques Rousseau1 .

The State in Cyberspace

The rapid expansion of e-commerce depends upon effective legal regulation of the Net. As in the rest of the economy, courts and police are needed to enforce the »rules of the game« within on-line marketplaces. Not surprisingly, media corporations expect that the courts and the police will carry on protecting their intellectual property. Anyone who distributes unauthorised copies of copyright material over the Net must be punished. Anyone who invents software potentially useful for on-line piracy should be criminalised. This new common sense has displaced the fashionable anti-statism of a few years ago. According to the Californian ideology, individuals and businesses must compete to provide goods and services within unregulated on-line marketplaces. Above all, this »New Paradigm« supposedly not only delivers greater economic efficiency, but also extends personal freedom2 .

Just like after the American revolution, public institutions will only be needed to provide minimal »rules of the game« for people to trade information with each other. In their constitution, the Founding Fathers formally prohibited government censorship of the press: the First Amendment. This »negative« concept of media freedom emphasised the absence of legal sanctions against publishing dissident opinions. Like their fellow entrepreneurs, writers and publishers should be able to produce what their customers want to buy. Free speech is free trade3 . For decades, experts and entrepreneurs have predicted that the emerging information society would realise the most libertarian interpretations of the First Amendment. They have never doubted the eventual triumph of their hi-tech vision: one virtual marketplace for trading information commodities. Crucially, this pay-per-use form of computer-mediated communications would have copyright protection hardwired into its social and technical architecture. The First Amendment is trading intellectual property within cyberspace.

Intellectual property has long been seen as a commodity just like all other commodities. Yet, at the same time, the sellers of information have always wanted to avoid fully alienating their products to their customers. Even on primitive presses, the costs of reproducing existing publications were very much lower than making the first copy of a new work. Copyright laws were adopted as a pragmatic solution to the problem of plagiarism. Unlike political censorship, liberals believed that economic censorship was essential for media freedom4 . For instance, the Founding Fathers included copyright protection alongside the First Amendment within the American constitution. If free speech was synonymous with free trade, the state had to defend intellectual property.

In early copyright legislation, the ownership of information was always conditional. Just as media commodities were never fully alienated, no one could claim absolute ownership over intellectual property. Instead, copyrights could be lawfully expropriated for a »fair use« in the public interest, such as political debate, education, research or artistic expression. However, during the last few decades, these restrictions on copyright ownership have been slowly disappearing. According to hi-tech neo-liberals, all information must be transmuted into pure commodities traded within unregulated global markets. In their Californian ideology, media freedom is the »negative« freedom from state interference. Yet, in practice, the marketisation of information requires more legal regulation of the Net. Even if nation states give up trying to censor the content of the Net, the courts and police will be needed more than ever to defend the ownership of copyrights.

The Digital Panoptican

While the Net remained a predominantly text-based system used by academics and hobbyists, media corporations could happily ignore the emergence of this participatory form of computer-mediated communications. Yet, when they go on-line, Net users love to share information with each other. For instance, owners of music CDs give MP3 copies to their friends – and even to complete strangers. Much to their horror, media corporations have slowly realised that the Net threatens the core of their business: the sale of intellectual property.

The owners of copyrights are now demanding that the state launches the »war on copying«5 . The courts and police must prevent consenting adults from sharing information with each other without permission. In a series of high-profile cases, industry bodies are suing the providers of technical facilities for swapping copyright material. At the same time, media corporations are experimenting with software which prevents unauthorised copying6 . However, this anti-piracy offensive can only partially effective. For instance, the music industry"s attempts to close down Napster simply encourages people to install more sophisticated software for swapping music. Contrary to neo-liberal prophecies, the transmutation of information into commodities is more difficult in the digital age.

Since intellectual property can»t be protected within the existing Net, media corporations want to impose a top-down form of computer-mediated communications in its place: the digital Panoptican7 . If everyone«s on-line activities could be continually monitored, nobody would dare to defy the copyright laws. Across the world, security agencies are already developing »Big Brother« technologies for placing every user of the Net under constant surveillance. For instance, the governments of the USA and the EU snoop on the e-mails of their real or imaginary enemies8 . According to the Californian ideology, such oppressive behaviour would become an anachronism in the unregulated virtual marketplace. Yet, only a few years later, it is commercial companies which are pressing for the monitoring of private Net use to defend their intellectual property. Ironically, the »negative« freedom of the First Amendment now justifies the totalitarian ambitions of the digital Panoptican.

Despite the futurist rhetoric of its proponents, the digital Panoptican perpetuates an earlier stage of industrial evolution: Fordism. Ever since the advent of modernity, each transient burst of technological and social innovation has been idealised as an a timeless utopia. During the last century, the Fordist factory didn"t just become the dominant economic paradigm, but also provided the model for politics, culture and everyday life. The media corporations now want to impose this top-down structure on computer-mediated communications. Like workers on an assembly-line, users of the digital Panoptican will be under constant surveillance from above. Like viewers of television, they can only passively consume media produced by others. The new information society must be built in the image of the old industrial economy. Free speech should only exist as media commodities.

The Hi-Tech Gift Economy

The digital Panoptican is a future which is already history. For the emerging information society is being built according to principles laid down by the scientists who invented the Net. Funded by the state and foundations, they had no need for on-line systems for trading information commodities. Designing for their own use, scientists invented a form of computer-mediated communications for sharing knowledge within a single virtual space: the »intellectual commons«9 . Above all, the pioneers of the Net knew that the publication of findings across many different books and journals was hampering scientific research. From Vannevar Bush to Tim Berners-Lee, they developed technologies which could transform the passive consumption of fixed pieces of information into the participatory process of »interactive creativity«10 .

As the Net spread outside the university, its new users quickly discovered the benefits of sharing knowledge with each other. Many non-academics also want to overcome the fixed boundaries imposed by the commodification of information. For instance, musicians have long appropriated recordings for DJ-ing, sampling and remixing. The popular MP3 format doesn"t just make the piracy of copyright material much easier, but also encourages enthusiasts to make their own sounds. The passive consumption of unalterable recordings is evolving into interactive participation within musical composition.

What began inside scientific research is now transforming music-making and many other forms of cultural expression. Almost every academic discipline, political cause, cultural movement, popular hobby and private obsession has a presence on the Net. Whether for work or for pleasure, people are creating websites, bulletin boards, listservers and chat rooms. Although only a minority are now engaged in scientific research, all Net users can participate within the hi-tech gift economy. Although some are convinced that »interactive creativity« is the cutting-edge of political and cultural activism, most simply enjoy their on-line projects as a leisure activity. Far from being displaced by the digital Panoptican, the »intellectual commons« of the Net continues to expand at an exponential rate. Free speech is a free gift.

What"s Left of Copyright?

The Net is now proclaimed as the new paradigm of society. Business, government and culture must restructure themselves in its image: flexible, participatory and self-organising. Although often seen as pioneers of the hi-tech future, media corporations are terrified of this emerging paradigm. For the rapid growth of the Net exposes the contingency of their intellectual property. Quite spontaneously, most people are opting to share knowledge rather than to trade media commodities over the Net. Free speech can flourish without free trade.

The media corporations are desperate to reverse history back to the previous paradigm: the Fordist factory. As in old sci-fi stories, they dream of giant mainframes spying upon everyone"s on-line activities. However, this centralised vision of computer-mediated communications is already technically obsolete. How much computing power would be needed to make a detailed analysis of every piece of data flowing across the Net? How could constant top-down surveillance be imposed on all peer-to-peer file-sharing within cyberspace? But, without constant monitoring from above, the effectiveness of encryption and other security devices is limited. When no one is looking, media commodities will spontaneously transmute into free gifts on the Net.

Since there is no technological fix for protecting copyright, the media corporations can only preserve their wealth in one way: state power. Only fear of punishment can force everyone inside the digital Panoptican. For the media corporations, the »negative« form of media freedom now means state enforcement of economic censorship. Free trade is more important than free speech. According to the Free Software Foundation, this growing contradiction between legality and reality within the Net can only be resolved by extending the scope of the First Amendment. The »negative« concept of media freedom must apply to private corporations as well as public institutions. As privileges of copyright disappear, information should be regulated in a more libertarian way: »copyleft«. Although producers should still be able to prevent their own work from being claimed by others, everyone must be allowed to copy and alter information for their own purposes. Free speech is freedom from compulsory commodification11 .

Even this proposal isn"t radical enough for some Net pioneers. For instance, Tim Berners-Lee decided that the original programs of the web should be placed in the public domain. His web programs were much more likely to be adopted as common standards if all residual traces of individual ownership were removed. Owned by nobody, the Net can become the common property of all12 . Crucially, the absence of intellectual property within the Net has never been an obstacle to the successful commercialisation of computer-mediated communications. On the contrary, many dot-com entrepreneurs have discovered that more profits can be made outside the protection of the digital Panoptican. Businesses can communicate more efficiently with their employees, suppliers and customers when everyone uses open source software. While serious money can be made on the existing Net, why should anyone outside the media adopt a less flexible and more intrusive form of computer-mediated communications?

Even for the trading of intellectual property, there is no pressing need for investing in expensive copyright protection systems. Information can still be commodified through other tried-and-tested methods: advertising, real-time delivery, merchandising, data-mining and support services13 . While these techniques remain profitable, the weakening of intellectual property within the Net can be tolerated. Increasingly, information exists as both commodity and gift – and as hybrids of the two. No longer always fixed in physical objects, the social distinction between proprietary and free information becomes contingent. For instance, the Linux operating system can either be downloaded without payment from the Net or be purchased on a CD-rom from a dot-com company. Free speech is both free trade and free gifts.

Making Media

According to current copyright legislation, this new form of free speech is simply a new type of theft. Information must always remain a commodity within cyberspace. Yet, within the Net, free speech is evolving into the fluid process of »interactive creativity«. Information exists as commodities, gifts and hybrids of the two. Yet, the letter of law criminalises the on-line activities of almost every Net user. The »negative« concept of media freedom prohibits political censorship only to justify economic censorship. Free trade is state power.

In their daily lives, everyone knows that there is almost no chance of being punished for swapping information. The existing copyright laws are increasingly unenforceable within the Net. If only for pragmatic reasons, the concept of media freedom now needs be extended beyond freedom from political censorship. In nineteenth century Europe, Karl Marx argued that free speech shouldn»t be confined within free trade. The Left had to struggle not only against political censorship, but also economic censorship. Crucially, the removal of legal controls was an essential precondition, but not a sufficient foundation for free speech. Everyone also had to have access to the technologies for expressing themselves: the «positive" concept of media freedom14 . During the Fordist epoch, the Left almost forgot this libertarian definition of free speech. For technical and economic reasons, ordinary people appeared to be incapable of making their own media. Free speech was restricted to political parties15.

With the advent of the Net, this limited vision of media freedom is becoming an anachronism. For the first time, ordinary people can be producers as well as consumers of information. Marx»s «positive» concept of media freedom is now pragmatic politics. Instead of making media for them, the state should help people to make their own media. Above all, the rigid enforcement of copyright laws must give way to official toleration of more flexible forms of information: bootlegs, copyleft, open source and public domain. «Fair use" is free speech.

For most people, the weakening of copyright protection is someone else»s problem. They are unconcerned that trading of commodities in the old media co-exists with the circulation of gifts in the new media. When copying is ubiquitous, punishing people for stealing intellectual property seems perverse. Instead of formal laws, most on-line activities can be regulated by the spontaneous rules of polite behaviour16 . Sooner or later, even the media corporations will eventually have to accept the demise of information Fordism. The «negative» freedom from state censorship will evolve into the «positive» freedom for everyone to make their own media. In the age of the Net, free speech can become: «...the right to make noise... to create one»s own code and work... the right to make the free and revocable choice to interlink with another«s code – that is, the right to compose life."17

Richard Barbrook is co-ordinator of the Hypermedia Research Centre, University of Westminster, London.

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Created on Jul 29th 2004, 03:51:05 by Bart Starr, contains 18 texts

Some random keywords in the german Blaster

Created on Dec 3rd 2000, 13:51:18 by Rufus, contains 27 texts

Created on Jul 3rd 2001, 13:52:19 by Nils the Dark Elf, contains 12 texts

Created on Nov 20th 1999, 18:38:17 by Gabriel, contains 32 texts

Created on Apr 23rd 2001, 13:54:44 by Tanna, contains 12 texts

Created on Feb 7th 2007, 17:17:11 by Packmann, contains 8 texts

Created on Oct 23rd 2007, 08:23:52 by mcnep, contains 4 texts

Created on Oct 14th 2008, 15:12:02 by mcnep, contains 3 texts

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