Concrete web-magazine

19Feb/120

Ad ACTA

As protests against the ACTA treaty gain increasing public attention, the complete lack of a critical understanding of the matter of so called internet piracy by many of the actors of the protest becomes painfully obvious.

There can be little doubt that the protests against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement ("ACTA") are largely motivated by a diffuse fear of persecution for filesharing - perhaps the most common crime of the present day - or at least a dedication to maintaining the ability to copy music, movies, art , books and software without a valid fear of reprisals. Evidence to this is not merely subjective perception, but both public appearance of the protestors (including a youtube video protesting ACTA by depicting German special forces hunting down filesharers in a most gruesome manner - a video that was later linked on the website of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission by the web-group Anitsec) and, perhaps more importantly, the context of ACTA and its protests. It is revealing that the public statements generated by the crackdown on megaupload are almost identical to the ones expressing their fear from ACTA.

Alas, in the real world of respectable politics, few would march the streets demanding the government to respect their right to make unlicensed copies as they please. For a succesful protest that desires to be heard by the state - and the scope of these protests does not go beyond appealing to political decision makers - the demands must be articulated within the existing framework of politics. That means within the framework of private property. Instead of the free access to culture, the ACTA protestors instead challenge an idealized view on parliamentary politics, imagining their civil rights to be threatened by ACTA and phantasizing about a sinister "spirit" of the agreement. That the argumentation reaches the realm of the mythical at this point is not mere coincidence, but rather an expression of the shallow nature of their reasoning. It is, after all, a mere front to ideologically mask their fundamentally economic desire and hide the underlying, very fundamental conflict.

A fundamental conflict indeed - and one that can not be resolved within the logic of a capitalist system. The desire, no, need of the music/movie/software business to reap a profit from their economic activity conflicts with the desire of the consumer to pay as little as possible. That is, after all, the sole motivation behind a companies existence in the first place and failure to do so would mean imminent death for these economic actors, as capital would flow to profitable avenues of business. Technological progress has made the multiplication and distribution of these products - movies, music, books etc. - an almost effortless endeavour. Sure, to record a song you still need to account for the work of the musician, the time he spent writing the song, the time needed to record it, plus all the effort that went into the production of the equipment necessary to produce it. But once that has been done, the labor condensed within this music is distributed on a technically infinite amount of goods - copies of the song - with merely the effort of a mouseclick. The trade-value of a song is distributed on so many copies, that even a single cent would be a horrible ripoff. While there is still labor condensed within the product, it has split into mere trace amounts, impossible to quantify even with the approximate tools of the market - supply and demand.

What's more, the means of production in this sector have become commonly available. Once the song/movie/book is out there in the public, anyone with so much as a computer can reproduce it. There is no need for a massive capital investment to begin production of these copies, nor does quality suffer from the tools available to classes usually without ownership of means of production. It should be little surprising at this point that internet "piracy" is a mass phenomena. It's an economically sound practice from the perspective of the consumer and not only does it take less effort than going to the store to buy e.g. a CD - it is even less effort than registering on iTunes and arranging for the payment.

It is nevertheless utterly unsurprising that there is little empathy for the actions of filesharers by the challengers of market freedom. This can not be explained solely by the threat to profits of the affected companies this poses - at this point it may be worth noting how utterly ridiculous complaints about "backroom deals" and "lobbyism" in the context of ACTA are. As if there had ever been legislature in bourgeoise democracies that was not influenced by interest groups. As if this wasn't the very fundamental modus operandi of parliaments in the first place!

No, the idea that ACTA compromises an otherwise acceptable status quo is at the very least an appalling lack of critical thinking. The historical precedent to ACTA are copyright laws and patents. Let's repeat that. The historical precedent to ACTA are copyright laws and patents. They enforce a claim on an immaterial good through the authority of the state and tax anyone who utilizes the thoughts of another person for his or her own production. It is important to understand at this point that, within a capitalist environment, purely theoretical products (inventions, stories, ideas etc.) have NO VALUE. To avoid misunderstandings, I am talking value here in the sense of trade-value. Sure, the invention of the wheel (yes, it predates capitalist societies, but it is an easy example) was of great use to humanity, but once the idea was out there, anyone with at least a little bit of eyesight could easily figure out how to copy it. Maybe it took the inventor hundreds of hours of intensive thinking, of intellectual work to come up with the idea - but this effort did not translate into an income, nor did it appear in any way within the finished wheels. Those were worth as much as it took on average to produce them in terms of human labor - not how much it took to >invent< them.

Perhaps it stands to reason that those within this sphere of intellectual labor are so steadfast to defend their own monopolies. The spread of digital technology has, after all, created a situation where it is increasingly difficult to enforce the foundation upon which their entire economic existence has been built. Increased repression is one side of the coin, the other is the creation of an ideological stigma (sometimes less succesful as the infamous "you wouldn't download a car" campaign shows) for filesharers. Some of these stigmatization attempts are quite blunt, but many are more subtle, creeping and surely not introduced into the general public through a nefarious plot by the cultural industry (this article wouldn't be complete if I did not at least mention the possibility of antisemitic stereotypes associated with such an idea of a business conspiracy) but rather individual developements, sometimes in direct defiance of the cultural industry - as if to prove that they were wrong about the threat that filesharing poses to the economic survival of artists as independent actors on the market.

These tropes are little more than stalwart reinforcements of market logic. Everything must have a price, everything must be traded on the global market, everything must reap a revenue. Support the artist! Anyone can afford it! Most propagandists of this ideology are probably not even aware of the implicit harassment of those who, in fact, can't. They are perhaps not overly present in the public - and shaming them into silence is part of the reason for this - but there is an undeniably large strata even within western society who has to watch out for every little expense. And this strate is growing.

Perhaps the people protesting ACTA would be well advised to not waste their time appealing to the government - any success reached this way can only be a superficial one. The need to maintain the ability to capitalize on intellectual labor is too urgent as long as we operate in a capitalist system. Developing and providing tools for the masses to evade state attempts to repress the unhindered multiplication of cultural wealth may have a more lasting effect in the long run.

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