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Re: [ox-en] Journal of Hyper(+)drome.Manifestation

 Johan: If you like just post it here (also because it is easier to
read then ;-) .).

Reluctant revolutionaries - the false modesty of reformist critics of copyright by Johan Söderberg
Journal of Hyper(+)drome.Manifestation, Issue 1 - September 2004 Collaborative Filtering 


Any estimation of the long-term viability of the intellectual property regime rests on one fundamental assumption. Whether or not immaterial use values (non-rival goods) are believed to be qualitatively different from material use values (tangible, rival goods).[1] Which position is taken at this point is decisive. Hackers, activists, and scholars campaigning against copyright stress the discrepancy between endless informational resources and limited material resources. Those neo-classical economists that have paid attention to knowledge as a factor in economic growth generally agrees:

?If a public or social good is defined as one that can be used by additional persons without causing any additional cost, then knowledge is such a good of the purest type.?[2] 

Some Marxists, especially those engaged in case studies of the media sector, acknowledge the peculiarity of information resources as opposed to other ?traditional? resources. The two pioneer critics of the ?culture industry?, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, made some comments pointing in this direction: 

?Culture is a paradoxical commodity. So completely is it subject to the law of exchange that it is no longer exchanged; it is so blindly consumed in use that it can no longer be used?[3] 

Hackers charge that intellectual property creates artificial scarcity were it does not naturally belong. This characteristic of artificial scarcity is seen as unique to intellectual property. ?Traditional? property is assumed to be grounded in objectively limited resources. Hence, property relations in material, rivalrous resources are implicitly taken to be ?operational? or even ?optimal?. It can be no surprise that such a claim causes suspicion among radical scholars. In the Marxist discipline, property is a social relation of power. Scarcity is the construct of the property relation, which ensures domination and dependency. In his examination of so called ?poor?, primitive societies, Marshall Sahlin offers a comment on scarcity in modern society which is illustrative for this point of view:

?The market-industrial system institute scarcity, in a manner completely unparalleled and to a degree nowhere else approximated. Where production and distribution are arranged through the behaviour of prices, and all livelihood depend on getting and spending, insufficiency of material means becomes the explicit, calculable starting point of all economic activity.?[4] 

Land was not scarce before the enclosure movement in the sixteenth and seventeenth century England. Law and brute force (primitive accumulation) fenced in resources (land) that had thereto been shared by villagers in a commons.[5] Now it was transformed into scarce property with exclusive rights assigned to individual owners. Thus, Marxists prefer to look upon intellectual property as an extension of traditional property, and highlight the continuity rather than a discontinuity between the two. Furthermore, Marxists would question the analytical procedure, of taking the (informational) use value and its ?inherent? characteristics as the referential point for an analysis. Installing qualities to particular goods or type of goods is a close call to fetishism. The product is, after all, not an entity in its own right. The product is a stage in the process of labour. If there is a discontinuity (as I believe there is), it should not be sought in the discrepancies between informat
 goods versus material goods. It must be located in differences in the operation of immaterial labour versus the operation of direct, living labour. In the words of Maurizio Lazzarato:

?The particularity of the commodity produced through immaterial labor (its essential use value being given by its value as informational and cultural content) consists in the fact that it is not destroyed in the act of consumption, but rather it enlarges, transforms, and creates the ?ideological? and cultural environment of the consumer.?[6] 

The concept of immaterial labour has a particular strong stand within Italian, autonomous Marxist thought. I will, however, suggest another departure point to examine the transition from living labour to immaterial labour in production. In the 1970s more traditionally thought Marxists began to elaborate with classic Marxist texts and accustom the old theories to the changes which they observed. One of the first Marxists to respond to the surge of ?post-industrial? myth (represented par excellence by Daniel Bell and Alvin Toffler), by re-examining dogmas in the Marxist doctrine, was the Trotskyite Ernest Mandel.[7] First, he acknowledged that a threshold had been passed in capitalist accumulation.

?The automatic production of automatic machines would hence be a new qualitative turning point, equal in significance to the appearance of the machine-production of machines in the mid-19th century?[8]

The course towards automatic production of automation is driven by class struggle. Worker's resistance raise impediments to capitalist accumulation. Capitalism overcomes these obstacles in part by revolutionising the means of production.[9] Ernest Mandel combined automation in ?late capitalism? with an century-old Marxist debate on the ?organic composition of capital? and ?falling rate of profit?.

?[?] mass of surplus-value itself necessary diminishes as a result of the elimination of living labour from the production process in the course of the final stage of mechanization-automation.?[10]

Marxist doctrine says that only human labour can add value to a product. Living labour is unique in that it enlarges the value of a product above the sum of its own input (In this narrow, economic sense, the value of the input of living labour, equals the means necessary for the worker to reproduce herself as labour power. In other words, it is the amount of food, shelter, education, and recreation she must consume to be able to work). The amount of additional value she adds to the product above the her own input (above her wage) is exploitation of surplus labour. The massing of surplus labour/value is the stuff which accumulated capital is made of. Dead labour (tools, machinery, resources) does not enrich capital with any more surplus labour. To add more inputs of dead labour will not add any more value to the end product above the value of the inputs themselves. Dead labour is dead weight from the perspective of exploitation of surplus value. Still, capital is compelled to 
 living labour with machinery ? dead labour. Ever larger concentrations of fixed capital is demanded to increase productivity and stay competitive, and as a strategy against labour militancy. The law of the 'falling rate of profit' states that as more dead labour is involved in production, capital gets less and less surplus labour/value out of the process. It portrays a gradual movement towards a logical endpoint where reduced profitability causes aggravated crises and, eventually, death to capital. Ernest Mandel provides a modified version of this narrative: we approach total automation which simultaneously is inconceivable with capitalism. His conclusion does not add up with the late capitalism we live in and observe everyday. Advancement of automation and a deepening of the capitalist relation seems to go hand in glove. Tessa Morris-Suzuki has made a critical contribution to the discussion by working out a model whereby late capitalism can ?square the circle?. She wrote th
 capitalism can sustain surplus value together with a partial, asymmetrical automation, but with a twist.

?This fission of labor inherent in the nature of robots, in other words, creates a situation where it is only in the design of new productive information and the initial bringing together of information and machinery that surplus value can be extracted. Unless this process is continually repeated, surplus value cannot be continuously created, and the total mass of profit must ultimately fall.?[11]

We arrive at what Tessa Morris-Suzuki calls a perpetual innovation economy characterised by accelerating product cycles.[12] In my mind, her approach is very promising for understanding late, post-modern and post-Fordist capitalism. By explaining the collapse of surplus value as asymmetrical and partial, and parried with compensatory strategies, the model offered by Tessa Morris-Suzuki also gives some directions after the ?the law of value? and ?measure? have fallen apart.[13] And her model incorporates the dominant position of immaterial labour within its explanatory framework. 

The state of total automation hinted at by Ernest Mandel would be reached when fixed capital, without any injection of living labour, spit out an infinite volume of goods at instant speed. It is hard to imagine a machine with such dimensions, less than visualising futurist gadgets or (just slightly more down-to-earth) nanotechnology fancies. And yet, it is reality in most forms of cultural and immaterial production. That is what is meant by saying, that information can be copied infinitely without injecting additional living labour. Digitalisation of immaterial labour has leapfrogged capitalism to the endpoint of total automation. There is hardly any value-adding labour taking place in this form of production. One click is all labour it takes to duplicate immaterial goods. The main input of living labour is instead at the start-up of the production process. In other words, in the innovation of it. This is where we find immaterial labour. All forms of labour that can be object
 ified in
 digits are subject to infinite reproducibility. It is the Pyrrhic victory of capital. The end destination of capital's long quest to disband living labour by perfecting the techniques of separating and storing human creativity in systematised, codified knowledge. However, like Phoenix, living labour returns with a vengeance. 

?The constant reproducibility is only limited by the contradictory need within cultural consumption for novelty and difference.?[14]

More than innovation proper, post-modern capitalism is obsessed with the appearance of innovation. It produces an aura of newness in what Fredric Jameson called 'aesthetic innovation'.[15] Only a fraction of the aesthetic innovations made in society occurs within the wage labour relation. That is, in the space conceptualised by Tessa Morris-Suzuki as ?before? production, in laboratories and in ad agencies. Most aesthetic innovation takes place ?after? production. It happens 'after' the wage labour relation, in consumption, in communities, on the street, and on the school yard. It is here the social factory casts its long shadow. The social factory is a place with no walls, no gates, no boss, ? and yet rift with antagonism.[16] 

Living labour raise from the aches. Labour is needed to re-contextualise mass-produced cultural commodities in specific consumer settings. Ironically, context and meaning was robbed from culture in the first place by capital's deployment of Social Taylorism.[17] It is thus I understand Paulo Virno when he says that post-Fordist labour is distinctively ?political?. It is political because it is performed and it structures a ?public organised space?. Similarly, Maurizio Lazzarato assert that immaterial labour ?enlarges, transforms, and creates the ?ideological? and cultural environment of the consumer?. Such a perspective force us to question the notion of consumers as just passive. When factory goods first began to replace household production, it did not eradicate housework outright. Rather, it phased out stages of household work, thereby allowing home production at new stages of aggregation.[18] Thus, commodified and consumed wares and services often implies an aggregated le
 vel of
 home production. Commodified use values are combined in novel and productive ways. This proposition is especially relevant when the use values of a product in part derive from advertising and branding, when, in other words, it is a ?sign value?.[19] A social scenery and semiotic is then crucial for consumption to take place. Consumers must be educated either in how to use a product or to recognise what a product signifies. 

?The consumption of commodified representational forms is productive activity in which people engage in meaning-making to adapt signs, texts, and images to their own agendas?[20] 

Even something as passive as watching television requires a learning process from the viewer. The viewer makes a message out of the signals broadcasted to her and she places the message in continuation with her own narrative. This perspective was advanced by a group of scholars known under the name of British Cultural Studies. They rejected the ?manipulation theses? and the pessimism of the early Frankfurt School, where mass audiences were seen as pacified and duped by the culture industry.[21] Without doubt, audiences have a marginal influence over the message compared to corporate broadcasters. I doubt that fantasy-contests is important enough to pose any serious threat to capital, even if it was ?won? by audiences (whatever that would be?). Appropriation of signals might just make alienated life endurable to those subjugated by commercial mass culture (thus ventilating dangerous pressure and prolonging capitalism). Even so, there is merit in not diagnosing audiences as pac
 masses vis-à-vis the active broadcaster/performer. If we do, we unwillingly reinforce the bourgeoisie myth of labourers, of voters, of computer users, and of audiences; as immobile and merely responding to the active and individual agent (be it an entrepreneur, a politician, an in-house programmer or star hacker, or a Spectacle-author). A more balanced viewpoint is to recognise audiences as involved in a labour activity of sorts. Dallas Smyth daringly made such a proposal. He started with an insight known from the advent of radio and television (the so called Sarnoff Law), that the value of broadcast networks is proportionate to the number of viewers. Smythe recognised that the commodity sold by media networks derives from the audience. Hence the consumer is not the audience but the advertisers, a point which hardly is controversial any more. However, from this reversal of roles must follow, that the producer in question is the audience. He nick-named this input of watching 
 audiences as ?audience power? (mirroring the term ?labour power?) and made some probes for further inquiries.[22] I believe the concept of audience power provides us with the missing link in the discussion. It helps us to discern how audiences are put to work in the social factory and are crafting sign values. Work doesn?t stop after the worker has left the factory gate, certainly a fact known to female workers. In their ?spare time? workers must prepare themselves for the next day in the factory; by cooking, cleaning, and sleeping; and for the next generation of workers, by sexual intercourse. Before the advance of monopoly capitalism, reproduction of labour power was accomplished inside the household. Bread was baked, clothes sewn, tools tinkered with, and mating of adolescents seen to, inside the family or the extended family and community. Today the purchase of consumer goods fills the same purpose of facilitating reproduction, Dallas Smythe insists. Audiences work in th
 e spare
 time to stay informed on what goods are available, which is necessary for them to enable the reproduction of their labour power. His suggestive ideas were picked up and pushed to its logical endpoint by Sut Jhally. He rallies against radical critics who he says have accepted the self-image of the media industry. It believes itself to be the producer of audiences. This is the old myth of ?the productivity of capital?, he charges. Networks merely sell a commodity, audience time, which has been produced for them by others. Obviously, the television staff has done a part. But the other, crucially part, can only be the contribution of the audience. In his view, valorisation of audiences is analogous to the valorisation of labour. The outlines drawn in the ?law of value? can be applied to both. 

?Just as workers sell labour power to capitalists, so audiences sell watching power to media owners; and just as the use-value of labour power is labour, so the use-value of watching-power is watching, the capacity to watch. In addition, as the value of labour power is fixed at the socially determined level of the means of subsistence (thus assuring that labour power will be reproduced) so the value of watching power is the cost of reproduction ? the cost of programming, which ensures the viewers will watch and be in a position to watch extra (the time of advertising).?[23]

?Necessary watching time? is the amount of advertisements that must be watched by an audience in order to pay for the programs they like to watch. ?Surplus watching time? is advertisements on top of this level which the audience is also made to watch.[24] Bizarre as it sounds, I honour Sut Jhally for daring to push these heretic concepts to their absolute limits. Still, something is seriously missing. The thought that surplus labour would consist in simply watching excessive advertising (and thus implying the existence of such a thing as ?necessary time of watching advertising?!) feels totally inadequate. His reinterpretation of the law of value is too literate in its inversion. It fails to capture the multiplicities of ways in which valorisation takes place in the social factory. To work myself towards a conclusion from this whirl of thoughts, I will start all over again with a small objection to Dallas Smythe. His idea is that watching advertisements has become a necessary 
 to reproduce labour power in consumer society. Against his proposal, we could object that it does not take the average six hours a day of televised indulgence to learn about life-supportive consumer goods available in the local corner shop. But if the implication of the ?reproduction of labour power? is stretched a bit further, the idea gets really intriguing. Our concern is not with the needs of the individual to reproduce her labour power. Our concern is with the needs of the system for the individual to reproduce herself in a particular way (which, one way or the other, is often experienced by the individual as her own needs[25]). Reproduction of labour power goes beyond the satisfaction of natural needs (eating, sleeping) required for bare, human survival. It includes the education of the worker with skills required to be employable. What it means to be a productive worker differs with the evolving set-up of the ?mode of production?. So, for example, was a new standard f
 public education set by Fordism. Advanced industry demanded a large workforce with basic skills in writing, reading and calculating. Saying this must not obstruct the fact, that initially it was working class struggle that had won rudimentary schooling for working class children. Capitalism mourned, then it adapted and took advantage of the situation. Public education gradually became part of the social cost for reproducing labour power and an instance for disciplinary control. Today, the ?refusal of work? of the proletariat is pushing back the omnipresence of factory time in ordinary peoples life. It is a desire set in motion not entirely different from the desire of the working class a hundred years ago to be educated. One response of capital to this challenge is Social Taylorism. Speaking the language of brands and signs could here arguably be called a productive, overhead cost. It is an educational requirement for the system to operate smoothly. Watching commercials is o
 ne form
 of immaterial labour taking place in the social factory, but just one. Surplus labour is not located in the moment of watching. To the contrary, it is valorised in the chain effects radiating from commercials.[26] Audience power hints at a valorisation process that has overrun the dichotomy between producer and consumer, the ?division of leisure? that stabilises the commodity form. Peer to peer (P2P) is not an isolated feature of the computer underground but is a universal condition of cultural production. The emphasised role of users/consumers for valorisation in the computer industry, is, however, more forthcoming than elsewhere in the economy. 

?But the software requires its users to learn how to use it. This means that the ability of software companies to capture value is related to our willingness to learn how to use their programs. [?] From this perspective, in the aggregate the users have invested far more time in learning how to use a software program than did the developers.?[27]

This means that the key strategic asset of companies is located in the user base (and thus is outside of the direct control of firms). Know-how of a product among a large audience ensures a high switching-cost for any customer to move to a competing product. The user base provides the chief source of stability for a firm in a highly volatile market. The centrality of commanding the user base for acquiring market power and for taking strategic decisions over the future of the computer architecture, is truly paramount. The mass of people familiar with Windows is Microsoft's only true asset. Take for instance Microsoft's strategy of building technological platforms and license schemes that are not interoperable with competitors (especially targeting the free operating system GNU/Linux). Crucial to the success of this scheme is that the next version of Windows will capture a critical mass of users, in the West and in Third World countries. Otherwise it is Microsoft that will find
 out in the cold. 

The important observation made by Martin Kenney is echoed once again by Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford, and Greig De Peuter in their study of the computer gaming industry.[28] Computer gamers are regularly invoked to test game playability, to edit and advance features in the game, and to promote it, on behalf of a company. It is only lately that companies have identified the opportunities of involving fans and have begun to orchestrate the participation of volunteers. More often corporations are unaware or ignorant towards this activity by fans, or they brand volunteer workers as pirates. This labour ? diffused to the whole of society and concentrated in communities - is reinforced in magnitude of importance to capitalist exploitation, as living labour in production is scaled back by automation and infinite reproducibility. Where living labour is eradicated in the production process, primarily in the area of software and the cultural economy, user collectives become vital
 producers for companies. That is, the activity of users/consumers is emphasised as a source of surplus value for capital.[29] In the foreword to Paulo Virno?s A Grammar of the Multitude, Sylvère Lotringer writes:

?In the post-Fordist economy, surplus value is no longer extracted from labor materialized in a product, it resides in the discrepancy between paid and unpaid work ? the idle time of the mind that keeps enriching, unacknowledged, the fruits of immaterial labor.?[30] 

Crucial to the operation of enclosure is that the labour appropriated goes unacknowledged. An important mechanism in intellectual property rights is, according to Christopher May, the authority it bestows one part to decide over what is recognisable property and what is not. A clear case of how law works by categorising and appropriating is suggested by the legal rights denied collectives while rights are entitled to juridical persons. Knowledge about medical herbs among natives and the breeding of species by generations of farmers, for example, is not-property and freely shared with Western, pharmaceutical corporations. The medicines and cash crops that are produced from this knowledge, on the other hand, are recognised in international treaties and national law as property of corporations. Christopher May, James Boyle, and many other scholars writing on the expansion of intellectual property rights, have labelled it the second/new enclosure movement. But an inquiry into the
 of the ?appropriation of the unnamed? must not stop at the visible and concrete mechanisms that are codified in juridical texts. More colossal is the labour processes that not merely foregoes legislators, but is invisible to the eye of everyone, especially to those who are dispossessed of it. 

My proposition can be clarified by referring to another field where exploitation operates by means of invisibility. In the past three decades, Marxism has been criticised by feminists for its blind spot towards forms of oppression not directly involving class. Feminist Marxists have tried to bridge the two standpoints by showing that (male) waged labor depends on the reproductive work of women in the household. Harriet Fraad, Stephen Resnick, and Richard Wolff extends on this important work in Bringing it All Back Home: Class, Gender and Power in the Household Today. They say that women produces surplus labour at home which is appropriated by their husbands and in a feudal-like relation. The appropriated surplus labour of the wife is bundled together with the surplus labour of the husband-worker. Eventually most of it ends up in the pockets of the capitalist. Now, my proposition is that the exploitative situation in which the wife finds herself is analogous to the appropriati
 on of
 gratis labour from audiences and communities. The Star (the Author, the Artist, etc.) has a role similar to the husband in selling the surplus labour of his audience. The awesome revenues which a handful of superstars can negotiate away from the profit margins of media capital does not derive from their own toil. They are simply relays in the distribution of vast amounts of surplus value appropriated from audiences. It is true that professionals of the Spectacle are labourers too and situated in a subjugated position towards capital. Indeed, to the vast majority of the immaterial workforce, the promise of celebrity is a mere hallucination which keeps them from revolting against the extreme insecurities of their working conditions. The insecurity of their occupations owes to the fact, that the qualities for which they are hired (appearance, chatting, playing) is entirely generic, in the sense that anyone can do it from just being born a human. The sole negotiation power of a 
 springs from her name-recognition among the unnamed masses. The artistic labourer is recognised and ?named? as such in her exchange with capital (including, of course, state capital). Concurrently with the naming of the individual Author, the authorship of the masses is denied, which is also the precondition for the appropriation of their audience power.[31]  The Author has therefore stakes in social mechanisms which projects passivity onto the unnamed masses (in particular intellectual property and the romanticist ideology of the ?artistic genius?). These mechanisms of appropriation are reproduced with every moment of positive labour performed by a 'named' individual. The naming of an individual, her becoming-a-Star, is nothing other than the sign value of her commodified labour. To ask her to resign it would be to ask her to decommission the only quality which separates her from everyone else who could equally well do the same work as she does. Labour theory too partake in
 reproducing the conditions necessary for the exploitation of the unnamed masses. Its complicity in this regard is no different from its long-standing ignorance towards the reproductive labour of women. Like then, labour theory one-sidedly focus its analysis on the employment contract of the professionals of the Spectacle. It is against this backdrop of exploitation that Roland Barthes essay announcing the ?Death of the Author? takes on its fullest relevance. He attest that the meaning of a text does not ?flow? from the writer?s pen, but is created every time it is read in the mind of the reader.[32] The main insight of his is that language can only be a collective experience. Valentin Volosinov was an exception among early Marxists in devoting himself to the study of language in relation to class struggle.[33] In Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, he underlined the same observation:

?Signs can arise only on interindividual territory. (p.12, 1973, emphasis in original) 

I have now come a bit closer to presenting an alternative interpretation to the question raised at the very outset of the article. The Achilles heel of intellectual property rights is better not thought of as ?infinite reproducible information treated as a scarce resource?. It is more rewarding to formulate the paradoxical existence of the political economy of information like this. The necessity of bourgeoisie relations of property is to individualise a fundamentally collective and shared experience. To appreciate the immense revolutionary potential of the statement just made, we need to reflect upon the fact that the core of the capitalist economy is rapidly melting into language.[34] And, concerning language, Lewis Mumford once wrote with incomparable perceptiveness: 

?[...] the production of words introduced the first real economy of abundance [?]?[35] 

At this point the reader may send a thought to any of the dozen of manifests she has read on the 'gift economy of the net', or rallies under the banner of 'information wants to be free'. Paradoxically, herein is also the condition which will make the intellectual property regime so extremely repressive. Giorgio Agamben identifies the stake we are tampering with in his Means Without End:

?For this reason (precisely because what is being expropriated is the possibility of a common good), the spectacle's violence is so destructive; but, for the same reason, the spectacle still contains something like a positive possibility ? and it is our task to use this possibility against it? (p.83, 2000)

The Spectacle is in pain to project a ?John Lockean'-imagery of private ownership turfs on top of the commons that is our shared language. One illustration of how science and its cultural conceptualisation is warped by these needs of the system is given in a thought-provoking essay by Katherine Hayles.[36] The notion that information patterns can be abstracted from its material body is taken for granted by now. She argues that it was an invention made in the sciences in 1940 and 1950. It responded directly to the demands of the techno-scientific industry for a definition on information that allowed for reliable quantifications. For example, Claude Shannon?s theory on information presented in 1948 defines information as a signal indifferent to the meaning it conveys to the receiver. Competing definitions surfaced at the time where information and the message it conveyed to the receptor was inseparable from each other. To assess ?information as meaning?, however, would imply th
 measuring of the changes taking place in the mind of the receiver from receiving the information. Though it would make a lot more sense to include both the sender and the receiver in a definition of what information is, it would also make the term immeasurable. It was such practical considerations, Hayles propose, that made the scientific community to side with a narrowly mathematician, de-contextualised, and counter-intuitive definition of information. Their definition has been reinforced and has established the cultural perception of information as an entity possible to separate from the material body and distinct from its context. Which is the same as to say, a quality that can be separated from living labour and possessed as dead labour, as private property, by capital. It is for this reason we live in an ?Information Age?, and not in a ?Communication Age?. 

The interactivity of digital media, exemplified with the computer, is a standard point of reference among mainstream scholars who celebrate an end to consumer passivity. Passivity has ended thanks to new commercial technologies, they say. [37] Somehow, the persistence of the commodity form, under which both the television and new digital media technologies have matured, is unmistakably left to the side. There are some sobering examples of technologies that enhance 'consumer interactivity'. The shifting of time-consuming tasks from paid employees to unpaid customers when accessing banking services, is one example of enhanced interactivity. Another example would be the 15.000 volunteer maintainers of AOL?s chat-rooms. Or the attempt by the Open Source initiative to co-opt the labour power of free software engineers.[38] These are highpoints in a broader pattern, according to Tiziana Terranova (2000). Free labour has become structural to late capitalist cultural economy. It is t
 totally inadequate to apply the leftist favourite narrative of authentic subcultures that are hijacked by commercialism. Authentic subcultures at this point of time is a delusion, she charges. ?Independent? cultural production takes place within a broader capitalist framework which has already anticipated and therefore modified the ?active consumer?. Interactivity counts to nothing else than intensified exploitation of the audience power of the user/consumer. It is not different to the intensification of exploitation of wage labourers. If we opt for a pessimistic interpretation, the load of tasks which the user/consumer undertakes is exploitation for which not even a penny is paid in compensation. Sometimes, the user/consumer is even under threat of being send to prison or fined for her volunteer work (branded as a pirate). Still, I would opt for interpreting the situation in a different light. The perspective referred to above is coupled with an adherence to wage labour as 
 the sole
 bastion for class struggle. Against this belief, I concede with autonomous Marxists and anarchists, that the captivity of living labour under the wage labour relation must be seen as a historical condition. Struggle against capitalist domination can be fought by refusing to enter that relation as well as from inside the wage relation.[39] Thus I advocate a more benign outlook. I wish to stress the difficulty presented to capital to discipline unpaid activity of volunteers compared to commanding in-house, employed labour (hence the reliance on courts and prison cells under the ?intellectual property?-label for meddling in these kinds of labour conflicts). One reason for the volatility and overall difficulty faced by media industry to predict and steer flows of revenue, might be explained with that media companies have no direct authority over the labour of audiences. In cultural production, financial returns do not seem to follow in a one-to-one proportional relation to the s
 ize of
 capital invested in the project. 

?This radical indeterminacy can be explained in terms of the plurality and instability of cultural processes as value-creating activities, and the difficulty encountered by producers in controlling valorisation, a problem exacerbated by the possibilities of reactivation opened up by the new technologies of replication. At the most basic level, audience membership itself is not a matter of compulsion or necessity, but is principally voluntary and optional.?[40]

Since reproducing (copying) immaterial use-values, and often sampling and producing them anew, can be achieved with as little labour and fixed capital as is provided in a standardised consumer product (computers in particular), users/consumers do not depend on the capitalist production apparatus. It has, partially, departed from the wage labour relation and the direct command of capital.[41] Their activity is, at least to a greater extent than before, guided towards self-valorisation (i.e. labour for its own sake, or, for short, play). This is true, to some extent, even in those cases when corporations initiate and shepherds the process, as when video gamer fans are mobilised to aid commercial game development, or when people willingly expose themselves to commercials. The real promise for social change, however, lies in communities that seize the initiative and forces corporations to follow. Free Software development shows the way. But an outstanding example like hacking mus
 t not be
 taken as exemptions. It is a highpoint in a general pattern unfolding in front of our dazzled eyes.

Certainly, the renewed struggle for liberation is fraught with dangers. The radiation of productive capabilities to a wider sector of the multitude, in one end of the balance sheet effectuating a significant loss of control for social capital over labour, is immediately taken advantage of by individual capitals. The benefits from engaging labour as franchised and freelance ?petty commodity traders? instead of employees are vast.[42] In this way corporate giants can parry the a volatile cultural market by pushing risks down onto lesser entities. But, while taking advantage of the situation, capital also risks new threats to the reproduction of capitalist relations. Under these circumstances, political constitution has to impose the laws of exchange and measure on the whole social terrain. Thus we end up with capitalism spanning everywhere and infiltrating every relationship.

?In the social factory, all the conditions of society confront us as capital. The orchestration and management of social capital (in both its qualitative and quantitative dimensions) become the responsibility of the state?.[43]

Empire differs from imperialism in that capital accumulation takes place in ?intensive' rather than 'extensive' exploitation. Extensive exploitation is (was) the search for new external territory to internalise into the world market. Intensive exploitation is the penetration of cultural and emotional spheres. This marks the stage of ?real subsumption? where every relation, meaning, and representation, is moulded in the image of capital. We must not fall to the temptation, of announcing an one-sided advance of capitalist relations. Actually, capitalism is badly forced into invading the public sphere. Capital has no alternative; it cannot choose not to commodify information and yet ?stay on top?. The overarching intellectual property regime will make capital ever more omnipresent and tyrannical, yes, but that is not to say that it has become more powerful. Rather, its general loss of control is testified in this need for capital to be on guard constantly and everywhere. Is a de
 spot who
 is calling out his armed forces onto the streets more powerful because of it? No, to the contrary, it shows us that he is closer to being toppled. From this approach it also becomes more plausible to say; that the new accumulation regime is not initiated or desired by capitalists, it is at best a strategy of coping. The declaration of a state of emergency is never the alpha of an event. It is always the response to some other build-up of tension. I believe the summoning of the global intellectual property regime is a wounded capitalism falling back on a state of emergency. Intellectual property is capital copping with a fluid, immaterial labour process. Admittedly, individual capitals feed from crisis and incorporates struggles for liberation. In the same breath as accounting for the plausibility of recuperation[44], Antonio Negri stresses that the capitalist system is also strained by struggle and compelled to modify the terms of domination and exploitation. Struggle for
 liberation, even when corrupted, pushes the system further into decline. Hence, I exclaim that capital?s bid to enclose information is an issue of life-and-death for capitalism. Reformist critics of copyright inevitably miss out on identifying the stakes which they are tampering with. Indeed, they choose to ignore it, hoping that policy makers will be more disposed to listen to them if they circumscribe their analysis.[45] Their case for an extended ?fair use? doctrine and weaker copyright protection has to be presented as if compatible or even beneficial to capitalism. It might make for a good rhetoric but it is not an adequate assessment of the situation. The principal flaw of theirs owes to their static understanding of the economy. Static understanding of economy starts with framing the important questions in the terminology of non-rival/rival goods. The fallacy of this intellectual position is made evident in a few quotes by Lawrence Lessig in his book Future of Ideas ?
 Fate of Commons in a Connected World. I have to say, I'm not picking on Lessig. I could easily have chosen almost any campaigner on these issues. Richard Stallman?s famous description of free software as to be about ?free speech, not free beer?, rests on the same assumptions. With his phrase he insists that hackers are defending civil liberties without challenging private property. In Lawrence Lessig's book, he strongly advocates that information should be organised in a commons. He then quickly reassures the reader that markets and commons can coexist peacefully:

?Not all resources can or should be organized in a commons?., and:

?While some resources must be controlled, others can be provided much more freely. The difference is in the nature of the resource, and therefore in the nature of how the resource is supplied?[46] 

It is simply by nature that some resources are non-rivalrous. Such (immaterial) resources are suitable to be organised within a commons.[47] It follows from this position, that it is in the nature of other (material) resources to be organised as private property. If indeed some resources where, and other where not, by nature, optimised for commons respectively optimised for markets, and the proportions between them were constant and stable (inscribed in their nature as it were), then policy makers would face a straightforward technical matter of drawing the 'right' boundaries. With the right boundaries, capitalism could peacefully carry on its exploitation of workers within the designated area of material production. Putting it in this way, the absurdity of the non-explicit assumptions made by reformist critics should be evident to everyone. The idea that capitalist accumulation would stay content within any set boundary is laughable for anyone who accepts there is such a thi
 ng as

I agree in principle that some resources are more or less apt to be organised in a commons, and also that it largely boils down to if the resource is rivalrous or non-rivalrous. My objection is to the abstraction of resources from the process in which they are made, i.e. the labour process. The resource then appears as fixed and existing outside the universe of political choices. A more dynamic viewpoint would recognise as a departing point a metamorphosing labour process, animated by labour struggle and heated by a falling rate of profit, which pushes the production process in the direction of immaterial labour. And therefore, the 'law of value' continues to push in the same direction. It is the rationale for capital to expropriate cultural commons. And, indeed, was it not this threat which compelled reformist critics to mobilise in defence of the public sphere in the first place? To restrict capitalist exploitation to sites of direct, living labour, at precisely the time wh
 capitalist accumulation is migrating to the immaterial labour process, is nothing less than to starve capital. Starve it, ultimately, to death. What reformist campaigners try to hide from is the fact that their moderate vision of an expanded fair use doctrine and loose intellectual property rights in immaterial goods - freely provided in a common, and, side by side, status quo property markets in material goods; is nonetheless a revolutionary demand for a classless society. The abolition of capitalist relations looms at the end of the vector in which labour is racing, which, borrowing the words of Paulo Virno, is:

?[?] the era in which language itself has been put to work, in which language itself has become wage labour (so much so that ?freedom of speech? nowadays means no more and no less than the ?abolition of wage labour?)?[48] 

Hence, Richard Stallman?s famous statement, that free software is about 'free speech, not free beer', must be reconsidered. It can now confidently be said, that if we save free speech, we will have won free beer! Ayn Rand, the foremost among capital?s apologetics, was absolutely correct when she emphasised the centrality of maintaining intellectual property for sustaining the health of private property. Lets end this essay with a heartening strophe of hers, in which she warns her master capitalists of the dangers towering up on the horizon of their bellowed system: 

?Patents are the heart and core of property rights, and once they are destroyed, the destruction of all other rights will follow automatically, as a brief postscript? (p.128, Rand, 1966)



[1] "The contradiction that lies at the heart of the political economy of intellectual property is between the low to non-existent marginal cost of reproduction of knowledge and its treatment as scarce property" (p.43, Christopher May, Global Political Economy of Intellectual Property Rights ? The New Enclosure?, 2000). 

Lawrence Lessig stressed the discontinuity between rivalrous and non-rivalrous goods at the Wizard of OS 3 conference in Berlin in 2004. He urged everyone else to adopt the same rhetoric. It is necessary, he said, in order to mobilise rightwing public support against extended intellectual property rights. The case I wish to advance is that though Lessig?s pledge makes tactical sense to campaigners, it is an inadequate departure point for anaysis. An alliance with the political right would be a brief and fragile one and not worth the loss in insight and perceptiveness among radical forces.

[2] (p.159, Fritz Machlup, Knowledge: Its Creation, Distribution and Economic Significance, 1984)

The concept of ?public good? has played a minor role in the thinking of conventional economists. Nevertheless, a discussion on public goods was introduced by Adam Smith. He offered one scenario where the deemed that collective administration of a public good was preferable to private property, namely in the maintenance of lighthouses. 

[3] (p.161, Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1997) 

[4] (p.4, Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, 1972)

[5] See Michael Perelman, The Innovation of Capitalism ? Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation (2000)

[6] (p.137, Lazzarato in ed. Paolo Virno & Michael Hardt, 1996, Radical Thought in Italy, 1996, my emphasis).

[7] Later, Fredric Jameson would build upon Ernest Mandel?s work and explore a Marxist response to the surge of postmodernism in academia and aesthetics. Jameson called postmodernism ?the cultural logic of late capitalism?. A parallel investigation was pursued by David Harvey starting with the concept of ?flexible accumulation? and the first traces of neo-Fordism that had previously been raised by the French Regulation School in the late 1970s. 

[8] (p.206-207, Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism 1978)

[9] Ernest Mandel is often associated with his research in periodical ?long waves? or Kondratiev waves in market economy, for which he has been criticised of attributing to capitalism a set of ?motion laws? that are mechanical and unhistorical. To denounce such a reading of his work, Ernest Mandel underscores that it is class struggle that raises obstacles that forces capitalism into new waves of innovation, exploitation, and economic upturn.  

?In our opinion, [waves] originate from attempts by capital to break down growing obstacles to a further increase in the rate of surplus value during the preceding period? (p.33, Ernest Mandel, Long Waves of Capitalist Development ? A Marxist Interpretation, (1995)

In this sense his work resembles the ?reversal? of perspective which is forthcoming in autonomous Marxist thinking, where class struggle is set prior to capitalist innovation:

?In effect, capitalist innovation is always a product, a compromise or a response, in short a constraint which derives from workers? antagonism.? (p.158, Negri in ed. Saree Makdisi, Cesare Casarino & Rebecca Karl E, Marxism Beyond Marxism, 1996)

[10] (p.207, Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, 1978, emphasis in original). 

[11] (p.18, Tessa Morris-Suzuki, in ed. Jim Davis, Thomas A. Hirschl & Michael Stack, Cutting edge: technology, information capitalism and social revolution, 1997)

[12] Alvin Toffler has, without the theoretical underpinning of course, noticed that ?economy of speed? would replace ?economy of scale? (Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave, 1994). Economy of scale, i.e. concentration of fixed capital, has played a crucial role in wresting away the capabilities of workers to self-organise their collective labour. I believe that in a race for ?economy of speed?, living labour has advantage over dead labour, in precisely being living, mutable, in motion. 

[13] Antonio Negri has theorised on the breakdown of the ?Law of Value? and its consequences for exploitation (Marx Beyond Marx ? Lessons in the Grundrisse,1991) 

[14] (Nicholas Garnham, 1990, Capitalism and Communication, 1990)

[15] ?[?] The frantic economic urgency of producing fresh waves of ever more novel-seeming goods (from clothing to air planes), at ever greater rates of turnover, now assigns an increasingly essential structural function and position to aesthetic innovation and experimentation.? (p.4-5, Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 1991)

[16] This important term was introduced by Mario Tronti in La fabbrica e la società back in 1962: 

?At the highest level of capitalist development social relations become moments of the relations of production, and the whole society becomes an articulation of production. In short, all of society lives as a function of the factory and the factory extends its exclusive domination over all of society.? (translated and quoted by Harry Cleaver, p. 137, in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn & Kosmas Psychopedis, Open Marxism, 1992:2).

[17] "Our argument is that this gathering of skill/knowledge/information, hitherto most apparent in the capitalist labour process, is now entering a new and more pervasive stage ... We are talking about a process of social deskilling, the depredation of knowledge and skills, which are then sold back in the form of commodities [...]" (p.65-66, Robins and Webster in ed. Mosco and Wasko, 1988)

[18]  ?Making and maintaining things at home increasingly meant using things made in factories; producing was consuming [?]. But of course nineteenth-century factories also made thousands of commodities for use in home production.? (p.165, Ohmann, 1996)

[19] ?Sign value? was formulated by Jean Baudrillard and is central in his criticism of Marxism (For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, 1981) He charged that use value in Marxist doctrine is merely an alibi for exchange value. Jean Baudrillard has rightly been criticised for theorising use value solely from the standpoint of how it is imagined by capital, and thus for denying the role of class struggle in defining needs and uses of commodities (Douglas Kellner, Jean Baudrillard ? From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond, 1989). Still, in agreement with Douglas Kellner and Martyn Lee (p.23, Consumer Culture Reborn ? The Cultural Politics of Consumption, 1993), I believe the concepts raised by Baudrillard are valid and deserve to be considered in a Marxist analysis.

[20] (p.57, Rosemarry J. Coombe, The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties ? Authorship, Appropriation, and the Law, 1998)

[21] In the eighties and early nineties this perspective swung into another extreme, so that John Fiske celebrated the resistance of television viewers in their appropriation of meaning from the signals broadcasted to them. (Television Culture¸1987)

[22] To equate ?audience power? with ?labour power? of employed workers is controversial to say the least. In his review of Marxist perspectives on the political economy of communication, Vincent Mosco dodges the question if audiences could be spoken of in the same sense as living labour, a source of surplus value. Mosco grants that the relationship between audience and broadcaster, a relationship of mutual dependency and yet ripe with antagonism, can metaphorically be likened with the uneasy coexistence between workers and management. (p.149, Vincent Mosco, The Political Economy of Communication, 1996).

[23] (p.84-85, Sut Jhally, The Codes of Advertising: Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in the Consumer Society, 1987)

[24] To illustrate the mechanism, Sut Jhally proposes a situation where an audience is lured to watch twelve advertising spots as part of watching a popular television program. 

?For four of the twelve advertising spots the audience is watching to cover the cost of the programming (which the audience presumably wants to watch). It is necessary for the audience to watch four spots to produce value equal to the cost of programming. For four spots the audiences watches for itself. For the remaining eight spots the audience is watching surplus-time (over and above the cost of programming). Here the audience watches to produce surplus-value for the owners of the means of communication, the networks or the local broadcasters. (p.76, ibid., 1987)

[25] ?Rather, [needs] are better defined as function induced (in the individual) by the internal logic of the system: more precisely, not as consummative force liberated by the affluent society, but as a productive force required by the functioning of the system itself.? (p.82, Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, 1981, emphasis in original) 

[26] Investigations into advertising must go beyond the undue emphasis on exposed audiences and their spending habits. In those studies the question is limited to asking, if enough people have decided to buy a product from watching a commercial. As Sut Jhally recognises in his book, the impact of advertising is a much broader one. It establishes a semiotics of hierarchy and positioning vested in consumer goods, not just influencing the group watching the commercial, but through word-of-mouth, unconscious quirks, attitudes and so on, spreads to the whole community. It is in this sense the crucial insight by Judith Williamson (p.41-42, Decoding Advertising 1978), should be understood, that advertising works through audiences, not at audiences. 

[27] (p.94, Martin Kenney, in ed. Jim Davis, Thomas A. Hirschl & Michael Stack, Cutting edge: technology, information capitalism and social revolution, 1997)

[28] (Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Greig De Peuter, Digital Play ? The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing, 2003)

[29] A question which Sut Jhally struggles with is the objection, if it is meaningful to talk about an activity as ?unwaged labour? when the task has voluntarily been entered by the user/consumer? It is true to some extent, that if an individual?s decision on consumption can be conceived as voluntary (even if manipulated), then to engage the kind of labour power represented by the consumer, companies must subject labour tasks to the same grade of voluntarity. Labour becomes play ? and vice versa. But this response only recognises the tip of the iceberg of the surplus value extracted from audiences. It is the exposure to capitalist relations and the retransmission of these relations, imbedded in the micro-politics of human interaction (to refer to a key concept by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari elaborated on in their two-volume work Capitalism and Schizophrenia), that is crucial. This labour is involuntary since it is performed in a conceptual space over which the individua
 l cannot
 decide if she is to refuse or to accept.

[30] (p.12, 2004)

[31] See Ivan Illich in The Right to Useful Unemployment and its Professional Enemies:

 ?The power of professions to measure what shall be good, right, and done warps the desire, willingness, and ability of the ?common? man to live within his measure.? (p.81, 1978) 

[32] This insight underpins the whole body of post-structuralist and deconstructivist thought that dominates in French philosophy. In addition to Roland Barthes essay, to be found in Image, Music, Text, (1988), Foucault roused similar questions in an essay published in ed. Paul Rabinow, The Foucault Reader (1991)

[33] The emphasis on language, common to poststructuralist, French philosophers like Derrida and Foucault, is lacking in traditional Marxist sources, which, up till recently, has been consumed with the pre-eminence of social relations in manual labour. Mark Poster sees a great potential for analysis if the linguistic forms for domination, power, and liberation, exposed in Foucault?s studies, were situated within the developments of post-Fordist capitalist accumulation. (Mark Poster, The Information Subject, 2001).

[34] ?Today productivity, wealth, and the creation of social surpluses take the form of cooperative interactivity through linguistic, communicational, and affective networks.? (p.294, Hardt & Negri, 2000) Ernest Mandel phrased this stage of late capitalism as ?the mechanisation of the superstructure?.

[35] (p.96, Lewis Mumford, Technics and Human Development 1967)

[36] (in ed. Peter Lunenfeld, The Digital Dialectic ? New Essays on New Media, 1998)

[37] Alvin Toffler was early out in celebrating the interactivity of video games. He contrasted the involvement in playing video games with the passivity of watching television. Interestingly, Toffler was the first to acclaimed the coming of the 'prosumer'. (Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave, 1981)

[38] Intellectual property law is standing in for employment contract law. The furthest case in formalising the labour relations of the Open Source model has been achieved by the U.S. patent 6,658,642, which IBM was granted in 2003. It describes an Open Source model for requiting and rewarding free/open programmers. The appeal of this model, IBM attests in their patent application, is that it allows them to draw from a world-wide pool of programmers while lowering the cost for software development. Those who doubt that FOSS development could potentially undermine the position of in-housed, waged labour, is of a different mind than are the managers at IBM. 

[39] ?In fact, exodus ? exodus from wage labor and toward activity, for example ? is not a negative gesture, exempt from action and responsibility. On the contrary, because defection modifies the contradictions within which conflict takes place, rather than submit to them, it demands a particular high level of initiative ? it demands an affirmative ?doing?? (p.32, Paolo Virno in ed. Paolo Virno & Michael Hardt, Radical Thought in Italy, 1996)

[40] (p.47, Celia Lury, Cultural Rights ? Technology, Legality and Personality, 1993)

[41] This leads Lester Thurow to ask his readers: 

?What does capitalism become when it cannot own the strategic sources of its own competitive advantage?? (p.279, The Future of Capitalism,1996) 

David Lyon, known for his research on digital surveillance, could have ended up with an unsettling answer: 

"The question is, what will happen when workers, with all their new responsibilities for quality, ask why management is needed at all? Holding on to the means of surveillance is the only remaining basis of power that managers have over their workers" (p. 133, David Lyon, The Electronic Eye ? the Rise of the Surveillance Society, 1994)

[42] Franchisees are in many respects worse off towards the franchiser, than is the employee towards the employer. Ownership over physical installments (the restaurant, the shop, etc), which in most cases are bought with loans and is actually in the possession of the bank, translates into greater insecurity (Alan Felstead, The Corporate Paradox ? Power and Control in the Business Franchise, 1993)

[43] (p.112, Robins & Webster, in ed. Slack & Fejes, The Ideology of the Information Age, 1987) 

[44] Recuperation describes how capital can take advantage of and subvert attempts by the working class to break free from exploitative relations.

[45] Jim Allchin (Microsoft's OS chief) accusation that GNU/Linux is un-American (in this case to be understood as un-capitalist) (reported in Bloomsberg News, 2001/14/02), was vigorously refuted by Open Source activists and many Free Software developers. In unison they denied that GNU/Linux was threatening property relations, and insisted that it merely threatens one particular monopoly (Microsoft?s). In my view, this proves that Microsoft?s strategists have assessed the magnitude of GNU/Linux better than many of GNU/Linux own defenders and developers have.

[46] (p.93, 2001) and (p.94, ibid.).

[47] In other chapters Lawrence Lessig takes a different view, giving examples of how resources have been made scarce or non-scarce by politically motivated choices on architecture (broadband and radio frequency for example). But when reassuring the reader that commons in information will not infringe on market economy, he describes the demarcation between scarce and non-scarce resources as if to be stable. Most other writers sympathetic of this view take the dividing line as ahistoric and immutable, and their position can indeed be criticized for being essentialist.

[48] (p.271, Virno, in ed. Paolo Virno & Michael Hardt, Radical Thought in Italy, 1996)


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