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[ox-en] [Upd-discuss] Paper:"Digital property" By Sabine Nuss - Response to Stallman

A few days ago I got the mails from the upd-discuss-mailinglist, where Stallman criticized my paper about digital property. I’m really glad, that my arguments are discussed. I would like to answer to Stallman’s critic, because there were some interesting points in his reaction, but also some misunderstandings.

One of the main critic of Stallman was the use of the term copyleft, from which he said that it was used in a false way. I think there is a reason for this misunderstanding in my text: I took the term more as a label than as a strict juristic term, which refers to a certain type of license. And: I did not have only Free Software in my mind when I talked about „Free Information“. E.g. on some point I mentioned the Acrobat Reader as an example for a special business practice, where things are giving away free of charge to bind people to a certain product. It was NOT meant to be an example of free software. I admit, one has to distinguish different digital goods more precisely, in free software, shareware, freeware - and what else one can term. But in that short paper I only wanted to stress and analyse arguments for a less restrictive copyright system. In the debate about intellectual property in the internet these arguments are not only related to free software, but to all sorts of digital goods. So much for that.

I continue with direct response to Stallman’s Mail:

I wrote in my paper:

„The internet freedom fighters explicitly separate cyberspace from the real world (other rules etc.). This is false, both analytically and in reality.“

Stallman wrote in his mail:

„Here the article argues against a straw man. Of course software is a
part of the real world--what else could it be, a fantasy? The use and
development of software are part of the real world, too.

What we say is that what can be done with software (and other
information) in the real world is different from what can be done with
physical objects--and this has consequences.“

According to the internet freedom fighters is that, what can be done with software (and other information) in the real world, different from what can be done with physical objects. But: the internet freedom fighters draw the consequences that there must be other rules for this sphere. That was the point I wanted to stress. Now I would add, that in a capitalistic society for the „immaterial world“ the same rules are valid as for the material world: private property is the precondition for selling things (unless intellectual work is protected by a different law – the copyright law). But one have to find alternative ways to execute these same rules: If you will earn money with free software, and you don’t fence in the code as private property, then you have to find other areas connected to the code, where you can earn money with, e.g. writing and selling the handbook or the support.

I wrote in my paper:

„The critics of private property relations on the net refer only to the level of commodity circulation. They don’t take into account the sphere of capitalist production.“

Stallman wrote in his mail:

„We are more concerned with the use of software than with its
development for a specific practical reason: the use of software (the
word "commodity" is inappropriate) affects our freedom, where as its
development does not. Therefore, the details of the social system of
use of software are directly important to us, in way that the system
of development isn't.“

When I wrote about “production” I had not only in mind the development of software, but all branches of capitalist production. My point was that the scope of critic of the internet freedom fighters is too limited, when restricted to circulation. It seems a little bit funny, how Stallman confirms this point. When he reads production, he only understands production of software. What is less funny is his view that only the use of software “affects our freedom”. Apparently, the only freedom he knows is the freedom of the consumer. That freedom is also affected by capitalist production, not only by submitting the workers in the capitalist production process but also by implementing the logic of profit to the whole society, he doesn’t seem to recognize.

Stallman wrote in his mail:

„The word ‚commodity’ is part of the Marxist mind-set that thinks in
terms of economic value only.“

It would be nice, if everyone who uses the word commodity would have at least a few Marxist ideas in mind. Unfortunately it is word used in any modern economic theory. But it is correct, that “commodity” stresses the connection to economic value. And that every economic theory does this may have its reason in the fact, that we live in a capitalist society, where economic value is the most important attribute of goods.

Stallman wrote in his mail:

„To speak of ‚realizing the value’ assumes that the only value of a work
consists of the money that could be made from it.

There is more than one conceptual way to value a work. One value is
_what you get in exchange for it_, and the other is _what it
contributes to society_.  For material commodities in a competitive
market, the former tends to follow the latter (but watch out for
externalities, such as pollution that neither the producer nor the
consumer pays for).  But that conclusion is not universally
applicable. In cases where it is not applicable, the two kinds of
"value" have to be distinguished.“

It is correct to distinguish between economic value, which is realized in money and a value contributing to the society. But what Stallman then says, that in a competitive market the economic value tends to follow the value for the society is nothing else as the prophets of free markets pretend in advertising their paradise. But the real capitalism looks not so nice. Here economic value follows profit: on the one hand a lot of useless stuff is sold, after expensive advertisement has created the need for it and on the other hand a lot of things and services, which would contribute very well to society is not produced because this production would bring no profits. So, that economic value doesn’t follow the contribution for society is not a very special case in a capitalist society. Such a view can only occur if one is only looking at one branch and neglecting capitalism around.

My conclusion is:

In the material world the scarcity is artificial as well, it is the result of the private property regime: in nearly every capitalist economy you have a lot of unemployed persons and unemployed capacities. Would they come together a lot of useful goods could be produced. But they come only together, when you can make profit by this production. Also in the material world profit is the main determinant of scarcity. We don’t recognize this anymore because we are used to it, we take it as natural and as such a natural thing it is the starting point in our analysis. This is the reason why every economic textbook starts with the sentence „goods are scarce“. The measures undertaken in the last century to commodify the „Cyberspace“, that means to put property protection technologies in it and to pass appropriate laws, shows that the same rules are valid - in the material and the immaterial world. The difference between these worlds lays only in the material consistence, which requires a different dealing with the way of commodification. Fighting for free software „without“ criticizing capitalism as such means to help capitalism in finding new and modern forms of capital accumulation and exploitation. With such a fight for freedom one supports a system, which is based on bondage - it is an oxymoron.

S a b i n e   N u s s
political scientist / journalist
wbk - the vienna office combine, berlin
Member of the Editorial staff of Prokla, Journal for Critical Social Sciences
sabine.nuss prokla.de_________________________________
Contact: projekt

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