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Darknet Enlightenment · Monday July 19, 2010 by Crosbie Fitch

Jon Newton of P2PNet brings my attention to a paper by Jessica A. Wood, The Darknet: A Digital Copyright Revolution, in which she notes that we are in the midst of a digital revolution – or as I’d put it, a veritable civil cyberwar between the aristocratically privileged corporations and the digital natives who would escape their iniquitous yokes of copyright and patent, to assert the restoration of their cultural liberty.

Thus the Darknet is not a den of delinquent thieves, but a community of the culturally liberated. While such liberty is outlawed they will remain outside the law, freely copying, freely creating unauthorised derivatives. The belief that such outlaws should suffer million dollar fines for sharing or remixing music is astonishing not so much in terms of monetary magnitude, but in that so many supposedly good lawyers indignantly affirm the righteousness of their persecution of the culturally self-emancipated – as if the bigger the fine the more right it must be. We are thus not quibbling over the amount, but whether it is right to fine someone even a penny for acts that prior to the 18th century enactment of copyright would have been embraced and cherished as part and parcel of folksong, folk music and mankind’s primordial liberty and necessity to engage in cultural exchange.

The Darknet is a cultural refuge from the instrument of injustice that is the privilege of copyright.

Understanding that the technological refuge of a ‘Darknet’ is as amenable to suppression as rumour or gossip among an insurgent populace is to recognise nature and the individual’s natural right to free speech and cultural liberty. It should not be mistaken as thieves being briefly in possession of superior technology to the state.

The Darknet does not signify defeat for a good law. It reveals that the privilege of copyright was bad law the moment lobbyists for the press convinced legislators to enact a statutory monopoly for their commercial enrichment (not insignificantly beholding them to the magnanimous state) – and on whatever pretext the people would find plausible.

No matter. The tide of nature returns and King Canute can no longer pretend dominion.

However, we have three centuries of copyright indoctrination to deprogram ourselves of, and unlike today’s young file-sharing delinquents, lawyers are up to their necks in it. So, it’s a great achievement for someone such as Jessica Wood to allow the logic of the natural world in front of her to overcome the dogma of the industry and its devout faith that music must forever remain non-copyable, unshareable, culturally untouchable, sterile and perpetually protected property of the privileged.

Even so, in her article I linked to above she is still using much of the publishing industry terminology such as ‘content’ which makes her ability to escape its clutches an even more surprising achievement.

She also falls for one of the more platitudinous pretexts for copyright. It only protects democracy in the sense that it provides the state with a self-regulating press and one beholden to quell sedition. The press became powerful as an effective oligopoly (and threat to the state) and that enabled it to lobby for the monopolies that made its commerce so much simpler and more lucrative (at the expense of liberty).

As to the technology underlying the ‘Darknet’, she appears to waver as to whether distributed systems are more efficient/economic mechanisms for diffusing information than centralised systems (see [24]), but that’s a forgivable wavering. They are fundamentally more efficient in all respects. Their only shortcoming is in being so much more difficult to understand and develop than centralised or part-centralised systems. Their designs and implementations thus end up being influenced and compromised by antagonistic legislation and a lack of resources.

The best thing of all is that even without her recognition of the difference between intellectual work (expensive) and copies (inexpensive) (caused in large part by her conflation of the two – as evinced by the nefarious concept of ‘content’), she still ends up correctly concluding that neither monopoly nor tax represent ‘solutions’. Indeed she concludes that copyright should be abolished as causing more harm than good (at least in the digital domain). I suggest she might also reconsider whether copyright was ever a ‘solution’, except to 18th century printers’ commercial interest. The pretext of it being in the public benefit is a sop to the public, for the public certainly weren’t crying out to donate their cultural liberty to the press.

So, Jessica recognises that far from promoting creativity and cultural exchange, copyright actually attempts the opposite, that it is man’s instinctive need to share and build upon his culture that incentivises extreme technological measures to achieve it, overcoming ever more draconian legislation and futile obfuscations such as DRM (also legislatively protected). How much better then to abolish copyright (saying goodbye to fat and wealthy publishing cartels) and allow the people to take over the task of free cultural exchange, dissemination and promotion…

And this is where Jessica appeared to peter out.

She reaches the unsatisfying conclusion that despite evident demand we are looking at a future where people will no longer pay for content. Content producers will have to sell something else, she suggests.

And that’s because she still has some residual brain damage.

The brain damage is (as I pointed out earlier) caused by her adoption and use of ‘content’ in her thinking – the conflation of intellectual work and copies.

She should take a look at the free software industry to help understand that when you neutralise copyright, ‘content’ decomposes back into intellectual work and copies. Once unbound, the copies are sold independently of the intellectual work, and with a free market in both, the copies are so cheap they’re given away for nothing whereas the intellectual work of the software is so expensive that coders are still paid to produce it. Though it must be said, many coders contribute their labour altruistically, especially to works with primarily community/public benefit. That doesn’t devalue their labour though, and so it doesn’t bring down the market price for software development services. The copies might cost nothing to make, but that doesn’t mean you can pay coders peanuts to develop the software you want developed. Intellectual work remains expensive.

Jessica should thus realise that the future without copyright is a future without the concept of content, but not without culture. Given there are no producers and vendors of containers at monopoly protected prices, there is no market for content nor containers/copies. Without copyright people will not pay for copies (well, not digital ones anyway).

The market for copies has ended – along with the market for content with which to fill them.

However, the market for intellectual work continues unabated.

And this is precisely where Jessica should focus next – the exchange of intellectual work for the money of those who want it produced. Copies are free. Let’s get over that. The only ones interested in selling the manufacture and distribution of copies are going the way of the dinosaur (made redundant by distributed systems and the instantaneous diffusion mechanism it is The Internet’s destiny to become). But the work that people want done, now that always has exchangeable value. Whether it’s a paragraph to put on a shampoo bottle or a three hour long movie, where there’s demand and supply there’s money and production. To say that without a monopoly for publishers no movies will be produced is a failure of imagination. If millions of people want a movie produced they will stump up millions of dollars.

And today the refrain is always “But if people can get it for nothing they won’t even pay a dollar”. And then I say “But we’ve already agreed that they can’t get it for nothing because if the producers don’t get paid they won’t produce it”.

Copyright causes this brain damage.

I daresay a similar conceptual stumbling block faced the inventor of the jukebox when he tried to convince people it would make money. “But, why will anyone put any money in it when everyone can hear it play for nothing?”

The people interested in the production of intellectual work pay for it to be produced. That the public are consequently at liberty to share and enjoy the product does not prevent this exchange from happening. Only copyright conditions people to believe that if anyone receives value from an intellectual work without paying for it that they are a thief. The fundamental economic principle is that you pay for labour. You do not charge for value extracted; you do not suspend liberty (copyright) and charge for its restoration (license).

Anyway, that’s the area I hope Jessica will explore next.

For what she has achieved so far, I can at least say “Well done Jessica! Great paper. May you and your words be found credible by those who need their eyes opened to the nakedness of the Emperor’s corruption.”

Essay Writers said 3750 days ago :

This was a great read, even for a vicarious, willful infringer like myself.

Crosbie Fitch said 3750 days ago :

‘Essay Writers’, why do you say “even for an infringer”?

Surely, that should be “especially for an infringer”?

Intelius Review said 3528 days ago :

well.. great point but i guess infringer like me can’t be stopped or moderated.. so live with it.. harsh i know but hey it’s the truth…




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