Parlem del cànon i dels nous models de negoci en l'era digital amb Felix Stalder i Peter Sunde, que han pres part en el Fòrum d'Accés a la Cultura a l'era digital, congregat a l'Arts Santa Mònica de Barcelona.
I spent the last few days at the Free Culture Forum in Barcelona, which was focusing on sustainability of free culture.
One of the main themes of the discussion was the culture flatrate and the collecting societies. In part because the main organizer of the forum, exgae, is in a high-stakes fight with the Spanish collecting society, sgae. In part, because the notion of a culture flatrate appears to be gaining some ground politically. I use the qualifier 'appears' on purpose, because I haven't seen it at all, but others, who are more deeply plugged into the back channels of the policy process, are saying so.
The discussion, though, was rather unproductive, confusing and exhausting, mainly because the two concepts are mutually exclusive.
Free Culture, in its most basic notion, is about the resources and rights available to every individual to make a contribution of his or her choosing to culture (a distributed system of meaning) and to communicate the activities to anybody he or she wishes to. It is a transformative view of culture were the input and output of the productive process are not categorically distinct, implying that existing cultural artifacts and processes are part of the resources available to everyone.
In early 2007, Steve Jobs (of all people!) concluded in his 'Thoughts on Music' that "DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work."1 Soon after, one label after the other started selling music in "unstricted"2 formats, and there was much celebration about the death of DRM. And, there were lots of reasons see things this way: Digital Rights Management Systems were very unpopular with the public. People hated them. Plain and simple. And they were technically unstable, because the encryption, once released to the public, was regularly broken within a few days. And attempts to re-engineer the entire computer operating system to make DRM possible -- Windows Vista -- turned out be be equally unpopular and fraught with internal problems.
Fast-forward three years. Increasingly, our data is up in the clouds. The decentralized architectures for digital production of the 1990s are being phased-out. Google is pushing an operating system (Chrome) were all data is being stored online and virtually nothing remains on the computer. The device which individuals own is being reduced to a relatively dumb terminal. The apple IPad, it seems, is optimized for consumption (and thus hailed as the savior of the old, consumer oriented media industries).
This text, which tries to summarize and situate the concepts and practices of the digital commons, is my contribution to the "Dictionary of the Human Economy". The editors explain in the introduction:
We want to bring to the attention of English readers some currents of economic theory and practice that have flourished in non-Anglophone countries over the last two decades, particularly in France, Brazil, Hispanic America and Scandinavia. To these we have added significanst work by English-speaking authors that was sidelined during neoliberalism‟s heyday and deserves to find a wider audience now. We have brought these strands of new thinking together under the umbrella concept of “the human economy” which refers to an emphasis both on what people do for themselves and on the need to find ways forward that must involve all humanity somehow.
The digital commons comprises informational resources created and shared within voluntary communities of varying size and interests. These resources are typically held de facto as communal, rather than private or public (i.e. state) property. Management of the resource is characteristically oriented towards use within the community, rather than exchange in the market. As a result, separation between producers and consumers is minimal in the digital commons.
The Register has an interesting article on the growing tensions between Google and Mozilla. It highlights the dangers of monopoly and the fundamental differences between non-profit and for-profit corporations and their outlook on the world.
"I look at Google and I don't see a lot of alignment with the big picture of the internet," says Asa Dotzler, the ten-year Mozilla vet who was among the team of three or four who founded the Firefox project back in 2002.
"Google is essentially an advertising company. That's where they make their money. They provide a wonderful service - primarily their search service - but it serves their advertising goals. It serves their revenue goals. The more they can know about their users, the more effective they believe they can advertise, the more money they believe they can make. That is most fundamental."
There is very little information about the back-end of Youtube (provided by a company called audible magic), which watermarks content to screen for copyright violation. But there's an interesting snippet by Viacom's general counsel.
Fricklas points to the recent MTV music awards, where Kanye West rushed the stage, grabbed the mic, and delivered his Internet-meme-producing-line, "I'mma let you finish, but…" Viacom quickly uploaded the evening's footage into the content recognition engines of sites like YouTube, which can then block exact uploads of the same footage or allow rightsholders to monetize it with ads. Viacom used the tool to block copies of the clip, but not without offering a solution of its own: the clip was hosted on Viacom websites and was embeddable and linkable.
It also points to a more flexible strategie: Block exact copies, earn money from other people's mash-ups (who themselves don't earn money).
Source: Ars Technica,Viacom's top lawyer: suing P2P users "felt like terrorism" November 16, 2009
If we want to enable free access to knowledge goods, we need to find ways to finance the first copy. The industrial business model has been to regard the costs of the first copy as up-front investment that is later recouped by controlling access to subsequent copies. This model is clearly broken, if everyone can make copies, or if the resulting price of the copies is so high, that people who need them, cannot afford it. As is the case with many drugs, particularly, but not only, in the developing world. In the case of the latter, the big idea is to move away from the patent system (which grants exclusivity as an incentive to invest in research) to a system of prices. As James Love and Tim Hubbard write in an extensive research paper:
Reforming the way we pay for R&D on new medicines involves a simple but powerful idea. Rather than give drug developers the exclusive rights to sell products, the government would award innovators money: large monetary “prizes” tied to the actual impact of the invention on improvements in health care outcomes that successful products actually deliver.
Source: James Love and Tim Hubbard. "The Big Idea: Prizes to Stimulate R&D for New Medicines." Chicago-Kent Law Review, Volume 82, Number 3 (2007)
In an attempt to connect filmmakers with the distribution power of the file-sharing community, Steal This Film director Jamie King has launched VODO. The project includes partners well known to the file-sharing community like Mininova, The Pirate Bay, isoHunt, Miro, Vuze and Frostwire, who have pledged to promote the works of VODO films.
Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf (Harvard Business School) have a paper out in which they examine whether file sharing (and thus a weaker copyright) does negatively impact on incentives to create, release and market cultural works. Their answer is no (to the extent that data is available). Both for empirical reasons (considerably more music, books, and films have been released in 2007 and in 2000) and theoretical reasons (substitutes vs complements; artistic motivations vs financial motivations).
The NYT has an article that the Taliban's financial resources have been diversifying. Most interestingly, their number one source of money is no longer drug-related (though that is still important) but stems from donations.
The C.I.A. recently estimated in a classified report that Taliban leaders and their associates had received $106 million in the past year from donors outside Afghanistan (...). Private citizens from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and some Persian Gulf nations are the largest individual contributors (...) there is no evidence so far that the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or other Persian Gulf states are providing direct aid to the Afghan insurgency.
Back in the days when states were the main actors in international politics and security matters, it was impossible to run a guerrilla war without some outside state backing it. The Soviets would never haven been defeated in Afghanistan without the CIA financing and equipping the mujahedeen. This seems no longer to the case. While this is not directly related to the ability to pool small resources for major projects characteristic of many internet-based organizations, it seems in line with a general trend that it becomes more easy to aggregate the resource of large, loosely organized networks.