pirate librarians.

August 18th, 2009 | 1 comment
capitalizing on the library pirate.

capitalizing on the library pirate.

The rate of piracy and cloning ensures, despite copyright protections, the rapid diffusion of ever new products. Their real economic interest lies in achieving mass use of their products, which requires a certain level of initiation on the part of potential consumers. The example of the first public libraries at the end of the 18th century can help us to understand this apparently paradoxical phenomenon. At first, the opening of the first public libraries was seen by book publishers as a serious threat to their profits. But afterwards, free access to reading led to the massification of the publishing market well beyond the initial portion of readers/consumers to whom publishers sold their books, as they exercised a monopoly based on the cost of production. We now know that the monopolistic control of book readers is no longer exercised on the basis of the costs of production and sales but on control over distribution, of the organization of access to knowledge in general. (Marazzi, Capital and Language 95)

The predicament of the music & film industry today – or rather any industry in which the object can be not only easily digitalized & cloned, but then disseminated  – could perhaps learn something from  book publishers of the 18th century. While the case for sharing one’s property in the 21C usually cite  the ‘home taping’ debates of the ’80s (whether cassette tapes or VCRs), the historical precedent stretches into the history of knowledge itself, and its most pointed moments arise in the production of that which tends towards the intangible: the text. (Music, as film, remains a text in this sense.)

Within the history of capital there has been a tension between attempts to cloister the text, such as the book, and thus restrict it to a singular buyer, which clashes with the tendency to share it. Capitalist producers argue for the inherent moral good of cloistering the text, insofar as it is “fair” that the text not be shared without the intervention of capital in the exchange, without the sharing, in short, being accounted in a transaction in which the producer receives further profit. Yet, as in the case of libraries, the cloistered text is a useless one. The most perfectly gated text would also be unknown, unseen, unpurchased. It is only in its sharing – citation, referentiality, intertextuality, sampling, discussion, discursivity, etc. – that it will remain an object of desire (consumption). Of course, advertising is supposed to fill in this necessary supplement, this excess of the text which must be revealed, just a little, like pin-up pornography of the ’50s, so as to generate demand for that which remains veiled. And advertising operates in this space, but only to the extent that (a) there is the attention to it, and the attention economy (the eyeball economy) is now utterly oversaturated, thus reducing its efficacity; and (b) that advertising must use a bit of the principles of sharing without appearing to make use of sharing; and (c) insofar as a sharing network does not already exist, which would preclude the need for advertising. In the 21C, with the digitization of the text in concrete forms, the latter has come into being through P2P and widespread computerized piracy. In short, every computer is an 18th century library, and today we are all pirate librarians, cataloguers of our shared collections.

As “capitalism” is such a vacuous concept – can one speak of ‘global capitalism’, even, today? – perhaps the attempt to enforce the quality of all relationships to accountable ones, to account for the moment of giving as exchange, to reduce sharing to transaction by way of invoking the supplement of monetization, the gift into the sale, is the moment in which “capital” is said to take hold. While this is a classical definition (Marx, among others), and only the first stage (insofar as capital begets capital, speculation, financialization, liquidity, and far more complex forms), it perhaps remains the contested site in which the impulse to share always confronts the dictate to hoard & protect. It is the social moment of capital in the concrete, and interventions within this moment are perceived as distinguished threats (and rightly so, by those seeking to endlessly profit from the cloistered text).

It is at this social moment that sampling ought to be grasped in its challenge. The misuse of the turntable as a looping & sampling machine in recording and performance launched, from the 1970s onwards, a global site of contestation which is still being played out today under the terms of copyright, though it has to do with the very moment in which capital comes into being in the moment of sharing.

A further complexity to this social moment is its ambiguity. At this moment, the clean separation of the gift from exchange, or use value from exchange value, cannot be made, not at least without a possibly catastrophic violence (in short, this is one of the main arguments of Derrida’s Specters of Marx). The two are entwined, not only as opposites that share common ground, but as conditions for the other. Capital does not merely consist of a “vampiric” activity upon useful production, as Autonomist theorists today such as Marazzi would have it (such as with the “vampirization of cognitive labour;” see Capital and Language 142). All sharing involves vampires, all sharing cannot be performed without a few love bites.

What Marazzi demonstrates with pirate libraries is that the sharing of books is beneficial to capital itself. Profits came from realising the increased demand (greater audience of readers) which networks of sharing created. This kind of argument for sharing comes from ‘within’ capital, insofar as sharing is demonstrated to benefit (as in at least stabilize if not increase) the profits of the producer who wishes to retain profitable control over the text. What I seek here is an argument that need not rely upon the crutch of increasing markets or profits to the producer, but rather an argument that values the inherent general value or general good of sharing before the need to speak of (unequal) monetization. A general value, in this sense, would be one in which the individual benefits without the movement of the unequal distribution of capital.

Grrr! Arr!

Grrr! Arr!

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    One Response to “pirate librarians.”

    1. Pirate Libraries – Tobias C. van Veen – http://bit.ly/fP3wxe