Monday, August 16, 2010

After (ɔ)

 McKenzie Wark, Author of A Hacker Manifesto, on.Copygift.
On the one side, a vast social movement has arisen that intuits the significance of digital information as a social fact. In its more public and self-conscious forms, this social movement includes Creative Commons, the Open Source and Free Software Movement. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Submerged out of sight is a vast culture of file sharing, whether using torrents or plain old CDs passed from hand to hand. This private, pervasive new economy—a gift economy in which the artefact is nothing and its digital information everything—might be an even more significant part of this social movement than its more publicly declared aspects.

On the other side are the entrenched interests of the corporate world, which, particularly in the ‘overdeveloped’ countries of Europe, Japan and North America, rely more and more on their portfolios of trademarks, patents, copyrights and on trade-secret law to stay in business. In A Hacker Manifesto I argue that these corporations are the legal expression of a new kind of class interest. No longer a capitalist class, but a vectoralist class. The key to their power is not physical capital such as factories and warehouses, but rather vectors through which they control information such as the logistics of the supply chain, and the brands, patents and copyrights under which a company’s wealth of information is protected. The vectoralist class only incidentally sells things. It sells images, ideas, data, strapped willy-nilly onto things you can buy, from T-shirts to DVDs, from pills to iPods.

Caught between the social movement of free culture and the corporate interests of this vectoralist class are what I called the hacker class. Not just computer hackers, but anyone who makes new information, whether as a scientist or artist or writer or musician. It doesn’t matter what medium. As far as the corporations are concerned it’s all much the same anyway. This hacker class, this creative cohort, has interests that are really closer to the social movement for free culture and the new gift economies it is spontaneously creating. Intellectual property presents itself as being about the interests of the ‘creator’, but it is really about the interests of the ‘owner’. In practice, making a work of music or art or a new drug is not something you can do on your own. You need help from the owners of the vectors along which it might be distributed. So you sell your rights as a creator to those who own the means of realising its value—the vectoralist class.

Via Supriya Nair.

The Copyleft symbol in the title courtesy a friend on Facebook


JP said...

How very Buddhist he gets at the end of the essay. Just like Buddhism, I don't subscribe to this point of view.

JP said...

From the same site, an essay that makes much more sense:

km said...

I detested his use of the word "hacker" in the title then and I still detest it now. (There's nothing remotely resembling hacking when you download an MP3 from a torrent site. But that's hardly important or relevant here.)

Copyright laws (in the developed world) need to be sensibly re-written. Though if you ask me, the push for such a reform is best left to individuals like Larry Lessig. We need less of this "new economy/hacker/vectorialist" speak.

@JP: Maybe I missed it, but what's so "Buddhist" about that essay? (The lack of distinction between creator and consumer and reader and writer?)

Space Bar said...

JP: There *were* more articles on the sidebar, weren't there? I should read.

JP/km: Not sure what I think about the whole thing. It's nice to be radical about ownership, but as a writer, I admit to being selfish about my work and wanting to own it and be paid what I am due for it.

JP said...

km: Exactly. This is so mystical as to be meangingless: 'We can refuse the distinction between reader and writer, consumer and producer, text and context. There is only and only ever the play of the work in progress.'

Is Deepak Chopra this guy's ghost writer?

Spacebar: Exactly. If I do not even stand an outside chance of getting paid for my art, instead of earning all sorts of residual benefits and making money from speaking gigs and merch, I really don't think it works for me.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

[Harvard Press] would not release the book under the Creative Commons licence. Just wouldn’t budge on this issue. So what was I to do?

I wonder if he tried the MIT Press. They do make some textbooks available under Creative Commons licenses, including the all-time classic SICP. (I'm pretty sure the sales of that particular book aren't negatively affected: they may even be positively affected. People still like to own hard copies, but this way they can get exposed to the book without being forced to pay up for it upfront or visit a scholarly library.)

Plus, the "hacker culture" was very much centred at MIT's AI lab, back in the day, and the GNU project got its start there.

O'Reilly too makes a lot of its books available under CC licenses.

km - about "hacker", yes, kids downloading mp3s are not hackers. Originally hackers were programmers who did cool things. Later the media changed the word to mean people who break into computers. But Paul Graham suggests that those meanings are not unrelated. I haven't read Wark's book but, in this article at least, he seems to be equating being a "hacker" with creativity -- ie, producing music, not just copying it. I haven't encountered anyone calling file-sharing users "hackers".

km said...

JP: IMO, there's nothing remotely "mystical" in there. Perhaps the word you are looking for is...utopian? Or even "woo-woo" (which I personally favor) :)

Rahul: I still don't understand why re-mixing music is "hacking". It's just making music, isn't it?

JP said...

Okay, it's pseudo-mystical.

I think he's trying to claim that anyone who 'creates information' is a hacker.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

km - well, in the "hacker" world, a "hack" conveys either elegance, or ugliness, but usually involves changing/breaking the rules in some way or inventing something very new.

In that sense, re-mixing can be a cool "hack". For example, I think this is a neat hack for the way it mixes entirely unrelated video and audio (neither of which is original). Especially the "I have to push the pram a lot" line, which in the original doesn't have a particularly matching visual.

An "ugly hack" a.k.a. "kluge" or "kludge" is something that gets the job done but is conceptually and aesthetically detestable. I'm not sure what the artistic equivalent of that would be.

Also, the above is my interpretation: perhaps Wark means something else.