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