WOS4: The Creative Anti-Commons and the Poverty of Networks

Dmytri Kleiner 16.09.2006 21:33 Themen: Medien Netactivism
The Wizard of OS conference is currently underway in Berlin, as is to be expected, the fourth edition of this biannual gathering of proponents of free software, free culture and alternative economics has brought together a fascinating group of presenters and participants.
The dominant themes of this year's conference are centred around the work of Lawrence Lessig and his many collaborators in the Creative Commons family of resources and projects, and Yochai Benkler's ideas relating to "commons-based peer-production" or "Social Production" as expressed in his book "The Wealth of Networks."

In his key-note address Lessig presented a history of culture framed in the idea of a "Read-Write" culture, a culture of free sharing and collaborative authorship, having been the norm for the majority of history and having been, over the course of the last century, thwarted and exterminated by Intellectual Property legislation and converted to "Read-Only" culture dominated by a regime of Producer-Control .

In his presentation Lessig bemoans a number of recent travesties where the work of artists was censored by copyright law, mentioning DJ Dangermouse and his "Grey Album" and "Jesus Christ: The Musical" by Javier Prato, both projects torpedoed by the legal owners of the music used in the production of the works, similar to the experiences of Negativland and John Oswald before them.

It is important to note here that in all of these cases the wishes of the artists, consumers in the eyes of the law of the music in question, was subordinated  to the control of the legal representatives of the producers, The Beatles and Gloria Gaynor respectively.

The specific problem expressed, then, is that Producer-control of culture, by creating a Read-Only culture is a hindrance to culture; destroying the vibrancy and diversity of popular cultural on behalf of the narrow interest of a few privileged "producers" at the expense of everybody else.

The idea of producer-control is presented in contrast to the idea of a cultural "commons" a common stock of value that all can draw from and contribute to. The "commons," then, denies the right of producer-control and instead insists on the freedom of consumers. Thus, the "free" in "free culture" specifically refers to naturally unhindered freedom of "consumers" to make use of the cultural common stock and not the state-enforced "freedom" of "producers" to control the use of "their" work. Or more to the point, the idea of a cultural commons does away with the distinction of producers and consumers of culture-- seeing them as being in fact the same actors in an ongoing iterative cultural discourse.

Lessig argues that now, as a result of the Creative Commons and commons-based peer-production, Read-Write culture is reborn anew; the beneficiary of a rich-commons and a wealthy network.

The questions must be asked: Is the "Creative Commons" really a commons? And in what way is the network really wealthy? Or more specifically, who is a position to convert the use-value available in the "commons" into the exchange-value needed to acquire essential subsistence or accumulate wealth? Who are the real material beneficiaries of the wealth of the network?

The website of the creative commons makes the following statement about it's purpose: "Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright -- all rights reserved -- and the public domain -- no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work -- a 'some rights reserved' copyright."

( http://creativecommons.org/learnmore)

The point of the above is clear, the Creative Commons, is to help "you" (the "Producer") to keep control of "your" work. The right of the "consumer" is not mentioned, neither is the division of "producer" and "consumer" disputed. The Creative "Commons" is thus really an Anti-Commons, serving to legitimise, rather than deny, Producer-control and serving to enforce, rather than do away with, the distinction between producer and consumer.

The producer is invited by the Creative "Commons" to chose the level of control they wish to apply to "their" work, including such choices as forbidding duplication, derivate works and "commercial" use of the work, specifically providing a framework then, for "producers" to deny "consumers" the right to either create use-value or material exchange-value of the "common" stock of value in the Creative "Commons" in their own cultural production.

This is more than evident by the fact that, even had the Beatles and Gloria Gaynor published their work within the framework of the creative commons, it would still be their choice and not the choice of  DJ Dangermouse or Javier Patro, whether "The Grey Album" or "Jesus Christ: The Musical" should be allowed to exist.

The legal representatives of the Beatles and Gloria Gaynor could just as easily have used Creative Commons licences to enforce their control over the use of their work.

Thus, the very problem presented by Lawrence Lessig, the problem of Producer-control, is not in anyway solved by the presented solution, the Creative Commons, so long as the producer has the exclusive right to chose the level of freedom to grant the consumer, a right which Lessig has always maintained support for.

The Creative Commons mission of presenting for the producer the "freedom" to chose the level of restrictions their work is published under stands in distinct and essential contrast to the mission of advocates of commons-based production: The denial of the distinction of producers and consumers, and the denial of the right of Producer-control of the common stock.

The Free Software foundation, publishers of the GPL, take a very different approach in their definition of "free," insisting on the "four freedoms:" The Freedom to use, the freedom to study, the freedom to share, and the freedom to modify. This is consistent with the idea of "free" in the history of free culture, for instance, the journal "The Situationist International" was published with the following copyright statement:

"All texts published in Situationist International may be freely reproduced, translated and edited, even without crediting the original source."

Even earlier, Woody Guthrie including the following note in a 1930s songbook distributed to listeners who wanted the words to his recordings had the following message:

"This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ours, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

In all these cases what is evident is that the freedom being insisted upon is the freedom of the consumer to use and produce, not the "freedom" of the producer to control.

If free culture is really intended to create a common stock for cultural peer-production, then the framework provided must specifically be designed in such a way that can not be used to attack free culture, the GPL and the terms presented by Woody Guthrie and the Situationist International pass this test, the Creative Commons does not. Moreover, proponents of free cultural must be firm in denying the right of Producer-control and denying the enforcement of distinction between producer and consumer, Lawrence Lessig and the Creative Commons, affirm both the right and distinction of the Producer and therefore are the sworn enemies of free culture, and thus their usage of the cases of DJ Dangermouse and Javier Patro to promote their cause is nothing other than an extravagant dishonesty.

However, despite the fact that the Creative Commons is an Anti-Commons, there is indeed a free culture movement, since the emergence of copyright law it has been denied by cultural actors such as Woody Guthrie, the Situationist and countless others within such movements as Folk, Dada, Neoism, Incidentalism and other manifestation of denial of producer-control too numerous to mention. There is indeed a large stock of free culture and free software that make up the common stock in Benkler's wealthy network.

Yochai Benkler's conception of Social Production, where a network of peers apply their labour to a common stock for mutual and individual benefit, certainly resonates with age-old proposed socialist modes of production, particularly in the libertarian socialist tendencies, where a class-less community of workers ("peers") produce collaboratively within a property-less ("commons-based") society. Clearly, even Marx would agree that the ideal of Communism was commons-based peer production.

The novelty of Social Production as understood by Benkler is that the property in the commons is entirely non-rivalrous property: Intellectual property and network transferable or accessible resources. Property with virtual no reproduction costs.

There is no denying that Benkler's wealthy network has creating astounding amounts of  wealth. The use-value of this information commons is fantastic, as evident by the use-value of Free Software, of Wikipedia, of online communications and social networking tools, etc.

However, if commons-based peer-production is limited exclusively to a commons made of digital property with virtual no reproduction costs then how can the use-value produced be translated into exchange-value? Something with no reproduction costs can have no exchange-value in a context of free exchange.

Further, unless it can be converted into exchange-value, how can the peer producers be able to acquire the material needs for their own subsistence?

The wealthy network exists within a context of a poor planet. The root of the problem of poverty does not lay in a lack of culture or information (though both are factors), but of direct exploitation of the producing class by the property owning classes. The source of poverty is not reproduction costs, but rather extracted economic rents, forcing the producers to accept less than the full product of their labour as their wage by denying them independent access to the means of production.

So long as commons-based peer-production is applied narrowly to only an information commons, while the capitalist mode of production still dominates the production of material wealth, owners of material property, namely land and capital, will continue to capture the marginal wealth created as a result of the productivity of the information commons.

Whatever exchange value is derived from the information commons will always be captured by owners of real property, which lays outside the commons.

For Social Production to have any effect on general material wealth it has to operate within the context of a total system of goods and services, where the physical means of production and the virtual means of production are both available in the commons for peer production.

By establishing the idea of commons-based peer-production in the context of an information-only commons, Benkler is giving the peer-to-peer economy, or the competitive sector, yet anther way to create wealth for appropriation by the property privilege economy, or the monopoly sectors.

The Read-Write society as described by Lessig and the Peer-to-Peer economy as described by Benkler is therefore nothing but a mirage.

For free cultural to create a valuable common stock it must destroy the privilege of the producer to control the common stock, and for this common stock to increase the real material wealth of  peer producers, the commons must include real property, not just information.

There is no doubt that the work of Lessig and Benkler can help us understand the issues faced in the ongoing class struggle of labour against property, however their work, as presented, is at best insufficient and at worst, just another attempt of apologists of property-privilege to confuse the discourse, poison the well, and crowd-out a genuinely revolutionary analysis.
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greift zu tief

tagmata 17.09.2006 - 00:32
- eine kapitalismusbrefeite welt wird so grundlegend andersartig sein, daß irgendwelche spekulationen was dann sein müßte komplett müßig sind.

- bevor eine kulturelle ressource genutzt werden kann, muß sie erschaffen werden. das ist der primäre grund, warum sich cc an produzenten richtet.

- die differenzierung zwischen "produzenten" und "konsumenten" von kulturgut ist eine künstlich aufgesetzte, die nur im großindustriellen rahmen gültigkeit hat.

- der autor macht, aus welchem grund auch immer*, den fehler, alles was den begriff "creative commons" enthält in einem topf zu werfen, umzurühren und die entstehende soße rundweg zu verdammen. das ist übelste realitätsverdrehung. man muß unterscheiden zwischen dem projekt cc, für das die kritik hier zwar faktisch korrekt ist, das aber in der praxis wenig zu melden hat, und den cc-lizenzen im engeren sinne, insbesondere cc:by-sa 2.5 (die lizenz die zb wikimedia commons benutzt). die wiederum gibt ein kulturgut komplett frei für kommerzielle und nichtkommerzielle nutzung, unter den voraussetzungen, daß a) die quelle angegeben wird (by) und b) derivate ebenfalls unter diese lizenz fallen (sa). wem das zu hart ist, kann auch cc:sa-2.5 verwenden, wo kein urheber angegeben werden muß.

der punkt ist, daß cc:(by-)sa effektiv verhindert, daß freie kulturgüter in unfreie derivate umgewandelt werden. ich könnte ohne probleme hingehen und mir irgendwelche mucke aus dem public domain krallen, etwas digital aufmöbeln (was es zu einem derivat macht) und dann verticken, leuten das geld aus der tasche ziehen und die kleinen kopierer und filesharer die sich, wenn ich meinen job gut gemacht habe, zwangsläufig einstellen werden, vor gericht bringen, sie 10000 euro pro nase an abmahngebühren abdrücken lassen und würde damit rechtlich völlig im grünen bereich sein.

cc:(by-)sa ist eine lizenz, die den diebstahl von freigewordenem content effektiv verhindern kann, indem sie das profitmotiv von anfang an reduziert: wenn leute einem kohle geben wollen für den kram den man gemacht hat, können sie das, aber müssen es nicht. inwieweit die verwendung von cc:sa-material in rein kommerziellen (dh in ihrer gesamtheit eigentlich nicht legal kopierbaren) werken komplikationen bringt, wird sich in den näxten jahren herausstellen.

* die verlinkung des absolut unpassendsten artikels auf der cc-page wirft die frage auf, wie gründlich sich der autor mit der materie auseinandergesetzt hat. wäre die rhetorik nicht so penetrant antikap, würde ich sagen: uboot der contentindustrie. in der vorliegenden form ist der artikel zumindest für leute die neu im thema sind reinste desinformation)

Reaktionäre sind zu flach

Dmytri Kleiner 18.09.2006 - 12:42
Not sure why you would reply to an english article in German except to try to exlude the original author from responding to your comments, but anyway, from what I could make out, your shallow reaction does not mean the point is too deep.

Google translates:
> - a kapitalismusbrefeite world will be so fundamentally different that
> any speculations which then would have to be are completely idle. -
> before cultural resources can be used, must it will create. that is the > primary reason, why CC addresses itself to producers.

Lessig is not trying to create a Capitalist world, he is a firm supporter of Capitalism. The CC is an effort to defuse the free culture movement and subvert it by changing the emphasis from the freedom of all to use the commons, as the Free Software Foundations does, to producer-control.

Copyright law is under attack by diverse forces such as the FSF, the Pirate Party, the File-sharing Communinity and the Appropriation Art community. The CC is attempt to rehabilitate it and save it, not destroy it. Wake up, you are being duped. If you really want a capitalist free world, stop identifying with and making excuses for the Capitalists.

The fact that the CC:by-SA-2.5 is an ok licence, does not change the fact that the CC and Lessig personaly strongly endorses Producer-control.

The regime the CC creates still makes artists like DJ Dangermouse, Negativland and John Oswald into criminals because it forces them to get permission from property owners. To beg for the right to make their work.

It is impossible to endorse both free culture and producer-control of the commons without being a hypocrite.

The supporters of Lessig want to co-opt artists and activists to rehabilitate Copyright because Copyright is about more than culture, it about production. Do not forget about Biotech, Agricultural, Technology, etc. You are helping them do that be helping them domanite the free cultural dialog.

Further, the issue of control of the commons is a much deeper issue that intelectual property alone, and is the central issue in anti-capitalism. It is not only artists, developers and inventors who face property-control, but all workers who's labour is exploited by property owners.

Freedom choosing your license

sandoz 19.09.2006 - 11:21
I think the major flaw in the author's argument is the confusion of a framework of licenses and a single license.
Creatve Commons (CC) defines a framework of licenses, where (that's right) the producer has the freedom to choose her favourite license. I think Creative Commons promotes the ShareAlike license and makes other license part like Attribution, NoDerives and NonCommercial optional. Nevertheless even in the analogy of Free Software the software engineer has the freedom to choose what ever license (including the GPL). For me, this freedom is obvious and good. We should promote FreeContent, FreeSoftware, FreeNetworks, FreeEverything and not enforce it.

Talking about CC as anti-commons is polemic and doesn't help.


A commons must be freedom to use

Dmytri Kleiner 19.09.2006 - 15:34

The creative commons is not a commons because the terms of use are restricted, there is no such thing as a "some right reserved" commons.

Either the terms of use are set mutualy, or it is not a commons at all, anymore than the landlords on whose behalf the historic commons was enclosed could claim the land was still free because they where free to chose the terms under which the peasents could use it, and the free refered to their choice, not that of the peasant, which amounts to the same as your claim.

The FSF does create a commons, the point that people do not have to chose to release their code under the GPL simply means that they can chose to not contribute to the commons, yet, the common stock of value under the GPL is an actual commons, where your freedom to use, study, modify and share is gauranteed. This is not so with the Creative "Commons"

Rescuing the exchange value?

Stefan 20.09.2006 - 17:59
When the author of this nice paper asks: "...if commons-based peer-production is limited exclusively to a commons made of digital property with virtual no reproduction costs then how can the use-value produced be translated into exchange-value?" -- what does he mean? Does he want to rescue the exchange-value? Uh? Doesn't communism implies to kick of the economic value game at all including "exchange" in general?

From the observation, that the physical world is not addressed by CC he argues, that in the realm of material goods the capitalist make their profit while in the realm of information the people drop into poverty. The underlying assumption is, however, that these realms are clearly separated and that material goods means exchange-value while information goods only can be use-values. This is not the case.

Firstly, the distinction is not use- vs. exchange value, the question must be: Can a good be a commodity or not? A good can only be a commodity if it is scarce. And all free licences prevent products from been made articifially scarce (the copyleft ones better then the "simple free" ones -- correct critizism by the author).

Secondly, the distiction is not material vs. non-material/information-based, because generally you can not separate this in production. Take the production of cars: the question is not, whether this is a material or an information based production, because it is definitely a pre-dominant information based production -- the question is only, whether the amount of work (determining the economic value) is about 90%, or 95%. Therefore, releasing the 100% information (cultural) products from proprietarian production and transforming them into P2P-based products also attacks the so-called "material production" in the long run. Abundance always attacks a copyright based regime of scarcity. DRM are desparate trials to keep this regime.

Finally, the first step was Free Software, second is Free Culture, and the third will be Free Production in general -- beyond any "economy" at all:-)

Capture of Surplus Value.

Dmytri Kleiner 20.09.2006 - 18:48

Hello, thanks for your comments, as a libertarian socialist I do not see exchange as the source of exploitation, but rather unequal exchange due to property-privilege. I understand authoritarian socialist tendencies do not agree with me (and others such as parecon, etc), but this is not the context to discuss this question, for a well argued break down of the free exchange question I highly recommend Kevin Carson's book "Studies in Mutualist Political Economy"

So no, I do not want to eliminate exchange, I want to eliminate property privilege.

I am not making a clear seperation of material goods and information goods, rather I desputing this division as made by Lessig and Benkler, I am arguing for a total system, as you are.

I am simply applying the labour theory of value that is shared by all socialists and also by classical economics (as well as modern economists such as Joan Robinson, Piero Sraffa) -- that the price of something is based on it's reproduction cost in the context of market competition. Only labour is a real "cost" as labour is the only productive input that experiences disutility, thus the labour involved in reproduction is the cost.

Having a commons made of exclusively of trivialy reproducable value while material value is kept outside of the commons means that all surplus value will be captured by property that is kept outside of the commons.

Also, free culture and free production are the earliest forms of culture and production and the norm up until quite recent times. They certainly have existed longer than software of anykind, free or nonfree.


producers or creators

Hans-Gert Graebe 21.09.2006 - 10:32
Hi Dmytri,

I think that producers vs. consumers is a wrong opposition since in a highly specialized society producers are consumers all the time they are producing. Most productive exchange relations are B2B and not B2C. And Lessig & Co. understand that very well. Their notion is creators vs. owners, best explained in Eben Moglen's "dot communist manifesto"  http://emoglen.law.columbia.edu/publications/dcm.html.

And a second point is that they understand that in 21st century it is due time to produce social relations in the same way as we produced goods in the 20th century. For Lessig CC are means of production for creators to produce these their relations.

Stallman produced with GPL a special - very successful in the intended area - relation of production. Lessig & Co. try to install a production of means of production. That's IMHO a big difference. Means of production were used all the time in an ambivalent manner and for me it is no surprise at all that this applies also to CC. It needs an accompanying discussion (public reasoning in the sense of Kant, communication of "best practices") about "proper use" of those means - and both Lessig and you contribute to this discussion.

And a last point - why lawyers (Lessig, Moglen) get involved so crucial in all that business. Moglen writes: "As, in the new digital society, creators establish genuinely free forms of economic activity, the dogma of bourgeois property comes into active conflict with the dogma of bourgeois freedom. Protecting the ownership of ideas requires the suppression of free technology, which means the suppression of free speech. The power of
the State is employed to prohibit free creation. Scientists, artists,
engineers and students are prevented from creating or sharing knowledge, on the ground that their ideas imperil the owners' property in the system of cultural production and distribution. It is in the courts of the owners that the creators find their class identity most clearly, and it is there, accordingly, that the conflict begins." (emphasized by me)

It is a "civil war" to turn exchange relations into relations of cooperate production and CC is a part of that war.

The Enemy comes in Freinds Clothing.

Dmytri Kleiner 21.09.2006 - 13:56
Hello Hans-Gert, I very much like Moglen's take on the issue.

I would not try to lump Eben Moglen and Lawrence Lessig together in the slightest. They have fundimentally different views on the subject.

Moglen and Stallman reckognise the illegimitacy of Intellectual Property.

In the dotCommunist manifest that you yourselif cite, Moglen described defenders of Copyright as undertaking "nothing more than an attempt to retain unjustifiable privileges in a society irrevocably changing"

Lessig and the CC do not see it this way, they see Copyright as a fundimentally good thing that simply needs some reforming. Socialists have encountered Reformism before, and seen the the results: The exentsion of Capitalist control. Take a look at the history of the Labour movement, for instance.

In my opinion, you are correct, CC is a part of the war; On the other side. The CC project is attempt to legitmise intellectual property.

"it is not feasible to support just part of
Creative Commons-- so I can't support it at all"
-- Richard Stallman

But there is a distinction between 'pr

Damian 30.11.2006 - 23:12
This view is overly simplistic, misses the point, and ignores the fact that Creative Commons as a system implicitly includes the rights of consumers. The ultimate right to decide whether or not consumers have the right to do particular things rests with the artist/producer, yes, but this is true with the GPL as well. As the author of a piece of code I can choose whether to release it under the GPL (derivates must also be GPL'd) or the LGPL (derivates need not be GPL'd), and this reflects the producer/consumer dichotomy also: the producer of code is the one who decides whether it will be GPL'd or LGPL'd (or full-blown copyrighted, or released to the public domain, or whatever). It's all very well to do away with the distinction between producer and consumer in theory, but in the real world there is actually someone who makes something, which they then release to other people. Other words like Artist or Musician and Audience could do the place of Producer and Consumer here but the division is still there. As a musician, I am wary of releasing my music as public domain, because I don't want it to end up advertising McDonalds or SUVs or used in some kind of anti-something-I-believe-in campaign (call this the Wagner argument if you like.) Importantly, if some true GPL analogue existed for culture it would not save me from this either: the GPL wouldn't prevent my music being used in an ad for Nike so long as the resulting ad was also GPL'd, which isn't an unlikely scenario forever. I'm not at all interested in trying to make a living from recordings that I make for myself. My value and the place where I most probably can make a living as a musician is in my person, which translates to live performances, my presence at workshops, festivals, discussions, etc. Thus, the music I release must be tied to myself in some way. To expect me to just give it away completely 'for the love of it' in a world in which others with nefarious aims will swoop on it (if it's good) and use it in ways that I am unhappy with, that's not something I'm going to accept. -- f r e y live music with machines http://www.frey.co.nz