Speech for Piratbyrån @ Bzoom festival in Brno, Czech rep.
Powerpoint slides can be found here
Piratbyrån is a cluster with fuzzy borders, a network consisting of a number of connected humans and machines; artists, hackers, activists, servers, routers and software, each approaching the question of copyright in its own manner. We started three years ago with the idea of making som kind of project about piracy, copyright, copying, peer2peer networks since we had a feeling this would produce large and intresting conflicts in our contemporary culture. And this wide range of perspective from which we have approached these issues have made it a fruitful learning process for everyone involved. Not just communicating an idea but exploring, learning and developing ideas and phenomena giving us a better understanding of what lies at the bottom of the contemporary copyfight.
Since we started we have studied, written and talked about a number of issues related to copyright and/or digital culture as well as undertaking som more hands-on projects, events, partys, awards, lectures, book releases, campaigns, pranks and manifestations.
We don’t like the idea of representing some segment of the population. Definitely not conumer intrests, it’s much broader than that. But not even file sharers in general, although the media often wants us to give the file sharers point of view. Rather, we see ourselves as an enviroment around which a lot of intresting things happen. For example we recently created the Pro Piracy Lobby at propiracy.org as an umbrella for international collaborations and to provide human and computer resources for people wanting to form groups similar to the piratbyrån concept. And there seem to be a lot of people intrested in this, what you can call second wave of copyright criticism, where the first wave was centred around legal issues and consumer intrests. The are pirate groups in norway and denmark, finland and others are on their way.
But for most, i guess Piratbyrån is mostly famous for creating the pirate bay bittorrent tracker. It was started in the early months of Piratbyrån as just an experiment with this new bittorent technique that not only was very efficent but also posed a number of intresting questions around who actually distributes what to whom in filesharing. It started in a shoe box in Mexico on a dsl connection but it grew very fast and as other trackers got shut down it became a huge project and we branched it off so now it exists as a seperate but relate entity.
At the end of may this year the were a major raid against the pirate bay, the police confiscated all of the computers belonging to the ISP, PRQ, and took all electronic equipment in the homes of Pirate Bay administrators, down to video game control pads. Among the servers were the Piratbyrån server which is still gathering dust in some police warehouse. This raid meant that the police confiscated a large part of the worlds peer-2-peer infrastructure as the pirate bay tracker is used by a number of different torrent sites and is used for a wide range of purposes. The purpose of the raid doesn’t seem to be so much about convicting people, but more a down right sabotage by confiscating hardware.
It took only three days and alot of help from volunteers in the swedish and international internet community and the site was up again. This started a very busy summer for us. Just days after the raid we had demonstrations in the major cities of sweden, co-organized with a number of youth organisations of the parties in the parliament and the media debate just blew up.
There was a public exposure in a swedish TV news show that revealed what was behind the raid. It turned out MPAA and the US government was behind the raid, threatening to put sweden on the WTO ip watch list if the matter of the Pirate Bay was not taken care of with utmost urgency. This forced the swedish authorities to act, although previously they had concluded that taking down bittorrent trackers is not permitted under swedish law. As of today, hundreds of mail contacts between the swedish and american authorities regarding the Pirate Bay remains classified information.
This former shoe box bittorrent tracker was now a matter of national intrest and the hottest political issue there was and this in the middle of an election year with every political party wanting to win the votes of the one million swedish filesharers. So it was a lot of political promises and big media coverage, we will have to see if that leads to anything. A pirate party has also been formed and they recieved a half procent in the election, which is not bad. They focus a lot on filesharing not as a consumer activity but as something productive and also on the consequences of trying to implement any form of copyright on digital networks, leading to surveilence, DRM-damaged files and hardware.
The whole story, the legend, surrounding the Pirate Bay of course is great news material for the media and is also helping Piratbyrån and the issue in general to get attention. We are powered by the brute force of the Pirate Bay as someone has put it.
We try to stay out of the whole debate of how to solve the copyright issue, about reforming or abolishing copyright law. Although we give feedback to politicians wanting help to understand these matters. Instead we try to keep the debate boiling and focusing of the grey zones of everyday cultural life, not giving in to generalizations or early compromises and escaping dead ends by creating new lines. We work more at a conceptual level, trying to influence the perspective of the debate. A perspective that today often view the internet based on images of pre-internet, one-way mass media, giving the impression that a solution is near and masking the permanent crisis of copyright. Images that paint a picture in black and white with no room for grey scales. The internet is not a record store or the radio, it is not the library either and not even the trading of cassette tapes. If your thinking is grounded in the workings of the old media, you easily fall into traps when dealing with computer networks.
We can locate three of these traps we try to escape.
One is the consumerism. To talk about downloading as separate from uploading. Filesharing is a horizontal activity. Either you are on the network or you are not. Uploading and downloading are only very temporary distinctions, especially in bittorrent swarms. Also to push the discussion away from talking about file sharing as a response to high prices and instead talk about it as something completely different from the top-down record store model of selling pre-packaged information.
Another trap is content flatrates or alternative compensations systems as they sometimes are called, using the library as the image. Which we haven’t gone into polemic with, but questioned the very notions that this discourse is based on that remain unarticulated. For example how to distinqish content that should be compensated from content that should not be, like html or text. Or separating authors from non-authors, local from public file transfers. There is no simple way of measuring what is shared on an entity like “the internet”, wherever that ends or begins, and no easy way of locating the so called authors that need to be compensated. It will be arbitrary distinctions, most likley to reinforce the old and existing cultural system rather than making room for the new.
A third trap is centering around “the copyright law” itself and how it should be formulated to be fair & balanced. First of all, discussing one universal copyright and how that relates to authors and their economic situation obscures the plurality and diverse ways in which different forms of cultural production relate or do not relate to the copyright law and how their economics are very different from each other. Some cultural forms might need copyright, some might not, some cultural forms we might not need. Instead we should shift our attentions to the very concrete ways in which cultural production and circulation works today in relation to copyright and computer networks and discuss each one on its own terms. How they can make themselves less dependent on copyright. Another mistake in focusing on copyright law is ignoring the practical effects and non-effects of the law.
No matter if you want a soft copyright that keeps some rights but provide some freedom of copying or a hard copyright law banning everything unauthorized, the price for implementing it will be the same. Which means among others being able to identify a physical person behind every ip-adress or handheld device, not allowing anonymous sharing of connections, thus shaping how the network is organized. Basically, any way you change the copyright law, try to implement it and it means defining and locking up the way our networks and the activity on them are organized.
Copying is fact
But file sharing today proves that there are no moral authority that can shape peoples behavior, there are no juridical instances capable of upholding the law and there are, as of today, no succesful technological attempts to stop file sharing. Copying is a fact and nothing we can decide for or against. Piracy can take many ways outside the open file sharing networks, even physical routes, so it will never go away. The alternative to p2p piracy is not No Piracy, but person2person piracy. Something similar to trading cassette tapes. Private networks, burned dvds, flash drives, mail and chat clients.
This will not mean less piracy, but less pluralism in that is shared with more limited sources of information. You being restricted to the archives of your personal network of friends. And the copyright industry would control most of your sources for discovering new culture. It wouldn’t cut the head of piracy, as anti-pirate pyramid theories suggest, but its tail. The long tail of file sharing, all those niches that together make up the majority of data in file sharing networks. This means antipiracy is not a war against copyrighted data, but uncopyrighted meta data, indexing, search results and linking, as in the case of The Pirate Bay.
Copyright can’t regulate copying itself only copying as some undefined metaphore. A computer is about computing and copying. From ROM to RAM internally, from hard drive to DVD to friends, from client to client or from peer to peer. Distinguising local file transfers from file sharing between different systems becomes even harder with the developments of open wireless networks and portable devices. Developments in network architectures, software and hardware, always continue to undermine the foundations of the copyright system. And if copyright doesn’t fit the network logic, it will be the networks they try to shape, not the law.
We can identify three key points, three intersections where the crisis of copyright becomes clear.
LOCAL/PUBLIC: This is the question of copying. When is a copy temporary or to be considered permanent. When is it from one system to another.
FORM/CONTENT: The inabilaty to distinguish the form from the content, a distinction copyright is based on. To talk about streaming as something separate from downloading, other than the software configuration on the recieving end. The analog output of digital data is only created at the recieving end. This idea of seperating form from content rests on the whole idea of technological neutrality. That the copyright system and the cultural expressions that come along with it can just be transfered to computer networks and make them function according to their logic.
PRODUCER/CONSUMER: Producers and consumers do not disappear, but they go from being nouns to being verbs. You produce some, you consume some. Producing and consuming is something people have different ratios between, but they are not fixed identities.
Because these foundations are shaken and concepts are fuzzy, a lot of greyzones are opened up.
Both a positive and a negative grey. The raid against the pirate bay, building databases of file sharers, the spamming of file sharing networks, surveillence, scare tactics and infiltrators are the negative greyzone in which anti-piracy is operating.
The positive greyzones are the many ways music, films and files can take that might formally be illegal, but in reality exist somewhere between the white of a creative commons licence and the pitch black of a zero day blockbuster release. The ones that exist in the space between what is allowed and what can be done, which are always greater.
The whole economy for artists has always consisted of greyzones. Welfare, student loans, part time jobs, gigs, money under the table, sponsorship and using copyright to sell content is only a part of that.
The copyright industry benefits from keeping the discussion in black and white and forgetting about the grey zones, what we call mental rights management. Forgetting that a computer is about computing and copying, forgetting that copyright is based on a forgotten media infrastructure, forgetting that copyright is not a wage for artists and forgetting that the record industry is not the music industry.
In the middle of this sea of technological turbulence we have to navigate with the help of language. And at the bottom of the copyright system lies a number of unstable metaphores on top of which the industry is builing larger and larger copyright icebergs that they want implemented in computer networks.
Culture as Process
Our task is to create new concepts and re-shaping old ones to show all the different configurations that cultural production can have and is already making use of today. It’s not about providing a solution. The copyfight is about making room for the unforseeable. There are techno-cultural complexities beyond the human capacity to compute. So talking about the future can be another trap. As to ask how producers should make a living if there were no copyright. Filesharing is now, the question should be posed about the present. What is utopian is instead the dangerous idea of a perfectly working copyright economy, a world where culture equals content and artists getting paid means copyright money.
We want to render such an idea unthinkable, forcing a re-writing of the map of cultural produciton from the viewpoint of the internets, removing the focus on end products and focus on the perfomative aspects that are always present but always forgotten. Because nothing begins or ends with the end product, with the content. Culture is a neverending process, it’s form and expressions interlock, change from one to the other. Ones output is anothers input. The content is not the central point in this process, it’s just traces left behind by the process that’s already going somewhere else.
Before someone makes music or videogames, they have to be inspired by other music and they have to play alot of video games. Before someone becomes a graphical designer they have to use photoshop alot. File sharing provides this ground for a better creativity. And after the product is created, a lot of things need to happen. It needs to be distributed, circulated, interpreted, commented, valued, sold, played, experienced, mutated executed and performed.
All of this, in their own ways, happen in or passes through computer networks today and that’s where our concepts need to spring from.