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August 5th, 2010 at 10:15 am

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On the Pirate Bay in Florence

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In the end of May I was in a panel debate in Florence at the Terra Futura festival. The festival was mostly about ecological issues but it also had an internet section in which I was invited to talk about the Pirate Bay and other developments in the Swedish Internet scene under the topic of “Internet and democracy” (yes, very broad topic…).

My talk was really not much new for people who know the Swedish developments but here is a quick summary:
The last big news to reach Italy from Sweden was the Pirate Bay trial. What has happened since then is that the clusters formed before and during the trial have moved further to other issues and also going from activities focused on public debate towards direct interventions in political processes. The direct impact of a legal decision from a court compared to loose opinions from the copyright industry in the media contributed to this. At the same time, the Pirate Bay has faded as symbol of this movement (contrary to the situation abroad…). The Pirate Bay admins who were put on trial has mostly moved on to new projects, TPB has been decentralised and the copyright industry is attacking everything that is the least associated with the site.
Two clear directions can be seen for the post-trial movements. One is moving towards the internet infrastructure; building, hacking and intervening in political protests. The other is a renewed interest in post-digital circulations and the politics of physical space.
Connecting these developments to democracy, I claimed that what was at stake was building democracy in the long run. Realising that the open internet infrastructure is the only thing left to build on. If that is lost, there is no channel left at all for free communications. Also realising that the basis for a long-term democratic stability is also the communities being built. Self-organized communities will be the key actors of this kind of politics and the new relations they form with institutions and publics will be the important issue.
I also mentioned that the same is true when it comes to the cultural industries. No so called solution can save the music industry, only a process where self-organized artist/fan led communities are displacing the copyright industry model. As example I mentioned that Spotify has been seen as The Solution here in Sweden, when in the end it turned out that artist didn’t really get anything from there and that directly building communities from making videos for youtube and earning money from concerts is the models artists use today. I got that from this interview with the manager of Lady Gaga.
So the democratic aspect of net politics should not focus on the democratic ethic of every single act, but looking at the long term. What would happen in ten years if the copyright industry and control tendencies on the internet (and off it) would run freely for ten years. And on the other hand, what future could be created if the internet were defended and developed in an open fashion.

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So much for my talk.

  • The discussion started out by some marxist-inspired comments about the dominance of google that made so much money despite not producing any value. I added that we should question this idea of value and that what is valuable is to produce more stuff. Instead the selection and composing is sometimes more valuable than producing new. In fact, it is a little bit like saying that someone who makes a chair is not producing value because they are only removing wood. The chair was in that tree already from the beginning. Assembling, selecting, filtering and producing is becoming activities that gets harder and harder to distinguish and this creates a crisis of the value theory as it was expressed in this comment and the theories of exploitation that follows from them. I would love for someone with more insight in Marx’s value theory than I to comment on other interpretations.
  • In general there was a lot of talk about Internet as its own sphere and a tendency to overlook its relation to non-digital structures. Perhaps the net politics in Sweden has matured enough to be able to see beyond the initial shock and awe of the internet but here the fascination still remain. For example Facebook was discussed and I made the comment that Facebook and its impact can not be understood by only looking at what happens at facebook.com. Not only is Facebook moving out of their domain to try to capture a larger part of the web, but the Facebook experience can also not be understood without seeing its link to the school yard or office space, to weekend parties and to club culture. It can only be properly understood if seen as a mesh of digital and non-digital structures being transformed by the use of Facebook.
  • On a simliar note I speculated some on how to survive in this kind of complex environment and came to the improvised conclusion that what is needed for an entity is a combination of a firm, slow moving core and an outer zone of chaos functioning as a probe that tries out everything and fails fast until something sticks, in which case more resources is put on that specific field until a protocol is established in that space which further lets things cool down until eventually they are being consolidated as a new part of the expanding core. In culture, music in the internet era naturally has this tendency because of the few resources needed to experiment, which leads to protocols such as the Lady Gaga example above being quickly established. Within film on the other hand, this is lacking. It is still too institutionalised and too reliant on heavy, static infrastructure.
  • Another comment I made was that the political problem of today is not the same as for the 68-generation – that is – “what needs to be done?”. This is actually quite clear. In fact there is a lot of things to be done. Too much to be done. To much that needs to be assembled, composed, rebuilt and so on. So the political problem instead becomes “how to get enough people involved?”. Or put differently – “How to delegate enough resources to solve this specific problem without sacrificing another equally important problem?”. There are too many tasks that needs to be accomplished. There are some efforts to try to solve this, such as; AI, smart algorithms, robots, micro management of time, performance enhancing drugs and swarm intelligence. None of them has really solved the root of the problem however.

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These kinds of discussions on Internet, politics and culture has been going on for some time, fueled mostly by interest in the Pirate Bay and Piratbyrån. It will be interesting to see how this energy will be transformed if the change that has happened in Sweden already – with the fading of Pirate Bay as symbol and the closure of Piratbyrån (possibly also a Pirate Party without parliament seats in September) – affects discussions and activities abroad. In my experience these discussions are in some way lagging behind Sweden a lot and are often very naive and repeating the same questions we abandoned years ago (actually they are repeated here as well…), but at the same time they seem to contain a more radical and escalating part that perhaps comes from not having to begin from zero like we did. I for one is very excited to see what happens when they abandon the elemental questions asked from the reactive perspective of anti-copyright and start to explore this latent radical side for r

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August 5th, 2010 at 10:14 am

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