Piracy Funds Terrorism… or are they Freedom Fighters?

May 30, 2011

In his impassioned treatise on the role of piracy in the modern world, particularly in regard to the controversial copyright/copyleft debate, Armin Medosch argues that “piracy, despite being an entirely commercially motivated activity carried out in black or gray markets, fulfills culturally important functions” (Medosch, 2008).

This is not, despite what some may think, yet another anarchic claim for the abolition of copyright, or even an exaltation of the righteousness of pirates and the deeply anti-authoritarian ethos that they represent in the eyes of many on the copyleft. “It would be a romantisation,” he writes, “to portray them as champions of cyber rights and net culture. At the same time our research has shown that piracy fulfills  an important role by giving access to cultural goods which otherwise would be completely unavailable to  the vast majority of the people.” (Medosch, 2008).

In drawing our attention away from the privileged, domineering Western world that has been responsible for much of the image of stricter copyright law being merely a tool for large corporations, Medosch is drawing the focus of this debate away from the philosophical idealism of the Anglo-American anti-copyright movement and into the more practical implications of what it truly means to have the option to pirate something of value. For us, the alternative to illegal downloading is having to pay for the product. For many other people around the world, it is having no access to that product at  all.

As Fleischer points out, “consumption” has become something of a specialty for Western youth; “This is arguably the primary area of expertise for all of us,” he writes, “being knowledgeable, demanding yet highly casual and pernickety consumers” (Fleischer, 2008). Collectively, we have grown spoiled and complacent – anti-authoritarianism is all very well and good when you live in a liberal democracy with a free market, but ours is an ideologically-driven revolution. In many of the so-called “emerging” countries, rebellion is born of necessity.

Medosch compares this pragmatic piracy to its historical namesake, first developed due (in his eyes) to the establishment of a monopoly or oligopoly that smothered all chance of making an honest living, forcing people to resort to illicit means of earning a living. This is not limited to financial factors, either, but also allows development in fields which might otherwise be restricted by circumstance; as Richard Stallman points out, “in any intellectual field, one can reach greater heights by standing on the shoulders of others. But that is no longer generally allowed in the software field – you can only stand on the shoulders of the people in your own company.” (Stallman, 2002). Not only does this impede intellectual and technological progress, but also smothers the development of local cultural businesses. Like it or not, piracy is often the only way for these needs to be addressed.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but this certainly puts my own illegal downloading into sharp perspective.

So maybe next time you see this ad, you’ll wonder who really stands to lose the most.

Paul.

Sources: 

Fleischer, R, “Re: ‘Paid in Full'”, Deptforth. TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies, London: Deptforth TV, 2008, pp. 98-100

Medosch, A, “Paid in Full: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency of Cultural Production,” Deptforth. TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies, London: Deptforth TV, 2008, pp. 73-97

Stallman, R, “Why Software Should be Free” Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard Stallman, Boston: GNU Press, 2002, pp. 121-133

 


Creatively Common.

May 20, 2011

In the age of digitalisation, it is difficult to qualify exactly where one idea ends and another begins. Certainly,  the fact that the expression of such ideas can be replicated, altered and distributed ad nauseum for a completely negligible cost (if any) does little to make  the distinction clearer. After all, information is one resource of which there will never be a scarcity – and as Garcelon notes, it is the notion of scarcity that “implicitly frames regulation of such resources in terms of control” (Garcelon, 2009).  Should, then, such strict control be enforced over such an ephemeral and nebulous commodity?

This is only one of the many questions that make copyright law such a contentious issue at this time.

Central to this issue is the that concept: control. With the institution of the “intellectual  property” extension of copyright law, control over ones ideas (as well as the ability to profit from them) reached a level of strictness unheard  of since the original copyright law of the 18th Century. While this seems to offer protection and stability for those hoping to make a living off their ideas, it has encountered much opposition amongst those who believe in the free exchange of ideas and the importance of the preservation of the public domain. This faction, often collectively known as the “Copyleft”, claim that the commodification of ideas and their expression is simply another way in which large corporations are twisting societal norms and regulations in order to make more money. Another view condemns the recent changes in copyright law as being too rigid and domineering, citing the original nature of the law as the the means to “give content providers enough control to give them the incentive to produce… that new work then becomes part of an intellectual commons, for others to draw upon and use as they wish” (Lessig, 2005).

How can these two warring ideologies ever be reconciled? Enter Creative Commons, the focus of today’s blogpost.

To keep my word count from stretching any further, allow me to introduce the key concepts of Creative Commons in the form of a video.

This apparently more public-minded alternative to copyright law meshes very well with Richard Stallman’s view that “a good citizen is one who cooperates when appropriate, not one who is successful at taking from others”, placing much emphasis on “voluntary cooperation” (Stallman, 2002). For myself, this issue is still centered around the notion of control. By attaching a Creative Commons license to your work, you are able to more fully decide exactly how and under what conditions your work is able to contribute to the work of others. To accentuate this, there are a range of different labels for different levels of control; you are able to ensure whether or not your work may be altered, and whether or not someone apart from you can profit off it.

Most importantly, in my eyes, Creative Commons straddles a middle ground between the two factions, allowing for both sides to control the use of their own personal innovations according to personal inclination. It gives us the possibility of free exchange of information without demanding it. It grants us the right to have our ideas protected without placing control over them in the hands of lawyers and corporations. And it gives US the choice.

That’s why, if you look to the right of this article, you’ll see a Creative Commons license.

Paul.

Sources:

Garcelon, M, “An Information Commons? Creative Commons and Public  Access to Cultural Creations”, New Media and Society 2009 1307-1326

Lessig, L, “Open Source and Open Societies”, Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, 2005, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 349-360

Stallman, R, “Why Software Should be Free”, Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard Stallman, 2002 Boston: GNU Press, pp 121-133


Mixing it Up.

May 12, 2011

Dear Internet,

In preparation for my next post on Creative Commons and Copyright Law in general, I thought I’d post a link to a movie that gives you a great insight into one of the many perspectives of this issue. This is only the first part, but I’m sure you’ll be sucked in like I was and spend the rest of your evening watching it instead of doing your readings.

Enjoy!

Paul.


A Black Day for the Internet: Celebrity is as Celebrity Does.

May 3, 2011

This is Rebecca Black. Gaze upon her works, ye tasteful, and despair.

If you managed to tear your eyes away from that enthralling ballad on the human condition, you will notice that you’re not the only one enjoying the sweet sounds of autotuned puberty. Far from it; as of this writing, this video has been viewed 156,691,500 times.

Ms. Black has, in the parlance of our times, gone viral.

Burgess and Green argue in their article “YouTube and the Mainstream Media” that ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Burgess et al., 2009).

To what degree does this apply in a world of produsers? Is there a difference between a viral star and a celebrity born of the Internet?

For the former, we can take for our example the infamous Star Wars Kid – a boy whose only claim to fame was how hilariously stupid he looked stumbling around playing Darth Maul. Although he has become something of a meme on the Internet, his notoriety among YouTube commenters cannot be mistaken for any real form of celebrity. He is, in the words of Burgess, a “YouTube celebrity famous for being notorious, obnoxious or annoying” (Burgess et al., 2009). This kind of celebrity is contained entirely on the Internet – it seems, shockingly enough, that fame gained simply by being recognisable on the internet does not translate into anything even approaching fame off it.

The latter, however, is different.  In this group I place those who have used the Internet as a springboard for their celebrity career, whether it be through music or any other industry. A prime example of this would be Justin Bieber, who started out singing songs on YouTube until he was “discovered” and went on to have an established and well-regarded (to a certain audience) music career.

At first, the reason for the distinction between the two categories appears to be simple; one requires no talent, just schadenfreude and boredom on the audience’s part, while the other involves some form of talent to be recognised. If we take into account the antics of Rebecca Black, however, we can not only disprove this but extrapolate from it a larger truth about the different facets of celebrity in modern society, a truth supported by the thoughts of Burgess and Green.

Rather than being based on merit or skill, the success of internet celebrity translating into real-world, “mass-media” celebrity is reliant on there being a pre-existing framework that supports the chosen genre or style of the person in question. At the risk of making an objective statement out of a subjective belief, Rebecca Black’s music is terrible. It is widely known to be terrible. In fact, it is famous BECAUSE it is terrible. For many, her song “Friday” is a paragon of mediocrity, the epitome of everything that is wrong with the music industry. And yet, her single has been included in the Top 100 countdowns of at least five countries.

This is because Rebecca Black conforms to a long-established tradition of celebritydom; there has always been room in our hearts for another lousy pop singer. This could be viewed as evidence that, in some cases at least, new media “draws on traditional media aesthetics and cultural conceptions” (Mueller, 2009). By assigning her a recognisable archetype, we instantly transform her, in many eyes at least, into a legitimate celebrity. This is something which cannot be achieved solely through the Internet,  at least not in the world we live in now. An internet sensation is just that – confined to the internet, intrinsically targeted at a niche audience. By adhering to the prevailing notion of a “celebrity”, a person enters into the eye of the mainstream audience and mass media, attaining a form of credibility (if it could be called that). In this way, the notion of celebrity is still very much defined and controlled by the established construct of the mass media.

And that’s why, if you turn on the radio, you might just be lucky enough to hear the dulcet tones of Rebecca Black.

Paul.

Sources:

Burgess, J, Green, J, “YouTube and the Mainstream Media” in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009. pp. 15-37

Mueller, E, “Where Quality Matters: Discourses on the Art of Making a Youtube Video”, in The YouTube Reader, Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009, pp. 126-139


Blogito Ergo Sum: the Blog and the Self.

May 1, 2011

In “Blogging: The Nihilist Impulse”, Geert Lovink asserts that “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self” (Lovink, 2006). In this way, argues Lovink, blogs are merely the extension of a “wider culture that fabricates celebrity on every possible level”. While this rather disparaging view of the astronomical rise of blogging as a means of expressing and discussing one’s views may seem extreme, even needlessly antagonistic to those who see the rise of new media as a second Renaissance for society, this argument is not entirely without merit.

It is certainly true that in any form of communication there is a heavy emphasis placed on one’s own views and opinions. This is not narcissism, or if it is then it is a form embraced by all, consciously or subconsciously. Obviously there is an element of PR in all forms of writing; the very act of writing requires deliberately choosing an image, comprised of a variety of different ideological decisions, to project to the world.

This may be all well and good for the author of a novel, who’s relationship with their readers is very much a one-sided affair. What supposedly makes the online world of the blog so exciting, however, is the interactive nature of the environment; the line between reader/writer, producer/consumer is blurred, opening up a forum for discussion and debate. In this way, it is “the global always-on, always-linked, always-immediate public conversation” (Kline, 2005).

But is this democratic, idyllic picture of the blogosphere an accurate one? Is the primary focus of a blog to encourage the exchange and development of ideas and opinions, or simply to promote your own? Unfortunately, the answer this question cannot be reduced to a simple “yes” or “no”.

For a lot of bloggers, a blog is exactly that which Lovink criticises; presented here is an example of a weblog that is whole-heartedly, unashamedly egocentric.

http://koyincoco.blogspot.com/2011/03/im-lil-self-obsessed.html

This is everything Lovink rails against – a meaningless expression of a self bereft of any value or merit to be shared with the world. There is no real discussion, because there is nothing worth discussing. This blog illustrates the most negative aspects of the Foucaultian idea of blogs as “technologies of the self” (Rasmussen). Can we then dismiss blogs entirely?

This time, there is a clear answer: no.

Blogs encompass a wide-ranging spectrum, a whole new medium for a generation of writers to explore and experiment with. The sheer accessibility of this technology may lead to an inundation of useless, self-indulgent dross, but it can just as easily grant a voice to someone willing to debate and discuss prominent, topical themes and points, often in manners stifled by the limiting nature of old media. For every koyincoco, there is a crikey.com, after all.

Therefore, it is impossible to assign any lasting generalisation to this natal and nebulous new medium. The self may shape the nature of the blog, but that does not mean that every blog can be defined solely in terms of the self.

Paul.

Sources:

David Kline, Dan Burstein, Blog!, New York: CDS Books 2005, 130.

Lovink, G, “Blogging: The Nihilist Impulse”, in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, London, Routledge, pp. 1-38

http://www.javnost-thepublic.org/media/datoteke/Ramussen_-_Javnost_No.1-2009.pdf


A Quick Word about WordPress.

April 26, 2011

I have a confession to make.

For all my pretension, I don’t really know a lot about how blogging works. Sure, I can talk about the social ramifications, the shift of cultural paradigms, even the wide-reaching implications for the future of our journalism industry – but I don’t know much about how it actually works.

I refer, of course, to the building blocks of the Internet; the illusive world of software.

The readings for this week, Helmond’s grippingly-titled “Software-Engine Relations”, further cemented my belief that this was a side to blogging – and the Internet as a whole – that would remain well beyond my ken. This was a part of the course that would forever be inscrutable, alien, and frankly a little bit terrifying.

One thing, however, I did understand.

“The job of computers and networks”, writes Tim Berners-Lee – yes, that Tim Berners-Lee – “is to get out of the way, to not be seen… the technology should be transparent, so we interact with it intuitively”.

There can be no clearer example than this than WordPress. Everything about WordPress is smooth, comforting – beautiful and elegant in its simplicity, its approachability. This comforting visage is just that – a veil, a mask to disguise the true inner workings of a truly intricate work of design. Replacing coding and acronyms with a clear, intuitive interface, WordPress remains inviting and accessible to people like… well, like me.

Obviously, this comes with drawbacks. With this easy-to-use structure comes a lack of flexibility and finesse, giving less options to those few bloggers who truly know what makes their website tick. It’s not an uncommon trade-off – the database is accessible and free, but also restrictive in many ways.

Speaking for myself, this isn’t really a problem for me. WordPress gives me everything I want and need in a blog, and if I’m being limited in my approach I’m not tech-savvy enough to realise it. I’m not alone in this; 372,975 other bloggers seem to share my feelings.

It’s always nice to know that I’m not the only one who needs the internet dumbed down for me.

Paul.


The Changing Face of Journalism.

April 15, 2011

No one can deny that the Internet has radically changed the face of journalism as we know it. Whereas “the Truth” was once solely the domain of the long-established media outlets of the twentieth century, the pursuit and distribution of information concerning the world around us is now very much a subject of contention in the public sphere.

In her article “Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Culture”, Adrienne Russel (alongside other scholars in this growing field) debates the merits of elite media institutions as compared to those of the relatively infantile blogosphere, asking whether or not “bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Russel et al., 2008).

It is an intriguing question.  After all, one doesn’t have to look far to find examples of the rather disparagingly-named “old media” failing in their journalistic duty to inform and educate. The Fox News Channel, often seen as merely an extension of  the Republican Party in America, has been vocally criticised for neglecting its journalistic integrity for the sake of acting as a propaganda machine for right-wing policies – a claim not lacking in evidence. Conversely, stories abound of average citizens using the Internet to break stories undiscovered – or ignored – by so-called investigative journalists. Does this new medium represent a breath of fresh air, a much-needed break from the stale and corrupt age of print media and greedy, unprincipled news corporations?

The notion seems attractive, certainly. It is, if not a display of the democratisation of the Internet, then certainly a demonstration of the glorification of the individual that is so central to the idea of a network society. Certainly, the idea that the future of journalism lies solely in the hands of anyone capable of writing a blog is attractive to say the least – particularly since I just typed that sentence on one.

This is not to say that the idea of blogs leading journalism into a new era is rooted in pure narcissism; Benkler lauds the network community for its “variation and diversity of knowledge, time, availability, insight, and experience as well as vast communications and information resources” (Benkler, 2006). Aren’t these qualities everything you need to be a journalist?

Well, no. As I see it, it doesn’t really matter if you call yourself a citizen journalist, a news blogger or a  reporter working for a well-regarded newspaper. What this argument fails to take into account is that “citizen journalism” is a tautology – a journalist is a citizen, pure and simple. They may write for the BBC or Crikey.com – in the end, it is their matter and their method that count, not their means. It is your integrity and your credibility, your commitment to reporting the truth that defines you as a journalist.  The work of a good journalist, I believe, transcends the medium through which it is produced, whether it be the work of a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist or a blog written by a person who’s only qualification is their pursuit of the truth.

This is not to say that, perception-wise at least, there are no differences. Regardless of content, a newspaper article immediately carries more weight than, say, this blog. But perhaps this is changing; as Russel says, “the truth, as the exclusive domain of the authorities and the journalists who use them as sources, is receding” (Russel et al., 2008).  Perhaps the advent of the internet as a source of news is not changing journalism, but the way in which we see it – no longer the elitist “we write, you read” institution that has grown complacent with their role in the world (Deuze, 2010), but as an ethos, independent of organisation; a commitment to the Truth.

Paul.

Sources:

Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006)

Deuze, “Online Journalism: Modeling the First Generation of News Media on the World Wide Web,” First Monday 6, no. 10, http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_10/deuze/#d2

Russell, A, Ito, M, Richmond, T, Tuters, M “Culture: Media Convergence and the Networked Culture”, Kazys Vernelis (ed.) Networked Publics, (Cambridge, MA: MIT PRESS, 2008, pp. 43-76