In the latest example of a phenomenon as old as the state itself, Stan McCoy – formerly the US Trade Representative’s chief “intellectual property” negotiator, who wrote ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s IP chapter – was just given a cushy job at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). He’s one of over a dozen senior USTR officials who’ve moved to jobs at industry groups in the past year.
This is why it’s such a waste of time to devote serious effort and resources to working within the system to affect the form the law takes. Doing so amounts to fighting the enemy by the enemy’s own rules, on ground favorable to the enemy, where the enemy has the advantage of a prepared defense.
German Blitzkrieg war theorists had a term, Schwerpunkt, for the decisive point at which an armored formation penetrated the enemy forces front lines, and then immediately bypassed the main body of the enemy’s forces and cut them off and encircled them from the rear. John Robb, a leading theorist of networked “Fourth Generation Warfare” models, has coined the term “Systempunkt” for the analogous phenomenon in networked conflict.
In World War II, Allied strategic bombing campaigns over Germany destroyed entire infrastructures, one power station, power line, bridge, road, railroad, etc., at a time. They were able to undertake the enormously costly task of destroying an entire physical infrastructure, mile by mile, because of their overwhelming air superiority and much larger industrial output. The concept of Systempunkt, on the other hand, is illustrated by Al Qaeda Iraq’s practice of attacking only a few key nodes in an infrastructure, which – although amounting to one percent or less of the total physical infrastructure – disables and renders non-operational the other 99 percent left untouched. That’s a great deal more cost-effective.
For the forces of information freedom, and other movements associated with the successor economy, to attempt to fight the established interests of the existing system for control of the state, is like an army trying to capture control of an entire infrastructure mile-by-mile – and to do so when, far from possessing material superiority, it is outnumbered ten – or a hundred-to-one by the defending enemy. It’s utterly stupid.
We can render the corporate state inoperative, using maybe one percent of the resources required to actually capture the state through the political process, by attacking its ability to enforce the subsidies, privileges and legal monopolies of big business. Enforcement capability is the Systempunkt of the state capitalist economy.
The proprietary content industry, and all the other businesses that make money by extracting rents from patents, copyrights and trademarks, will always control the “intellectual property” policy of the state. I mean, that’s what the state exists for. Attempting to fight their money and political influence by the rules of the system would just be pouring resources down a rathole. But for a tiny fraction of the same money and effort, we can turn patents and copyrights into a dead letter through strong encryption, proxy servers, torrent downloads and moving webhosting to servers in countries that don’t take orders from the MPAA and RIAA (that’s why Center for a Stateless Society, the outfit I’m writing this for, is moving our site to servers in Iceland).
When the US government seized Wikileaks’ domain name, thousands of hosts around the world (C4SS among them) responded by mirroring the site. And many thousands of people blogged and tweeted the numeric IP address of Wikileaks sites in various countries so people could look it up directly by IP address rather than using the domain name. Then when the government carried out mass seizures of domain names of alleged “infringing sites” on behalf of the music and movie industries, the Mozilla Foundation came up with Firefox browser extensions that would bypass the domain name blocks by automatically going straight to the numeric IP address. As Bruce Sterling put it, “treating the law of the land as damage and routing around it.”
Now there’s Bit Torrent Sync, a utility which enables any two people who’ve installed it and know a common password to transfer torrents directly from one computer to another, with secure end-to-end encryption. It’s kind of like what happens when you use your cursor to move a file to the Dropbox icon – only the information’s not stored at a permanent location in the Cloud, and it’s encrypted. It’s a totally desktop-to-desktop, p2p file-sharing system. So it doesn’t matter if the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or any other draconian copyright legislation, passes. Any two people with Bit Torrent Sync who want to share a file can do so. Big Content has lost the war, once and for all. They’re dead – they just don’t know it yet.
Which leads me to the latest interesting development: Lawrence and Wishart, a Leftist publisher who owns the rights to the English language edition of the enormous (over fifty volumes) Marx and Engels Collected Works, has demanded that that the Marxist Internet Archive – an amazing online library that includes not only the Collected Works but an astonishing collection of other writers ranging from Luxemburg and Gramsci to C.L.R. James and Walter Rodney – take down Marx and Engels’ Collected Works by April 30. Happy May Day, Comrades!
As anyone at all familiar with the Web could have predicted, this led to a massive backlash of outrage from the Left that Lawrence and Wishart were – naturally – unprepared for. On Friday April 21 their website published an utterly whiny complaint (“Lawrence & Wishart statement on the Collected Works of Marx and Engels“) that they’d been subjected to a “campaign of online abuse” because they “asked for [their] copyright” (sniff) “to be respected.”
Aside from the rather contemptible display of self-pity and entitlement, the statement reflects more than anything else an utter lack of business sense. “Ultimately, in asking L&W to surrender copyrights in this particular edition of the works of Marx & Engels, [Marxist Internet Archive] and their supporters are asking that L&W, one of the few remaining independent radical publishers in the UK, should commit institutional suicide.” This is nonsense on stilts. The hard copy set of the Collected Works, if bought as a complete set instead of one volume at a time, sells for 1500 British Pounds, which is somewhere well north of $2000. If Lawrence and Wishart can show one person, anywhere in the world, who put off shelling out over two thousand bucks for a set of the dead tree edition of Marx and Engels’ Collected Works because a digital online edition was available, I will eat my own left hand – raw, and without salt. The Marxist Internet Archive’s online edition of the Collected Works is not costing Lawrence and Wishart a single solitary sale. The only thing the online edition is competing against is a trip to a university library. If anything, the online edition is free advertising for the dead tree edition. In other words, Lawrence and Wishart is governed by the same abject stupidity as the music and movie industries – the dying music and movie industries.
Not only is Lawrence and Wishart as stupid as the music and movie industries, its attempt to suppress free, infinitely replicable digital information is turning out to be just as big a failure as those industries’ attempt to do so. No doubt the Archive will be mirrored, with its existing contents, at plenty of sites around the world. But in the meantime, the entire English language contents of the Marxist Internet Archive – including the disputed edition of Marx and Engels’ Collected Works – is available for torrent download at The Pirate Bay <https://thepiratebay.se/torrent/6231000/Marxists.org_-_full_English_language_archive>. And the Collected Works by themselves are available as a .zip file at Sendspace <http://www.sendspace.com/file/l7wx0o>. I’ve got a copy of the latter on my hard drive, and it works just fine – the individual files open up in a browser tab and look exactly like the online version. I recommend anyone who expects to be at all interested in accessing the Collected Works online at any point in the future to download one of these files ASAP – and share them with your friends, far and wide, via Bit Torrent Sync!
Enjoy your copyright, Lawrence and Wishart, for all the good it may do you. I love the smell of burning capitalists in the morning.
Citations to this article:
- Ben Mauk, Steal This E-Book?, The New Yorker, 05/05/14