[-empyre-] "Piracy" as legitimate social practice

John Haltiwanger john.haltiwanger at gmail.com
Sat Jun 5 02:10:12 EST 2010

Hello all,

Apologies for the late self-introduction, I wanted to construct
something valuable to contribute other than simply saying "Hi my name
is John Haltiwanger and I am a New Media masters student at the
Universiteit van Amsterdam."

I am here first and foremost because I'm very interested in the
future(s) of screenic publishing. As the transition from manuscript to
printed book engendered changes in design and thus information, will
the transition from print to screen likewise evolve our design?
Perhaps it is simply personal taste, but I find it a curious case of
remediation that the best option for reading text on a screen (for me)
is available through PDFs that are typeset with the goal of being
printed. The increasingly graphic nature of printed text (in
newspapers, magazines) can be traced to the emergence of the Web, but
I am more interested in what new styles and modes of presentation hide
invisibly in the still developing world of screenic publishing.

I am excited to read that Sean will have more news for us on the next
stage of AAAARG (or at least its spirit). As a cash-strapped student I
often found AAAARG an indispensible element in my writing workchain. I
never got involved in issue-construction (basically collective
curation of a topic or concern), but I enjoyed having the opportunity
to upload new files onto the site and, later, to re-upload files to
external sites to lessen the burden on AAARG's server.

The issue of "piracy" as currently formulated is nothing more than a
forced criminalization of one of the truly unique avenues for social
interaction offered by the distributed nature of the Internet. To me
the parallels between the rendering of "file-sharing" as illegal
practice has historical parallels in the War on Drugs. It is not so
far off to imagine a future where "the talk" happens between parent
and child where it is explained that certain acts may have been
performed by that parent but within a time and context where it is
legitimized ("everyone was doing it", "we didn't know any better").
Only this time it will be about sharing files between individuals in
the 90s-00s, rather than about LSD or cannabis use in the 60s-70s.

The parallels run even further in regards to cannabis: the illegality
of both male and female cannabis can be traced directly to the
lobbying efforts of the deforestation industry in the 1930s (with
healthy doses of racist arguments/justification, of course). In both
cases, then, the criminalization of the social act (sharing joints or
sharing files) is rooted in the control of information. In the case of
cannabis, the utility of hemp as a renewable source of paper directly
challenged the deforestation (wood paper) industry. In the case of
Napster, the utility of file sharing as the most effective means of
distributing data directly challenged the centralizing mechanism of
the record store.

The material concerns of file sharing and drugs differ markedly, but
is necessary to acknowledge that the material concerns of drugs as we
know them today are in no small part the result of the legal policies
towards drugs. We cannot easily say what other means of organizing vis
a vis drugs would look like, much as we cannot easily imagine what the
Web's landscape would look like if, for instance, users were
accustomed to viewing videos through platforms such as Napster rather
than through YouTube. The snap back from distributed to centralized
means of publishing has visible and invisible effects. I'm curious if
anyone here has similar concerns about the re-centralization of
publishing we have seen and whether it can be seen as a direct result
of the Napster ruling.

John Haltiwanger

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