[-empyre-] Book Piracy and Alienated Labour

Sean Dockray sean.patrick.dockray at gmail.com
Sat Jun 5 10:55:24 EST 2010

If it helps, Emmett, I also have mixed and contradictory feelings  
about the practice.

I know I've been playing too much chess recently - I'm imagining how  
discussions over "book piracy" seem to open up along fairly common  
lines: e4 - why are there restrictions on the movement of texts when  
it is technically possible to overcome geographic, political, or  
economic limitations? c5 - authors and publishers have put in real  
labor and deserve monetary compensation in return.

The variations that might come out of this position? Attempts to prove  
that piracy actually helps book sales as opposed to reducing them.  
Arguments to settle for symbolic capital or other forms of  
valorization that can be "cashed in" elsewhere. Assurances that if  
piracy just went away the market would make sure that all those  
limitations were overcome. Proposals for micro-payments, creative  
commons, and other reforms. (This is obviously not the route chosen by  
Macmillan, who made news last year for "standing up to" Amazon over  
lower prices for digital books). Less common lines might be that  
piracy amounts to a strange form of unpaid marketing; that when it  
comes to art and theory, reading and writing doesn't break down so  
cleanly along the lines of consumption and production, or leisure and  

Emmett's argument about alienated labor resonates with me at this  
moment in particular because I have had to wait until finishing my  
full-time day job (which is the equivalent of writing ad copy) each  
day to participate in this week's discussion! I'm assuming some in  
this discussion have a university job based in these issues, or are  
teaching a class on them, or are writing on the topics? Some are in  
the position to translate the knowledge or symbolic value from  
discussions on this list into real income. I'm conflicted when tenured  
faculty use AAAARG to make a reader for their classes, to save  
themselves time. I completely agree with the calls to think about the  
unaffiliated, selfishly I suppose, because that's my camp!

[ One thing that I'm wondering is, should these discussions be based  
on the assumption that each download represents quantifiable lost  
income for publisher and author? Obviously this has legal precedent,  
where people end up "owing" a few million dollars because of the music  
they downloaded. But the zero-sum logic of it all frames the  
discussion in a certain way. The actual economics of publishing are a  
mystery to me and it isn't public, so I'm left with speculation (watch  
out!) based on anecdotal data. I spend roughly the same amount on  
books and art as what I make on sales, fees, and rentals  (OK, I'm  
flattering myself a little bit here). Is this common? Is it the same  
thousand dollars passing through all of our hands? ]

How might we pose our mixed feelings in a way that isn't point- 
counterpoint, but something less identifiable; or even how do we try  
and imagine possibilities beyond the capitalist framework, something  
that's not just turning the price dial down on a product until it hits  
the level where people start using their credit card again?

Jumping over to Michael Dieter's post, which says that file-sharing,  
like gentrification, produces value that ends up in the pockets of  
those few who own the networks or buildings or whatever, I'd agree  
that Free Culture is not the road map or destination point or anything  
(and so I haven't argued for that anywhere). Looking at the  
specificity of AAAARG, which is composed of people who are generally  
cognitive workers themselves, reading and referencing as a part of  
their practice, I see a space of confrontation over the very materials  
with which we produce; many of the authors on AAAARG are also  
registered and several of them have expressed extraordinarily nuanced,  
ambivalent, and internally conflicted positions: Paul Gilroy, Jason  
Read, and Stuart Elden for example, on the site or on other networks.  
Publishers (doing their job) surreptitiously register and send cease  
and desist letters about Marxist and anti-copyright texts. And of  
course the people who use the site think quite concretely about the  
nature of the site (what belongs?) and tactics for the project.

What I'm getting at is that it's not my place to assign a politics to  
AAAARG, that comes out of its use and out of the responses or activity  
it provokes, its life as a public space. Nevertheless, I personally  
see it aligned with the occupation movement, as something which is  
actively trying to produce conditions for critical thought, which  
itself is being downsized and subject to inane requirements to justify  
itself through results. Although I will fully support reform demands  
that come up here (for wage increases, better health insurance,  
favorable copyright laws, etc.) I feel most invested and interested in  
autonomous spaces and forms (things like Virno's "defection modifies  
the condition within which the struggle takes place, rather than  
presupposing those conditions to be an unalterable horizon" or  
Tiqqun's "The Party is a collection of places, infrastructures,  
communised means; and the dreams, bodies, murmurs, thoughts, desires  
that circulate among those places, the *use* of those means, the  
sharing of those infrastructures.")

Back to P2P (actually in an effort to break free of the IP  
discussion).. as Pasquinelli writes of the parasite on (between) P2P  
culture (the owners of the network who take money for that very "free"  
activity), we can always be looking at who is profiting from free  
labor and Free ideology that sustains it. My mind jumps to things like  
access to libraries (my UC Library card was taken away when I stopped  
teaching) or access to JSTOR (also removed at the same time) or  
conferences, festivals, and the like. Those knowledge networks that  
academics take for granted, but the boundaries of which are most  
apparent to the precarious laborers (grad students, lecturers,  
adjuncts who regularly cross in and out of the institution, gaining  
and losing "privileges" each time), rely on valorization as  
compensation for virtually free labor, while education remains a  
profitable industry for some.

Finally, on this idea of "sustainability" that has been brought up  
directly or indirectly in several posts... it seems like Michael is  
asking for a response about the act of writing in general: why invest  
our energies in autonomous projects if in the end, it isn't  
sustainable (they won't sustain the people who write with a living  
wage)? Of course, capitalism isn't sustainable either, but I think his  
point is that AAAARG is more of a symptom of capitalism than a  
response to it. Maybe this comes down to whether you think the system  
generates the crisis within capitalism or if we do. Either way, I'm  
not going to make an argument for file-sharing paying writers enough  
to pay their landlord, their insurance company, their kid's daycare,  
their student loans, their credit card, and so on! AAAARG is  
definitely not the solution to that. It is contingent, happening now,  
part of a movement, something that I wouldn't want to collapse or  
simply be recuperated. A different kind of sustainability we might be  
talking about.

A little later in the Tiqqun text the lived practice of communism is  
described as "the formation of sensibility as a force" and "the  
deployment of an archipelago of worlds." This compared to iTunes for  
books or Creative Commons... a different game entirely...

On Jun 3, 2010, at 5:57 PM, Emmett Stinson wrote:

> I’ve just written an article offering a pragmatic analysis of so- 
> called ‘book piracy’ for Overland magazine, and I have mixed and  
> contradictory feelings about the practise. On the one hand, I am  
> emphatically against any attempts to criminalise or penalise  
> activities relating to not-for-profit ‘book piracy’ and am a staunch  
> believer in copyright reform that enables a more free and open  
> access to copyrighted material. But I also come from a publishing- 
> industry perspective and strongly believe that both authors and  
> their publishers (or other intermediaries) have a legitimate right  
> to expect payment for their labour.
> The argument that books and information should be (monetarily) free  
> to everyone is absolutely compelling for academics; since most  
> academics have salaried positions, they don’t need royalties from  
> books to survive. But for other kinds of writers, the idea of free  
> culture may simply result in more alienated labour (i.e. people who  
> say things like ‘I write advertising copy during the week, but I’m a  
> novelist on weekends…’).

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