[-empyre-] Intellectual property: hacking communities and traditional knowledge

David Golumbia dgolumbia at gmail.com
Sun Apr 27 23:42:19 EST 2014

This is one of the several reasons that I encourage us to think very
carefully about the links between open source, free software, open access
and "copyleft" and Left politics; I find them much thinner than most
suppose. Further, the odd fact that both the Right and the Left support
this position as if it realizes their political goals--a hallmark, I have
argued and will continue to argue, of the disturbing influence of
cyberlibertarianism--should give careful political thinkers pause.

while the linkages between those views and Left politics are hard to
establish, the linkages between them and Rightist politics--including the
very neoliberalism that the rhetoric would seem to suggest they
challenge--is clear and undeniable. Google supports many of the strongest
anti-copyright efforts. Figures like Tim O'Reilly, Eric Raymond, Julian
Assange, Eric Schmidt and many of the most vocal advocates of "open" have
at best strong ties to the business community and at worst outright
libertarian politics (or even farther to the Right). The intellectual
property targeted by copyleft movements, contrary to some of its rhetoric,
is almost never the most valuable intellectual property in our world
(corporate secrets, scientific IP in private hands, etc.), which can
already be protected by other means capital has at its disposal. It's the
work of academics, individual writers, programmers outside of their
corporate jobs, and so on--typically, the most precarious people, not the
least. While it can be tempting to see the efforts of "Big Music" and "Big
Entertainment" as "big" corporations that individuals should be fighting,
what is lost in that picture is that those copyright-based industries are
tiny compared to the worldwide technology and health and scientific
companies that keep their quiet hands operating in this debate. In both
cases these interests profit tremendously from entertainment companies
(see: YouTube, Google) and academics (science & tech) interests being
forced to give their work away for free. Further, the support of major
companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and others for F/OSS, as well as
their reliance on software developed for free that they now do not need to
pay for--should raise red flags. And if one digs carefully, one notes how
specific these companies are in terms of what they do and don't give
away--and the stuff they make the most money on, they don't give away, or
even let us see.

It is correctly noted that the figure most directly responsible for the
F/OSS movement (although it is not one movement), Richard Stallman,
considers himself a mildly left liberal, and the differences between Free
Software and Open Source do fall specifically long lines that look like
Left vs Right (indeed, Open Source was specifically started as a means for
making Free Software material more useful and less scary for corporate
capital). Yet at the bottom of FS is a curious assertion that people should
not own the products of their labor, and that labor should not be
compensated. Whatever one thinks of these principles, it is hard--in fact,
I'd argue it's impossible--to find them in Marx, or even less radical Left
thinkers, because they seem directly contrary to the notion of unalienable
labor that Marx and Marxists think is interrupted by capitalism.

I believe that much of the Left has been sold a bill of goods regarding
Open Source and Open Access. Yes, there are egregious corporate exemplars
who make a good story and whose abuses should be curtailed (Disney on the
one hand, Elsevier on the other). But it's a far cry from saying Disney
abuses copyright to saying copyright should be abolished.

One scholar has gone to great lengths, including interviewing Stallman in
detail, about the connections between free software and Left politics, and
found the connections almost nonexistent. I strongly encourage anyone,
especially academics, who support F/OSS for political reasons to read this
work carefully, as it leaves almost no connections tenable between those
movements at all, even on Stallman's own terms.

The indigenous communities are right; much of what accrues to us as
individuals and communities should not be given away freely, especially not
in a world where the largest corporate actors then become free to use what
we do however they see fit, and especially not via mandates that tell
creators, writers, and academics what they *must* do with their work, in
the name of freedom.

David Golumbia

On Sat, Apr 26, 2014 at 8:16 AM, Zac Zimmer <zacz at vt.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi to all, and thanks for the invitation to participate. I'd like to
> return to some of the issues posed earlier this month, and approach them
> through the lens of intellectual property.
> I assume everyone at empyre are familiar with the debates surrounding
> digital enclosures, digital commons, intellectual property, free software,
> free culture, etc. Speaking in broad terms, most members of the HASTAC and
> empyre communities likely reject the neoliberal IP maximalist position of
> the absolute and universal expansion of corporate-friendly North American
> norms of intellectual property. On the contrary, our communities celebrate
> the expansion of the public domain and open source information; some would
> even go so far as to name the free circulation of information as the source
> of human creative innovation.
> There is another organized group that resists the global IP maximalist
> position and has a very strong presence in the Andean region: indigenous
> communities. These communities are especially interested in protecting
> their traditional knowledges (TK) from capitalist appropriation. This leads
> us to a paradox: on the one hand, the central strategy for protecting TK
> resides in a process of withdrawing that knowledge from the global market
> and of creating more barriers to impede capitalist appropriation and
> exploitation of TK by multinational industry. On the other hand, the
> central strategy for protecting and advancing a culture of hacking and
> technological experimentation resides in a position of absolute openness,
> and a resistance to any barrier—be it technological, legal, or social—that
> would impede digital innovation.
> One can understand these two different approaches to globalizing IP
> norms—the openness of the hacker and the withdraw of the indigenous
> knower—but the distance between the two positions depoliticizes and
> deactivates a possible nucleus of collaboration. This is especially true
> given that within the logic of the World Intellectual Property Organization
> and bilateral Free Trade Agreements, both worlds—traditional knowledge and
> critical making—fall under the umbrella rubric of intellectual property. To
> explore this conflict, I pose the following question: how to connect the
> struggle to recognize and protect traditional knowledges with the struggle
> to protect a free and open network conducive to hacker culture?
> Zac Zimmer
> Assistant Professor of Spanish
> 313 Major Williams Hall
> Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
> Virginia Tech
> Blacksburg VA 24061
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

David Golumbia
dgolumbia at gmail.com
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