Friday, February 3, 2012

SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, private property and internet monopolies (part 1)

Wikipedia was one of the many sites that protested the SOPA act

While I had to spent a few weeks in the hospital, taking care of my sick mother, many things happened in the world - after all, we are in the middle of a crisis, so events tend to unfold very rapidly (and they certainly won't wait for my sick mother to recover)

Iran is always on the news, Europe sanctions against Iran (something that particularly hurts the weaken European economies that are very much dependent on Iranian oil - Greece in particular is committing economic suicide as a state, in order to please its rulers), Iran sells oil to India in exchange for gold, China is ready to do even more business with Iran, as they could become Iran's only client if the West goes ahead with its sanctions. China may even benefit from this situation, as Iran will probably be forced to sell its oil at a cheaper price.

Furthermore, the West is even trying to launch an attack against Syria, the only neighbouring country left that isn't under Western rule. If the West succeeds, Iran will be completely surrounded - but Russia (and China) are vetoing this attack (for obvious reasons).

But hey, who cares about this boring stuff? Maybe we will start caring if (or rather, when) we stop being able to buy oil at "reasonable" prices. For now, let's talk about something else, something that is REALLY serious, SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and all those other weird laws that inhibit piracy on the internet. I mean, you take away whatever you want, except our "free" internet and our "right" to watch, listen, share and download stuff without having to pay any money for it, right? :-)

Let's face it, we are all hooked in this "culture of free", especially when it comes to the internet: Free movies, free music, free books, free information, free news, free TV shows, free sports live coverage, free porn, you name it, it's there and it's for free.

And not only is it cheaper, but it can also be better that the paid version if it (for example, the newspaper provides a much slower coverage of the news, and you can't use any video, etc. So, the internet is a much better medium). Furthermore, the internet is an entirely "new realm", and this means that there are many "unexplored regions", and room for innovation. It also means that it hasn't yet reached the stage of the "game" where a few oligarchs control it (whereas the "real" world HAS reached this stage, and there are monopolies and oligopolies wherever you look, controlling everything - banking, oil, media, telecommunications, even the food we eat (think Monsanto)).

Of course, the ruling class is trying to "establish its authority" on the internet, and a few oligopolies/monopolies are already being formed. And the rich oligarchs are trying to buy whatever they can get their hands on - for example JP Morgan wants to invent a lot of money in Twitter and other internet projects (and so does Goldman Sachs and all the other "big players").

 So, a familiar pattern emerges: A few "players" start owning everything, and there is no real need for to create something, as they can just own it and demand to be paid by the rest of us for the usage of their property (much like the Monopoly board game).

But let's be fair, the internet is not yet monopolized, or at least it isn't as monopolized as everything else. This is why we like it, because we can still innovate, and use it for our benefit (for example, we can share music, videos, books, etc. We can even find cool blogs and sites that provide a much clearer view of world that the traditional media, or use tweeter and facebook to better coordinate events such as "the Arab spring"!).

Was all this "too good to last"?

Gutenberg died on February 3, 1468

Here is an interesting tidbit from a Telegraph article:
One of the most important technological advances in the past thousand years was Gutenberg's printing press. As one Italian bishop put it, it would take three printers working for three months to produce 300 copies of a book – but it would take three scribes a lifetime each to complete the same number.

Yet it wasn't only the speed of the printing press that made it so revolutionary – it was its ability to produce practically perfect copies of written text. No longer would students have to worry about errors or omissions introduced by scribes working off second or third-hand copies – they could instead rest assured that their copy was as accurate as the original master.

Ideas could spread faster, farther, and with more fidelity than ever before – not for nothing does Elizabeth Evenden, a lecturer in the history of books, call the new technology "the internet of its day", with information no longer "coming purely from the pulpits or disseminated by governments."

Over five hundred years on, we can now make 300 copies of a book – and send them across the world – not in three months, but in the blink of an eye. This advance has led to the flowering of online commerce and the exchange of new and diverse ideas between people who would never otherwise have been able to talk, let alone meet [...] 
Yes, we all now have a "printing press" in our very houses, and it is a much better one than the one created by Gutenberg! All it takes is a computer and electricity.

Of course, the fact that now ideas and news can spread at a much faster pace and reach broader audiences doesn't mean that that "we are more wise than ever". In fact, the world seems to be more complicated and difficult to understand than ever before, as lies can also be spread faster now than ever before. The key to knowledge is not just having more information, but it is having a coherent vision of the world, in order to correctly process all the data you receive from it. To put it in another way, what's the point of having a lot of TV stations, if their content is crap, or if your tv is not working, because it's can't decode the signal it receives?

Internet provided the people with a powerful - granted, it hasn't always been used very wisely, but still it enables us to listen to alternative opinions except the usual "talking heads" of the "big media". And it also allows us to share things like music or movies, and even enhance them (for example, you can use the information you found on an article to create a better article of your own, etc.).

This is all great and all, but how can the capitalists ensure that the founding principle on which their system is based will be respected?

Capitalism is a system based on private property.
This is something that everyone knows, yet surprisingly few people seem to be able to understand what this means. Here is a very interesting chart + commentary from azizonomics:

[...] the rising trend of file sharing has given media companies the sense that they are “losing revenue”:

Private property: This is what it comes down to. What the "media companies" are essentially saying is that they own this song, this TV series episode, this e-book or this movie. They paid some money in order to acquire this particular "square" on the real-life "monopoly board", and now they want to collect rent everytime someone steps in their square. This is how the system works, isn't it? I mean, what's the point of buying a square on the Monopoly board, if the other players aren't going to pay you if they step on it? What's the point of financing the creation of a movie or a TV series, if the viewrs ("clients") refuse to pay any money for watching it?

This is very bad for you, the owner of this particular square. And this is why you must stop this sort of behaviour, which goes against the very core of the system (private property). I mean, the people do respect private property when it comes to paying their electricity bills, or paying the barber who cuts their hair. But when it comes to paying for watching movies, or reading a book, they don't. This is not just an financial matter of "lost revenue", it is also a political and ideological battle:

The people "must" be taught to respect private property laws on the internet, otherwise they might get some "strange ideas" about abolishing private property all together, thus ending all the monopolies that now control their lives and replacing them with a system the producers of wealth cooperate and share everything, from mp3's and movies and electricity, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".

Here are some more interesting comments by the azizonomics article i mentioned earlier:
[...] The trouble is file sharing isn’t “lost revenue”. There is no guarantee whatever that a file downloaded is somehow a substitute for a sale. It’s a fundamentally different kind of transaction. For a start, it’s free. Consumers will take things for free that they would never buy, because it costs them less to do so. More importantly, it’s not stealing; it’s copying, and there is a difference. It’s not taking a physical product that someone has manufactured. There’s no direct lost revenue. And ultimately, if enough people copy it, it builds exposure for a product. 
This last point is actually correct - piracy is a good way to build exposure. But this is not as important as respecting private property, as it is the cornerstone upon which capitalism is built on. The article claims that downloading something for free is "not stealing; it’s copying, and there is a difference. It’s not taking a physical product that someone has manufactured". But this is not correct:

Capitalism treats everything as "products" that can be sold or bought (for a profit), or at least that's its "natural instinct". NOTHING is free. You have to fight for every little thing in this life ("there is no such thing as a free lunch" in capitalism as the neoliberals famously -and rightly- declared). Movies, books, music songs, all these things are products -the fact that they are not physical doesn't really matter much. In fact, this is a big problem for the capitalists, as the "digital age" is still new, and the people haven't yet been taught that they must respect private property laws on the "digital products" (whereas they have been taught that they must respect private property laws on the "physical products", as they have been around for many years).

Here's another good point made by the azizonomics article:
[...] There are still many ways for big media to monetise their products in this new world: the music industry can stop concentrating on record sales, and started concentrating on concert tickets. Newspapers can move their businesses online, or use Apple’s tablet distribution model. Movie distributors can focus on high-definition content like Blu Ray, which is hard to redistribute online. That’s just off the top of my head.

But of course, this is creative destruction. Times change, societies change, fortunes will be made and fortunes will be lost.

So it’s in the interests of the big media elite to harness the power of government to create draconian laws to snub out the copy and paste new media culture that has developed, because that opens up a whole new revenue stream: litigation. If you can’t earn your millions, you might as well litigate your way to them [...]
This is correct, and if you click the article's link, you will find a lot of interesting graphs about this "creative destruction", as the "old media" are falling, and the "new media" are rising, as they are better, cheaper and they are not as controlled by a few rich oligarchs (who inhibit creation in order to get rich by asking us to respect private property - something that makes a lot of sense for them, the owners of pretty much everything, but makes no real sense to us who have (next to) nothing and are about to go bankrupt, just like it happens on any Monopoly game).

Here is a great article from the people of Pirate Bay (some of them got arrested today). It accurately describes a "cycle of events" that always leads to the formation of monopolies, that control our lives and inhibit growth and creation. This cycle must finally be broken - but this can only happen if our system of private property is replaced by a system run by those who work and actually produce wealth, not by those who own it and use it to control everyone else, with their own profits as their only "moral guide" in life. Today's system has trully reached a point of incredible decay, as it gives people the inceptive to fight against each other in order to survive. A few people will survive only by destroying the lives of many others.

This is what we are witnessing today before our very eyes - the internet is but one of many fronts, although its "digital" nature makes it a more compelling case, as the people haven't yet been taught to "respect private property" and they try to "make up excuses for their disobedience" ("it's not stealing; it's copying", etc.). But true victory can only come for the people only if and when they abolish private property all together - otherwise, they will over and over again be destined to repeat this vicious cycle:

A Message from the People at
 Over a century ago Thomas Edison got the patent for a device which would “do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear”. He called it the Kinetoscope. He was not only amongst the first to record video, he was also the first person to own the copyright to a motion picture.

Because of Edison’s patents for the motion pictures, it was close to financially impossible to create motion pictures in the North American east coast. The movie studios therefor relocated to California, and founded what we today call Hollywood. The reason was mostly because there was no patent.

There was also no copyright to speak of, so the studios could copy old stories and make movies out of them — like Fantasia, one of Disney’s biggest hits ever.

So, the whole basis of this industry, that today is screaming about losing control over immaterial rights, is that they circumvented immaterial rights. They copied (or put in their terminology: “stole”) other people’s creative works, without paying for it. They did it in order to make a huge profit. Today, they’re all successful and most of the studios are on the Fortune 500 list of the richest companies in the world. Congratulations — it’s all based on being able to re-use other people’s creative works. And today they hold the rights to what other people create.

If you want to get something released, you have to abide [by] their rules. The ones they created after circumventing other people’s rules.

The reason they are always complaining about “pirates” today is simple. We’ve done what they did.
We circumvented the rules they created and created our own. We crushed their monopoly by giving people something more efficient. We allow people to have direct communication between each other, circumventing the profitable middle [men, who] in some cases take over 107% of the profits (yes, you pay to work for them).

It’s all based on the fact that we’re competition. We’ve proven that their existence in their current form is no longer needed. We’re just better than they are.

And the funny part is that our rules are very similar to the founding ideas of the USA. We fight for freedom of speech. We see all people as equal. We believe that the public, not the elite, should rule the nation. We believe that laws should be created to serve the public, not the rich corporations.

The Pirate Bay is truly an international community. The team is spread all over the globe — but we’ve stayed out of the USA. We have Swedish roots and a Swedish friend said this:

The word SOPA means “trash” in Swedish. The word PIPA means “a pipe” in Swedish. This is of course not a coincidence. They want to make the Internet into a one way pipe, with them at the top, shoving trash through the pipe down to the rest of us obedient consumers.

The public opinion on this matter is clear. Ask anyone on the street and you’ll learn that no one wants to be fed with trash. Why the US government [wants] the American people to be fed with trash is beyond our imagination, but we hope that you will stop them, before we all drown [...]