Radical media, politics and culture.

Vampires of Value, Masters of Repression

[please do not circulate, this is a draft for a magazine, composed some time ago and now needing renovation ;-) Comments and criticisms on the other hand are needed!]

Vampires of Value, Masters of Repression

As the lawyer triumphantly heralds the prosecution of a 12 year old girl for activity carried out from her own bedroom I can hardly keep a sense of disbelief at bay. The girl resides in a council flat in Brooklyn, just a couple of miles from the manhattan venue of this "intellectual property" industry meet. He is celebrating this ghastly event because the music industry jihad against file-sharing is understood to be a fight over the definition of norms, and demonstrations that even children and pensioners are not safe from the disciplinary intrusions of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is exactly the type of fearful lesson they wish to impart. In truth the prosecutions being conducted are intended as spectacles for the consumption of the criminal mass, seated in front of their televisions. And gallingly this at a time when music industry sales are increasing for the first time since 1999.

Developments in the US put us on notice last year that the intensity of the p2p wars stood ready to escalate, and industry has initiated litigation against 6,500 individuals so far. No surprise then when hostilities commenced in Europe in April, opening with nearly three hundred actions against users in Italy, Germany and Denmark. Shortly afterwards France followed suit, and in October the UK and Austria joined the modern-day witch hunt, whilst in Iceland raids have been carried out in at the behest of the Motion Picture Association of America's local arm. (MPAA). Elsewhere the offensive remains purely at the level of threats (Ireland) or attempts by the private sector to coerce state action (Spain). Industry's strategy now revolves around four pillars: prosecutions, the indoctrination of children, a high-profile re-education campaign and moves to introduce legalized channels for commodity downloading such as Apple's iTunes.

The tools of industry-driven pedagogy range from the grotesque to the merely absurd. MPAA ads depict the industry as a sort of friendly society for the working class (please don't download, I'll lose my McJob!). These advocacy ads include unlikely defenders such as cinema employees whom enjoy no union and hyper-exploitation. In the UK one copyright-partisan, obviously an admirer of Borges, encouraged children to add that holy of holies, the circled c, to their homework - has he forgotten the anthropological centrality of cogging amongst pre-teens? Meanwhile, a variety of talking heads roll out tired shibboleths about p2p as an endless vault of paedofilia and, as is now quasi-liturgical, how piracy is funding terrorism. This ritual canard was most recently hoisted anew by John Ashcroft whilst presenting the latest installment of the Mills & Boon tale that is the relationship between state and the entertainment industry.

The report uses the threat of poor quality counterfeit merchandise as the pretext to embark on a widescale expansion of the criminal justice apparatus dedicated to sniffing out IP crime. The means to do so are of course institution creep, or the use of the IP question to demand budget and recruitment boosting of the FBI and Department of Justice. Music to industry's ears, as there is little they could more desire than to transfer the cost of enforcement - technical surveillance, gathering of evidence, lawyers fees - from their own coffers to those of the state. Beefing up domestic enforcement is twinned with an intensification on the international level, where government is to institute law-enforcement treaties, prioritize IP expansion and policing in trade agreements, and the specific suggestion to second DOJ agents to Budapest and Hong Kong and involve FBI legal attaches already implanted within US embassies abroad (executors of the recent seizure of indymedia servers in London?). It was the DOJ's CCIPS that recently, and to great fanfare, dedicated huge resources to busting a Direct Connect ring called the Underground Network (http://www.udgnet.com/), composed entirely of amateurs, for criminal copyright infringement.

"Today's investigative action sends a clear message to online thieves who steal the hard work and innovation of others. And it sends a clear message to those who think nothing of downloading those stolen goods to their computers or MP3 players. You can pay the fair value for music, movies, software and games like every other consumer, or you can pay an even higher price when you are caught committing online theft." John Ashcroft

213 separate lawsuits in the US have been filed against named defendants refused RIAA overtures to pay up $3,000 and promise to behave.


Beyond the futility of this campaign there lies also a perversity. The music industry is founded on constructing and capitalizing niche and youth cultures, producing or amplifying styles and generally exploiting the cultivation of the self which the attraction of tends is based upon. Viral promotion of bands by their fans combined with an adroit PR campaign have been staples of celebrity-manufacture. Music companies are pioneers in online promotion through chat-rooms and the use of undercover marketing in the streets. And the commercial result - thanks to a stern dosage of commodity fetichism - manifests itself in the purchase of CDs whose retail price obviously has no relationship to the cost of production. So in what way is file-sharing a nuisance rather than free labour allowing a greater penetration of the target market? This is the crux of immaterial value. And it is precisely because of its fugitive and intangible nature that the processes of exploitation upon which it depends are ignored or taken for granted. If repetitive motion of the hands characterized labour in the industrial era, it is the persuasive and explanatory power of the word and the smile of reassurance on the face that denote our time. The exploitation of relational abilities is key in the era of market super-saturation; only the personal touch, the soothing word of the telephone-operator, the personalized recommendation can create brand loyalty.

Filesharing will eventually result in the relocation of monetization in the productive process, a tendency already plain in the software industry and which some see emerging in pornography as well. Other forms of scarcity can be manufactured around celebrity than mere plastic disks. Furthermore numerous commercial revenue streams can be policed easier than before.

What is true in production is echoed in research and development - oceans of diffuse innovation and the archipelagoes of specialist knowledge networked, achieve what was once enclosed within specialist labs and universities; teenagers code the systems underlying transnational corporations, users create new applications of existing technologies, workers equip one another with knowledge between peers.

This everyday catastrophe produces anger, anxiety and frustration. In other times these were the base metals for dissident alchemy; from them arose the desire to understand and change everything. Today, the atomization of social and working life undermines tentative steps towards social rebellion. Overwhelmed by a dizzying production of images, nonsensical and mendacious messages from a media oligopoly with a vital function within semiotic capitalism, the individual has difficulty in making sense of an environment so obviously flawed. Follywood excludes any collective reflection and canals the viewers dissatisfactions into individual alienation, with consumption and self-reliance the only antidotes offered.

It is impossible to imagine how to exit the present without understanding (1) the way in which value is now created, the productive process which reorganizes power within the relations of production and the desires of those who bring it labour. (b) Intellectual property laws determine redefine how wealth is divided and the relative power of employers and employees (c) With the end of the point of physical production as the place where value is concentrated and supply can be stopped, conflicts cannot unfold as before. Each individual piece is substitutable both in terms of factory sites and personnel. Stoppages and sabotage of course continue to disrupt but they cannot provoke the crisis within an individual firm so as to change the balance of power. A communications strategy poses the problem in terms of the popular perception of a struggle (is it right? are common interests made visible? is it inspiring? are the protagonists people like us?) which will be determinant in deciding the success of any other industrial action or workplace agitation.

An industry where the ability to monetize the product is entirely based on laws artificially restricting reproduction, thereby eliminating competition and the enabling imposition of monopoly prices on consumers. The cultural product's ability to create revenue derives from pervasive media's capacity to promote it, associate its consumption with a desirable state of being and ultimately assign it iconic status; the success of these pitches are determined however by the user/consumer, whose decision to employ a given totem as a tool of identity or relations with others determines success or failure. The manufacturing and distribution process complies with the predicates of postfordist economics: manufactured in a location chosen on the basis of the global cost of labour, distributed and sold using a casualised flexible workforce. The contingent nature of the production process makes it imperative for industry to intervene in the course of technological development to disable uncontrolled reproduction and to erect repressive legal machinery to wage war on insubordination from the businness model.

Copyright violation arises as a diffuse conflict because the means of production are immediately available. Trademark law, enabling the generalized accumulation of immaterial value as brand and has a more pervasive effect on working life but yet is not challenged in such a diffuse way simply because few people have the means to open a MacDonalds or a Nike Store anyway. Likewise patent laws have devastating effects which are more difficult to impose with immediacy because the complexity and capital inputs required are beyond the scope of anyone but the super-rich or the corporation. The current drive to introduce software patents is an exception to this and is being widely opposed, for the moment by political means but later other strategies will be used, probably akin to what has ahppened to CSS and DRM. In addition both of these contexts require fixed production/distribution centres vulnerable to police targeting. Illegal drug laboratories, commercial counterfeiting operations.

The rupture between price and cost is rendered clear in cultural goods by the fact that that there is little difference between the price of CDs or between the that of books or movies. Of course the costs of production are not the same; stephen king will not write a short story for less than a million, over 90% of the books published finish with authors being paid buttons. Likewise there are massive divergences in the outlays on promotion. The price structure is determined by and for industry purposes and 'authors are merely an input, notwithstanding the trade associations pretensions to chivalry in their defense. Business stands to lose because as soon as the scarcity resides in the author the boot is very much on the other foot, although the industry in many countries control the infrastructure for live performance to a substantial degree. Cultural symbols effectively benefit from a sort of non-linear and frequently niche-focused type of network effect. The concept originated in the telphone system where the it was understood that the addition of every individual user made the network more valuable to everybody. Developments in compatability today have made this less relevenat in telephony and now it is usually discussed in relation to software. The point is that in all these cases the work of adding value is done by the user, not the producer, a function of the common even though the fiscal benefits accrue to the private.

In France the SCPP (collective rights society) is the agent of the repressive turn: filing complaints that result in house searches, examination of users' computers and seizure of mastered CDs. Such was the case for Anne-Sophie Lainnemé, a 27 year old unemployed woman from Rennes, charged with downloading and making available music via Kazaa. The approach of the SCPP make the RIAA as they proceed without sending a mail of warning or using the ISP as an intermediary to pressurize.


That trademarks constitute the giuridico-divinities of the brand universe is news to no-one, but the tendency towards their naturalization should be resisted. GM note that the ability of Nike to sell their shoes at $100 poses a problem in terms of understanding the contemporary nature of exploitation, the intensified penetration of the accumulation process into leisure time and lifestyle, and the rewards that await products that can insinuate themselves into the space of peer evaluation. But let's consider another example: pharmaceuticals. Until 2001 Eli Lilly held a patent on fluoxetine, the prescription drug marketed as Prozac. The latter continues to be synonymous with depression medication and it sells at up to twenty times the cost of unbranded fluoxetine which is identical in every respect but the packaging and the marketing campaign.This is also why most pharmaceutical companies spend twice as much on marketing as they do on research and development.

This redefinition of value by a combination of a fetish added tax (F.A.T.) and consumer created utility is a death sentence for the centrality of live labour in the field of production of goods. The effectiveness of strike action at the point of production is set on a descending slope. New tools are needed; forms of sabotage of the affective and relational skills put to work, and as p2p shows there are large potential spaces for users to reappropriate rather than just working as unwitting ancillaries to immaterial business strategies.

If "progress" had any sense of sportsmanship, then the manner of distributing wealth would modulate in line with this increasing collectivization of the production process. Instead we are witness to increasing income polarization, the repeal of mechanisms of collective guarantee established through struggles of labour over hundreds of years, often paid for in blood, and the resurgence of forms of exploitation akin to slavery and feudalism. As the extension of working life is extended against the grain of technological development, let us rail with Raoul Vaneigem:

"The tripalium is an instrument of torture. The Latin word labor means "suffering". We are unwise to forget this origin of the words "travail" and "labour".