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25 June 2005

Filesharing - The New Economy of Community

The BPI has growled and snarled again and is victimising and showing its teeth to another small handful of people in the UK who form a tiny fraction of users in an Internet population of over 400,000,000 file sharers around the world.

The Antagonist has written several times about the fundamental truths that underlie the p2p debate, and the futility of the issuance of legal threats (here, here, here and here) and is once again duty bound to authoring the following article in another attempt to introduce whatever tiny degree of logic possible into the arena of file-sharing discussion.

Conceptually, the issue is not that file-sharing occurs, rather the inevitable consequences of that file-sharing.

Confused? You won't be...

The Inevitable Transformation of Copy Rights

Since its inception, the Internet has resulted in the emergence of the ultimate fantasy of free-market-fetishists everywhere, an entirely cooperative and entirely free-market that dissolves international boundaries, regulates itself without rules, and in which anyone with an Internet connection can participate.

This Internet community has built itself almost from nothing to the crescendo of now in the space of just 20 years and it is only just starting to be recognised, or perhaps openly acknowledged by those that have denied it for so long, as the force of evolution and escalating consciousness that is its very essence.

This community, for it is a community in the true sense of the word, has created all manner of things from open-source operating systems and applications that compete with the expensive corporate alternatives, right through to music, films and words - not for profit - but for everyone to use as they choose, and at their discretion. The price for this service? So negligible as to be as close to free as anyone might hope to achieve.

The world is unquestionably a better place for the novelty of these developments. Unless, of course, you happen to be entirely reliant on the captive market that results from the monopolistic or oligopolistic control of markets and distribution channels.

The international network of peer-to-peer users, Internet Relay Chatters and Instant Messengers consists of ordinary people who share freely and globally their local and individual forms of culture, music and ideas. The morality of doing so cannot be legislated, nor can any such legislation be realistically enforced, especially when the captive market on which that legislation depends no longer exists.

The P2P community is the embodiment of a global mass-rejection of the hard-copy, solid-state, media channels of yore that dictated, "Here, watch this, at this time, but only if you can afford it!" The old, inflexible, paradigm of controlled media distribution through specific channels has necessarily given way to worldwide networks of media consumers who listen to and watch what they want, when they want. This is the 'On demand' media utopia that multimedia always promised but that the media industries failed to deliver, instead choosing to rely on their captive audience remaining captive, despite technological revolutions greater than that of the industrial revolution which reversed that captivity forever.

Recently the media industries finally evolved enough to enter the digital media race, embarking on a game of catch-up in a competition that ended some time ago. That this is a fact, cannot be denied. Nor can it be denied that the media companies, even in their international collective cabals with all their legal might, have little hope of closing the file-sharing floodgates now, or at any point in the future, for this would be similar in nature to the Sissyphean task of trying to persuade everyone that the Earth is flat.

And, while the likes of RIAA/MPAA, and their international cohorts around the world, pursue their ill thought out, self-defeating campaigns of issuing legal threats against their customers - the very same people who fund the media's existence and who include children, grandmothers and dead people - for the abominable charges of watching films and listening to music, a whole other world emerges outside of the boundaries of currently acceptable peer-to-peer debate. Until now.

The very collectivisation and faux-dedication of the multi-national media companies to their hopeless cause tells us far more about what has not entered the copyright discussion thus far than what has. Aside from nearly every song and every film ever made, peer-to-peer networks also contain nearly every operating system, software application, research paper, radio show, TV show, lecture, interview, talk, speech, script, document, thesis, legal document and just about every book of every kind in every language ever published.

Are we to presume that those who claim ownership of anything else that can be digitised, and which therefore cannot be owned or controlled as before, follow the same path as the media industries? With the benefit of logic, rationality, and the hindsight of evidence demonstrating the extreme inefficacy of this tactic, I think not.

If the Stick Doesn't Work, Try the Carrot

The multinational media companies openly state that the only reason legal threats are issued against anyone is to serve as a 'deterrent' to the peer-to-peer community that, in private at least, the media companies know they cannot dream of stopping. Naturally, the deterrent function of a handful of legal proceedings has failed and all manner of peer-to-peer, Internet and network statistics exist to support this position.

File-sharing traffic now constitutes almost 90% of all Internet traffic, and as more of the world comes online, the number of users that comprise that 90% of Internet traffic will increase exponentially. This in turn this renders the idea of continuing to issue legal proceedings against individual peer-to-peer users even more redundant than it would already appear to any right-minded business person unfamiliar with the bizarre practice of suing their customers.

As the efforts of media companies to herd customers who have escaped via a variety of alternative sources back into CD and vinyl pens with a big stick, ever greater numbers of people around the world are actively demonstrating their reluctance to be shepherded, either through extortion, victimisation, or otherwise, into paying artificially-inflated, cartel-inspired prices for things which they have become accustomed to accessing for considerably less.

Of course, the media industries will make big noises about each individual case of victimisation because the reality of the matter is that one user, 1,000 users, or even 1 million users is still less than one percent of the overall user base and will never approach being anything other than an insignificant statistic.

What if 50 million peer-to-peer users decided to join forces and issue legal proceedings against the media cartels for price-fixing and other easily provable predatory 'free-market' tactics used to hold media buyers hostage since the advent of the gramophone? There isn't a lawyer in the world that wouldn't leap at the chance to lead that prosecution.

The Economy of Community

A world of sensory experience that previously required considerable disposable income is now accessible to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Those that stand to lose their self-appointed rights to that over which they had no legitimate claim originally will necessarily endeavour to hold back the unstoppable march of the progress which instantly dissolves their illegitimate and transparent claims to the right of eternal private profit at the public expense of everyone.

As file-sharing is vilified by those that wish to maintain the anachronistic status quo of a century of media control, it would be wise for the rest of us to remember that peer-to-peer networking and file-sharing liberates the media, information and knowledge for one and all, and that this liberation results in rapidly escalating levels of awareness and consciousness that serve the benefit of all humanity, albeit at the expense of those that desire otherwise. This, in part, is the menace of peer-to-peer networking.

The real menace of peer-to-peer networking and file-sharing as perceived by multi-national industries and governments alike, however, is not that files are being freely traded, but instead the direct and inevitable consequences of those files being traded.

The consequence of the digital revolution that has liberated information, knowledge and people, is that it challenges traditional profit-based market models. New, uncharted economic territory is being explored and the emerging economic models of this territory are so diverse from those we have known that they challenge the long-held positions of power and influence that multi-national corporations and governments have fought so long and hard against the people to preserve.

Everything wants to be free. If this wasn't the case, governments and corporations wouldn't have to go to such extreme lengths to make it not so. The new, emerging economic model of the Internet and file-sharing paradigm is now substantiating this claim as never before.

This is the power of sharing, co-operation and community, and it comes almost entirely free of artificially inflated charges.

There. It has been said. The cat is out of the bag. The horse has bolted. The banks have burst.

"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", as Neil Armstrong once said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful rant - and true too! :)