The older I get, the younger I wish I still was...
- Getting It In: This is how I do. Thursday at the 700 club. Drunk as a skunk on a work night, flossin’ a fresh white T and DJing in what looks like a bathroom. I stay gully (and rock at least 3 t-shirts at all times). I just posted this shit to combat the excessive nerdiness I spew below.
- Houston: New York Times talking ‘bout that there Houston rap shit. Thowed. Frankly, I think a lot of that Houston shit sucks, but Slim Thug gets love from me.
- Blowjobs: Call me crazy, but I find anything remotely intellectual about fellatio and fellating and fellaters to be worth a read.
- I’m an idiot: Please Sixers, just win one game and you’re in the play-offs. Just one. Come on! But, as for what makes me an idiot? Who the fuck cares if they make the play-offs? They’re gonna get fucking stomped anyway. I dunno why I waste my energy on such stupid shit… hence, I’m an idiot.
- A Few (!) Thoughts on Intellectual Property and Music: Ok, this is stupid long, but fuck y’all. Read it anyway. So, I’ve been reading a bunch of Intellectual Property shit recently and I figured I’d post a brief history of IP that I plagiarized from several sources (most notably Calra Hesse’s “The Rise of Intellectual property, 700 BC – AD 2000”) and then talk some shit about music and the web and other shit because this is my blog and I’ll talk about whatever the fuck I want, even if this shit winds up sounding like a motherfucking academic essay. So, fuck y’all, and here goes:
Intellectual property (henceforth referred to merely as IP) is basically the concept that exclaims that an idea can be owned, whether that idea is a set of musical arrangements, a computer program, or a cure for AIDS. IP is fundamentally a child of the European Enlightenment which is to say that it is a concept that arose when folks started to think that human knowledge and creativity was not divinely inspired (i.e. through divine revelation or through the study of ancient texts) but that human knowledge and creativity was instead inspired and created within human individuals themselves. Prior to the Enlightenment, all across the world the concept of IP didn't exist yet. In the ancient Greek world, knowledge and the ability to express it was divinely inspired by the gods where muses spoke to poets and inspired them to create. Plato had a slightly different take and thought that all ideas were just a gathering of prior human soul's ideas. In both cases though, the Greeks didn't think of knowledge as property.
In China in the 5th century BC, Confuscius said "I transmit rather than create" and the measure of greatness for a Chinese scholar wasn't found in his unique innovation but in his interpretation of ancient wisdom passed down from the Gods. Wisdom and knowledge to them was something that came from the past and the human's task was to interpret, preserve, and communicate this wisdom. Notably, however, this isn't to infer that there was no book commerce in China. As early on as the 11th century, books were being sold and traded but Chinese authors didn't have property rights to their published words. In other words, the content of the book wasn't property, only the printed book was the property being bought or sold. And, you see similar views in the Islamic and Judeo-Christian worlds pretty much up until the emergence of Capitalism in the 16th century.
However, first came along the Renaissance where, amongst other things, the poet and inventor and artist where elevated into the realm of "genius." Significantly, in the Renaissance, their genius was still understood as a divinely inspired one (whether it was by God or nature) and was therefore, not just individual innovation.
In the 16th century as Capitalism started to emerge and displace feudalism, Martin Luther famously said "Freely have I received, freely I have given, and I want nothing in return" denouncing the profit motive when creating and communicating ideas. This moral disgust with the economic ends of knowledge remained in the US well into the 19th century. As George Bancrotf said in 1855, "Every form to which the hands of the artist have ever given birth, spring first into being as a conception of his mind, from a natural faculty, which belongs not to the artist exclusively, but to man."
But, just because the premodern world felt that knowledge should be available to all and was not a product of individual innovation did not mean that the ideas flowed freely amongst every citizen within these civilizations. After all, humans ultimately had to decide what knowledge was divinely inspired and what wasn't, as well as how far and wide this knowledge should by spread, and by whom. Eventually, rulers and religious authorities started controlling the production and distribution of ideas, information, and knowledge. Thus, throughout most of the early modern world, the development of commercial printing and publishing occurred through a system of state-licensed monopolies which were sanctioned by religious rulers that had no concern for intellectual property. This of course didn't prevent them from profiting off their published material.
Then, as we all know, in the 1700s literacy exploded and there was a huge rise in middle-class reading habits. Book production increased something like 400% in the 18th century. And so what did this huge increase in literacy and middle-class readership do? Well, it put a huge strain on the system of publication and all of the notions that it held dear. After all, since there was such a huge demand for printed material to read, a lot of folks decided to become writers. But, these writers weren't of the same ilk as the divinely inspired writers-- they were writers who were simply trying to get that dough, writing for commercial readership, not eternal glory.
Thus, a lot more writers started trying to claim that they were the creators of their own work rather than divinely inspired transmitters of God's truths in order for them to sell the rights to their books. “That ain’t God’s! That’s mine! Now cough up that paper.” And, as they came to see themselves as the originators of their books, they began to make the argument that their creations were their own property that should be protected like any other from of material property. As Daniel Defoe said in 1710, "A book is the Author's Property, 'tis the Child of his Inventions, the Brat of his Brai: if he sells his Property, it then becomes the Right of the Purchaser." So, basically, authors started saying "ayo, our works are our own property, but we can sell them by contract to others if we want, but we sure as hell aren't going to be constrained to losing the ownership to our manuscripts just to see them published."
But, also with the huge increase of readership came an increase in piracy. Cheaper, pirated reprints of books became available at a mass scale and a lot of these publishers proclaimed that they were serving the "public interest" against the monopolistic publishing companies. After all, they argued, didn't the greater good of making enlightening works widely available at a low cost eclipse the selfish interests of individual publishers?
So, this whole reform of the publishing industry eventually lead to widespread rethinking of the basis and purpose of knowledge and creation. Eventually two distinct views on IP emerged: the "natural property rights view" (henceforth the "NR view") and the "utalitarian view" (hencforth the "UT view"). The NR view first arose in England and is associated with three seminal folks: John Locke, Edward Young, and Denis Diderot. Locke makes the oft-quoted argument that "every man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any right to but himself. the Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his."
70 years later, poet Edward Young makes a similar argument, expanding on Locke's, stating that the author not only contributes simple labor into his book, he also necessarily marks his creation with his original personality. Denis Diderot argued similarly that products of the mind are even more uniquely the property of their creator than something like land is. Thus, in his view, literary property and IP should be even less susceptible to social regulation than something like land. But, it was Gotthold Lessing who probably made the argument best and most forcibly, sayin:, "What? The writer is to be blamed for trying to make the offspring of his imagination as profitable as he can? Just because he works with his nobles faculties he isn't supposed to enjoy the satisfaction that the roughest handyman is able to procure?"
Johann Gottlieb Fichte-- a disciple of Kant's-- provides us with perhaps the most interesting development of NR thought though. Fichte asked: if creations of the mind were indeed "property," what exactly was immaterial property? Literary property quite obviously lacked the single physical form that characterized other forms of concrete property. But, Ficthe, also asked: what about the great many people that share the same ideas? Ficthe's eventually concluded that in order for an idea to be regarded as a piece of real property, it had to be assigned some sort've distinguishing characteristic that allowed an individual, and no other, to claim it as his or her own. This quality that he finally concluded on was not the "content" or "ideas" but the very "form" in which the ideas were expressed. Thus, once a book was published, the ideas belonged to everyone, but the form/style belonged uniquely to the author.
Now on the otherside of NR view, we have the UT view which was voiced most thoroughly by French mathematician and philosopher Condorcet. He argued against the NR view, saying that "There can be no relationship between property in ideas and [property] in a field, which can serve only one man. [Literary property] is not a property derived from the natural order and defended by a social force; it is a property founded in society itself. It is not a true right; it is a privilege." Basically then, Condercot was arguing that ideas were never the creation of one single mind nor were they a gift from God.
To him, ideas come from nature and are (or should be) accessible to all. Or to put it differently, to Condorcet, ideas are necessarily social: they are not produced by individuals but through sharing a collective process of experiencee. And perhaps even more importantly, Condorcet saw no social value in granting individual claims to ideas. Fundamentally, Condorcet argued that if ideas, as social creations, were to be recognized as a form of property, it must not be on the basis of an individual natural right but instead on the basis of social utility.
So, the UT view saw the public interest as the highest aim of the law while the NR view saw the sanctity of the individual creator was the highest aim.
Now I've already got way too indepth and I doubt anybody has read this far, but I'm gonna go ahead and try to wrap this up by skipping ahead 100 years or so.
After several statutes and laws that attempted to find a compromise between the NR view and the UT view, we find that over the past two centuries or so, the UT view has gradually been displaced by the NR view. Where we stand now, holders of authorial rights and copyrights have been extended throughout time from the original 10-14 years after the author's death in the 17th and 18th century to today's 50-75 years after the author's death (with exceptions, of course).
What is most interesting to me is the economics behind all of this. It is fundamentally the economics that exposes IP to be the "crock of shit" that it is. By the 19th century, the countries that exported the most IP (France, England, Germany, etc) were routinely of the NR view while developing nations that were mostly importing the IP were of the UT view. And, the US is a perfect example of this.
In the early 1800s, the large American publishing houses made great sums of money on unauthorized publication of British writers. They were basically bootlegging that shit. These publishing companies justified their practices with their UT view, making the argument that it was in the country's best interest to have these great works available for the public at cheap prices. But, eventually, American writers wanted to start selling some books and making a living off of it so they based a lot of their arguments on the rhetoric of the NR view. They appealed on patriotic grounds to Congress encouraging them to prevent these publishing companies from selling the unauthorized British texts for so cheap so these American writers could sell their own books. Eventually in the 1880s, the older American publishing houses that had made their fortunes on bootleg books saw their fortunes shrinking with the rise of competition of penny-presses. Well, these old, big American publishers realized that they were in a much better position to sign exclusive publishing deals with authors in order to be the sole publishers of these works. So, Reverend Isaac Funk, who had built his company Funk and Wagnalls on bootleg books, eventually denounced the "national sin of literary piracy" as a violation of the 7th commandment (You shall not steal). How convenient, no? So, companies that built their fortunes on bootlegging suddenly decided that bootlegging was wack because it was hurting their own business.
Since then, the story of 20th century American copyright law has been one of strengthening individual property rights at the expense of public interest and access.
So, this is all a very long winded way of saying that IP is a construct that has forever been defined relative to economics. The emergence of IP was in response to the publishing company's monopolies and as we saw from the Reverend Isaac Funk and the rest of the great American publishing house, IP was at all times exploited to make profits. That's why I think it's a crock of shit.
Most certainly the notion of IP still exists today (perhaps more strongly than ever) so when I say it's a "crock of shit," I don't mean to imply that it doesn't exist in our society or that it doesn't have a social function or effects. I am simply stating that it is a social construct that is completely and at all times dependent on economics and hence, to me, a crock of shit.
I agree a lot with Condorcet's argument that everything is derivative and is dependent upon the free social interplay of ideas and knowledge. To me, to mark anything at any point as IP is to deny the inherently social nature of communication and art and knowledge... and I think that's some individualistic bullshit we're taught to help keep the current system of capitalism that simultaneously exploits and depends on the mythical construct of authentic individuality.
Man, if anybody has read up to this point, y’all are fucking warriors. But, anyway, lemme make my point now.
Last week on Steven Shaviro’s blog, I caught dude sounding off on a very interesting book I have yet to read: Jacques Attali's Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Shaviro describes it as “an audacious, ambitious book, linking the production, performance, and consumption of music to fundamental questions of power and order in society.” The portion of Shaviro’s reading of the book that and I find to be most interesting is the following: “Attali's real interest…is what happens to music under capitalism.” In the last chapter of the book, Shaviro finds that interestingly, “Attali here reverses the gloomy vision of [a previous chapter that longs for some sort of uncommodifiable “authenticity” ], drawing on music from the 1960s (free jazz, as well as the usual rock icons), in order to envision a new historical stage, a liberated one entirely beyond the commodity, when music is no longer a product, but a process that is engaged in by everyone.” This to me is a brilliantly prophetic notion to be articulating in 1977. After all, if we consider what is happening to the commodification of music through the internet (mp3s, blogs, ipods, etc) we quickly realize that what music actually is is fundamentally changing because how we consume it has changed so drastically.
Now, more than ever, with virtually free-access to all music, the listener is potentially no longer simply a consumer because music is no longer simply a “a product.” With the advent of ipod DJing and mp3 blogging, everyone is potentially a DJ and everyone is potentially a music journalist. Now, whether or not the particular ipod DJ or mp3 blogger is particularly interesting or talented at what he or she does seems to me to be blatantly irrelevant when faced with the fact that our current historical moment is one in which we can’t help but notice the breakdown in the consumer-product logic. In our current moment, literally everyone is potentially more than just a consumer and is part of the process.
It’s not difficult to see how this notion would be a threatening one to record executives and groups like Metallic and DJs like Z-Trip. Z-Trip has recently been complaining about the overabundance of mash-up DJs and how, not only is the market saturated with these low-quality mash-ups (though one wonders what aesthetic standards make up a “good” mash-up for Z-Trip) but that most of them are done with technology (computers, timestretch devices, etc) that just aren’t turntables, and thus these mash-ups are “inauthentic” and “bad.” Z-Trip of course is just hating because “his” particular idea/gimmick is no longer as marketable as it once was because of this mash-up oversaturation (which admittedly, there is quite a bit of). So, in typical capitalist/individualist fashion, Z-Trip fails to see the political possibilities here and is more concerned with the fact that what he does is “authentic” and what these other folks do “isn’t.”
And, so finally, the longwinded Intellectual Property history above finds its overt relevancy here: with respect to music, the internet is greatly challenging our outdated understanding of IP. Of course, record companies rather like this understanding of IP (and a lot of artists do, too) because, quite frankly, it gets them paid and keeps the relationship between the consumer and the consumed static. But, it’s not hard to see how people’s relationship with consumption has changed precisely because of the hyper-availability of music online. Anyone who has EVER been to a club or a concert can attest to the necessarily social and communal nature of music. The consumer-consumed dialectic is a “false one” (i.e. an ideological one) that the culture industry emphasizes to make money and the internet is not only simply pointing out the “false”-ness of this relationship, but it is also actively redefining the relationship. That’s a beautiful thing.
Jesus. Too much.