Welcome to the Starship Enterprise, Comrades. (was re: Napster)

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at SPAMbellsouth.net
Tue Aug 1 19:22:32 MDT 2000

>>While we Marxists are sitting here, the masses (well, those with
computers)    are out there expropriating the record companies,
looting them of their intellectual property.  It seems to me that this
is an important development.  Isn't this an example of technological
change provoking ideological change?  The cost of production of the
data on a CD is now very near zero dollars.  The masses have ceased to
recognize it as a commodity. We are now in the age of SOCIALIZED
MUSIC.  "From each according to her musical ability - to each
according to her bandwidth."<<*

    Amen and Hallelujah, brother!

    On Friday night, just after hearing the appeals court ruling
staying the death sentence on Napster, I wrote a post to the list
reflecting on what had been going on. I had just clicked send,
starting the spellcheck, when the lights went out for a few seconds
(it was in the middle of a thunderstorm) and I lost the post.

    But I think what happened around Napster was very significant.

    I started that original post noting that I'd been over various
Internet chat rooms and message boards in the past few days, and in
every forum relating to general current events there was discussion
about Napster, the district court order and so on -- everywhere, that
is, but on this and other socialist boards/lists.

    The reaction to the Napster ruling, was, I think, the first
popular upsurge of the Internet age, the first cyber-rebellion,
occurring within virtual space on strictly Internet issues.

    People massively moved to download songs by the gigabyte, traffic
to Napster.com --where you download the program, NOT where you access
the song exchange service nearly doubled, the Napster servers
themselves were overwhelmed, people experienced repeated login delays
and failures (something that hadn't happened for months), and whereas
usually in the early morning hours you might see something like
1000-1500 "libraries" (users) online at the particular server you're
connected to, overnight Thursday - Friday there was nearly 4,000 at
one server and 5,000 at another (you can log off a server without
shutting down Napster and reconnect, giving you access (sometimes) to
a different "pool" of users on a different server. Also, I suspect on
most overnights Napster H.Q. shuts down some of the servers to
concentrate the relative few users into a few more substantial
"pools", but obviously that wasn't happening in the couple of days
after the shutdown order.

    All sort of people began making plans for setting up essentially
pirate FTP MP3 sites or email lists to exchange files. Napster.com.uk
(perhaps its Nastier.org.uk, I should have bookmarked it!), which is a
strictly non-commercial "hacker ethic" Napster-like service that uses
a multitude of volunteer servers scattered around various countries,
also had a big increase in users. Gnutella, a file sharing program
where, in effect, every user who connects becomes a server, also got
overwhelmed. Irony or ironies, Gnutella was developed by
I-forget-which small software shop that was swallowed up by AOL, and
released in a preliminary beta. A-O-L, which is in the middle of
swallowing media octopus and #1 recording industry bandit Time Warner,
immediately ordered development stopped, and the program taken off
where it had been posted but it was too late.

    Gnutella is not just an MP3 file sharing tool, you can look for
anything with it, any kind of file. If you download zip files, you'll
realize that all kinds of stuff is being shared, from 10-20 megs or
more of complete installations for commercial products to the "keys"
that many crippleware "try before you buy" programs require to achieve
full functionality.

    Through the grapevine, I heard a story about one major web site
for one of the media octopi that control the record business where the
kids who actually run the site's multi-gigabyte bandwidth to set up a
skunk works mass downloading and archiving to recordable CD's
gizzillions of bytes of MP3 files. Normally this site is airtight,
only Port 80 is open, it doesn't even answer pings (so much for good
netcitizenship). They snuck open a port very carefully, so it couldn't
be detected, had one group of PC's running Nastier and downloading to
servers, another group burning CD's of the captured music, and then a
several-disk CD burner cloning these disks as soon  as they were made.
And no, for those inclined to speculate based on my personal
circumstances, the site involved was not based in Atlanta. The idea
was to be able to "prime the pump" of whichever alternative to Napster
seemed the most reliable by making available through it a huge
collection, thus attracting more users to get the kind of critical
mass that Napster achieved.

    In addition to all this direct-action-type protest, various
protest web sites were put up. One, a petition site, got 75,000
signatures in 24 hours on a threat to boycott the record industry if
they didn't ease up on Napster.

    Louis coined the term the other day "cyber communist," and
although in the sense he meant it was derogatory, I think in another,
positive sense that's what we need. This protest boom -- cut off
though it was after a couple of days by a partial victory -- is a
portent of things to come.

    These milieus are ready-made for socialist propaganda and just
plain old pissing on the corporations and their laws and judges
anticapitalist fun. And this issue isn't going to go away no matter
what happens to Napster, because it is absolutely true as the hackers
say that information wants to be free.

    Capitalist property including intellectual property is based most
fundamentally on a monopoly of the means of production. When you get
to the point where what the capitalists are selling are ones and zeros
that can be stored on someone's hard drive, the capitalists no longer
have that monopoly on the means to make more copies of those ones and
zeros. Those "ones and zeros," the data, the content, the information,
whatever you want to call it, has been liberated from the capitalist
monopoly on the means of production.

    What we have here, in essence, is the replicator from Start Trek.
Makes perfect copies, every time. And, you'll notice, no money ever
changes hands on Star Trek. Now you know why: there is no capitalist
monopoly over the means of production, at least not in anything that
can be made in a replicator.

    I think we need to wake up and listen to the music. The coffee you
smell is from  Napsterites pulling all-nighters freeing the music from
the record monopolies. This technology, really, ought not to have
emerged until after the withering away of commodity production, but
here it is, now.

    Welcome aboard the Starship Enterprise, comrades. This should not
be the 21st, but the 23rd century. Let's figure out how to participate
in this movement to make it so.


* A slight amendment to Lou Paulsen's proposal, seeing as how we're
not YET in fully developed communism, and to bring it more fully into
line with what actually is going on:

"From each according to their hard drive capacity. To each according
to their bandwidth."

----- Original Message -----
From: "Lou Paulsen" <wwchi at enteract.com>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Saturday, July 29, 2000 1:55 AM
Subject: Napster

More information about the Marxism mailing list