The voice of capital declares war against "information wants to be free" (was: Rock and roll rebels)
Left-Transparency at SPAMLeninism.org
Sun May 28 20:41:56 MDT 2000
Macdonald Stainsby (the "marxism" list at panix):
> With the new CD Burners now almost cheap, there is
> no reason that anyone like myself will pay for CD's again.
> All the lawsuits in the world cannot shut down Napster,
> or at least that form of technology. This is, of course a
> good thing, the right to culture.
A battle of immense proportion is taking shape over the right of
the masses to have unfettered access to information. On one side
we can see arrayed many of the forces of the old world.
-- 1 --
Reactionary governments are threatened when workers can find out
what is going on--and can use the internet to organize militant
actions--and themselves. I posted a news article here on the
24th about how Chinese censors were "losing the online race".
> Web site bulletin boards ... are crowded with critiques
> and commentaries, many disagreeing with the Chinese
> government's policy and conduct. Even the Web site
> of the Communist Party's flagship newspaper, the
> People's Daily, has become a forum for criticizing
> China's leaders.
> The broad range of opinions expressed on the People's
> Daily Web site and others is less an indication of
> tolerance than incapacity. Censors delete many
> controversial postings, but the rapid-fire technology
> of the Internet allows users to post comments faster
> than censors can sort through them. As a result,
> dissenting views are disseminated among millions of
> Chinese Internet users. The writers almost certainly do
> not use their real names for fear of retribution.
Despite harsh repression the workers' movement in China has been
gaining steam. Earlier this month:
> thousands of steel workers in the Liaoyang Ferro-alloy
> Factory clashed with hundreds of riot police as they
> blocked a highway while demanding their back pay.
> Though many were injured and at least three were
> arrested, the immediate result has been a clear victory
> for the workers.
(see http://www.labourstart.org/china/ )
Independent unions and news media are illegal in China but it is
only a matter of time before the revolution in digital
communications adds oxygen to the fire of the workers' movement
-- 2 --
In the West the capitalist owners of "intellectual property" have
come to realize that what is at stake is the "civilized world,
which has taken humanity centuries to construct". A complex
interaction of the technological, economic, cutural and political
spheres is leading millions of young people to simply expropriate
what they can instinctively recognize should be theirs for the
And this has led to a declaration of war.
Edgar Bronfman (see the speech attached below) compares
intellectual property to "the sun around which all the planets
make their stately circles" and compares the coming fight to both
the second world war and the "cold war" against the Soviet Union.
Everything other than "the gifts of God and Nature" must be paid
for--because ideas are property--whose theft threatens
civilization itself. If necessary, he brags, he will "move a
Roman legion or two of Wall Street lawyers" for this war on
behalf of "the genius of creators everywhere" against "hackers
and spies, pirates and pedophiles". Anonymity on the internet
must be outlawed, he says--and "is nothing more than the digital
equivalent of putting on a ski mask when you rob a bank."
-- 3 --
Within the organized left there are many groups mired in
sectarianism and directly threatened by the open culture of the
internet. The internet, in the form of email and the web,
represents the beginning of an emerging revolution in mass
communiciations that will, over time, give workers and the
oppressed the ability to arm themselves with consciousness and,
eventually, organize themselves for coordinated, militant action
aimed at the overthrow of bourgeois property relations and
bourgeois rule itself.
It might be thought that groups on the left would welcome these
opportunities which will eventually lead to the breaking of the
stranglehold of bourgeois gatekeepers over mass culture--and to
the rapid erosion of the bourgeois near-monopoly on political
thought. But many (some would say most) parts of the left have
been deeply corrupted by the competition for survival between
groups that has encouraged the most unprincipled and sectarian
Consider the events of the last week or so. The ISO leadership
has now been successful, for the second time, in pressuring an
elist host to shut down a forum created by their political
opponents. The ISO was aided by a minor tactical error made by
their opponents. Some people apparently ended up being
subscribed to an opposition email list without their explicit
consent--and were therefore in a position to complain about the
list and demand that it be shut down. But, in the long run,
everyone can see that the tactical error is of no significance.
The opposition email list was shut down on Topica and then shut
down on eGroups--but has now restarted on ListBot. The
opposition is now a little more experienced--and I don't believe
they will be shut down again.
The many sectarian groups and grouplets have tended to ignore and
dismiss the significance of the internet. But in the long run
they will not escape from it. They will be consummed. Like the
reactionary rulers of the various countries that give workers no
rights, like the owners of "intellectual property" in the
imperialist countries of the West--they will be forced to
drastically change their methods. But the fire will keep
burning, it will grow larger and burn hotter. And, in the long
run, they will not be able to escape the fire.
The response of the proletariat
> The principle that "information wants to be free" is, above
> all, an expression of the _increased productivity of human
> labor_ in every dimension that results when human activity
> becomes self-aware, conscious and capable of coordination.
> As such, the principle that "information wants to be free" will
> emerge again and again to point to way forward for
> struggling humanity and guide our epoch battle to end the
> system of bourgeois rule.
(Ben Seattle--May 21)
I saw Macdonald's comment and realized that the speech by
Bronfman (below) might of interest to readers here. It seemed
appropriate to write an introduction but I will tire the patience
of my readers if I fail to keep this short. So I will conclude
by asking how the working class will organize to use the emerging
revolution in communications. The answer, I have concluded, is
(1) An "open-source" news network
Activists will create a news network that is good enough for
other activists and good enough for millions of workers as
they come online (there are sober estimates that more than a
billion people will be online within the next ten years). Such a
news network would be open to contributions from all trends.
Readers themselves would decide what to view by trying out and
adopting the filters of individuals or trends they have earned
their respect. Such an electronic news network would have
original content as well as summaries of articles from the
Such a news network would function as a platform for cooperation
between different trends and would also draw the masses into the
principled debates. Picture the New York Times, the Wall Street
Journal and Salon.com combined with Slashdot.org -- except that
it is organized by leftists and gave special focus to the various
struggles taking place in society. Such a news network will
eventually be in a position to challenge the mainstream corporate
news in the same way that the Linux computer operating system
will eventually be able to challenge the commercial Windows.
(2) Ending the theoretical crisis of our movement
The revolution in communications will stimulate our thinking and
bring an end to the theoretical crisis which has paralysed our
movement and left it naked and on its knees in the presence of
its enemies. Our theoretical crisis is centered around our
conceptions of workers' rule (ie: the "dictatorship of the
proletariat"). The postitions of pretty much the entire left on
this most decisive of all questions fall into one of two camps:
(1) the amnesiacs, and (2) the lobotomists.
Probably about 99% of what is generally considered to be the
"left" falls into the first camp. The amnesiac camp holds that
the overthrow of bourgeois rule is not something that should be
talked about (or even thought about) today. Rather--it is
something that should be thought about and talked about--after we
are all dead.
The lobotomist camp is hardly much better. The lobotomist
conception of workers' rule holds that the overwhelming majority
of the population will be treated like children; they will told
what ideas they are allowed to talk about or even know about.
This will keep them safe from "wrong" thoughts or bourgeois
ideology which otherwise might influence them into delinquency.
The lobotomist conception holds that workers in a modern, stable
society will not be allowed to have an independent political
life--will not be allowed to create organizations that are
independent of the ruling party--will not be allowed to use web
pages, mailing lists, leaflets or newspapers to mobilize mass
opinion again what they see as incompetence, hypocrisy or
corruption within their own state. The lobotomist camp is well
suited to anybody--who agrees to give themselves a lobotomy.
What must be seen is the synergy, the hidden cooperation, between
the amnesiacs and the lobotomists. Each can defend itself from
critics by pointing to the other and saying to the critic: "that
is your alternative". We can refuse to think about workers' rule
at all--or we can have a conception that only makes sense if we
amputate our forebrain. And the winner of this contest will
always be Margaret Thatcher and her view that "there is no
But there is an alternative and this alternative will capture the
imaginations of hundreds of millions. The revolution in
communications will smash the technological, economic, cultural
and political barriers standing between this alternative and
billions of people. This process will take decades--but it is
already beginning. We can see it around us if we open our eyes.
The emerging revolution in communications will bring to the
forefront the principle that "information wants to be free to
serve the working class". This principle will prove to be the
foundation of proletarian organization and proletarian victory.
Read "Notes of an Information Theorist"
Watch Ben apply the tactics of "information war"
(characterized by intelligent listening and calm,
scientific argument) to help transform the marxism space
into a powerful weapon against bourgeois rule.
To subscribe: theorist-subscribe at eGroups.com
Below are the remarks made made the owner of Universal
Studios at a conference for developers of the Real Network
audio/video streaming software.
Edgar Bronfman, Jr.
Real Conference 2000
San Jose, California
May 26, 2000
Thank you and good morning. I'm very happy to be here
and to witness first hand the mission upon which Rob,
his colleagues at Real and Real's partners have
embarked. That mission is vitally important to better
serve a world hungry for information and entertainment.
In partnering with Universal, a company dedicated to
delivering entertainment to consumers everywhere,
including via the Internet, we have together committed
to creating a top-quality consumer experience in which
the content delivered is completely secure.
That work will be the bedrock on which huge creative and
industrial efforts will be based.
In the next few minutes, I'd like to focus on some
critical issues that I believe to be central to the
continued operation and expansion of the Internet. New
technologies are creating tremendous opportunities for
businesses and consumers.
But, like many innovations throughout history, today's
digital technologies are, at the same time, spawning
serious and fundamental challenges.
While I'll touch on the opportunities that lie ahead for
all of us - and they are without question immense - I
want to sound a different note at this conference by
addressing the challenges. Specifically, combating the
dangerous and misguided notion that property is not
property if it's on the Web, and the piracy that that
In addition, I want to discuss the very real difference
between privacy and anonymity. In the blurred vision of
speed and innovation, those two quite separate values
have become indistinct, and that lack of distinction is
currently having - and will continue to have - a
deleterious effect on our culture, our society and the
long-term growth of the Internet.
Clearly, in this New World of technology built upon
technology, opportunities abound.
If the past is prologue, then the advent of new
technologies has much to offer both the creators of
entertainment and those who enjoy and consume it.
And the repercussions of this current technological
revolution will dwarf the changes that were brought
about by previous advances. We now live in an era in
which a few clicks of your mouse will make it possible
for you to summon every book ever written in any
language, every movie ever made, every television show
ever produced, and every piece of music ever recorded.
Music is on the leading edge of this revolution, and
because of that, it has become the first product to
illuminate the central - and I believe the most critical
- challenge for this technological revolution: The
protection of "intellectual property rights."
For all of us, "property" rights are well understood and
universally accepted. You own a home. You own a car.
They're yours - they belong to you. They are your
property. Well, your ideas belong to you, too. And
"intellectual property" is property, period.
But there are those who believe that because technology
can access property and appropriate it, then somehow
that which is yours is no longer yours -because
technology has made it simple and easy for someone else
to take it from you.
If intellectual property is not protected - across the
board, in every case, with no exceptions and no
sophistry about a changing world - what will happen?
Intellectual property will suffer the fate of the
For the great ferment of works and ideas, including your
own, if taken at will and without restraint, have no
chance of surviving any better than did the buffalo.
And why is this important? Because you, like we in the
entertainment business, are thoroughly dependent on
patents and copyright. You need them no less than we do,
to protect your processes, your conceptions, your
software code, your procedures, your designs, your
My central belief that the protection of intellectual
property rights is vital to the prosperity of the
Internet, and my assertion that "you need them no less
than we do," illuminate my purpose in making this
address: The Internet does not exist, and cannot prosper
in a world that is separate from our civilized society
and the fundamental laws upon which it is based.
So am I warring against the culture of the Internet,
threatening to depopulate Silicon Valley as I move a
Roman legion or two of Wall Street lawyers to litigate
in Bellevue and San Jose? I have moved those lawyers -
or some of them - but I have done so, and will continue
to do so - not to attack the Internet and its culture
but for its benefit and to protect it. For its benefit.
What would the Internet be without "content?" It would
be a valueless collection of silent machines with gray
screens. It would be the electronic equivalent of a
marine desert - lovely elements, nice colors, no life.
It would be nothing.
The main challenge for you in continuing the growth of
the Internet at this time is not taxation; it is not
government regulation; it is not in any way technical.
It is, rather, to manage, preserve and protect the sun
around which all these planets make their stately
That sun is not an operating system or even the
greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts Internet itself: It is
the content, without which the Internet would die in a
The main challenge for my colleagues and me is really
the same - for your interests and ours are not separate,
they are closely, inextricably linked.
And so I will, as the leader of one of the world's
foremost content companies, fight to preserve the
creativity and the genius of creators everywhere,
including the ones in this room.
Right now, Universal is engaging in five areas in order
to defend and promote the works of the great talents
with whom we are privileged to be associated.
First, we are focused on creating and launching a
consumer-preferred and legal system for consumers to
access the media they desire - beginning with music.
We will launch a secure downloading format later this
summer that will be the start of making our content
widely available in digital form.
We want downloadable music to be easy to find, and its
delivery to be fast, convenient, dependable and secure.
That's why we've partnered with Real, Magex and
And the multi-media product we will launch will be more
than just music.
We are providing artists with a broader canvas on which
to express themselves, and we are creating a far richer
experience for the consumer. For example, consumers will
have access to album art, lyrics, production notes and
photos of the artists, links to other sites and,
eventually, music videos. We'll also offer the chance
for them to chat on line with artists.
And because of the security our product will offer,
consumers' privacy will also benefit because their files
and their systems won't be corrupted.
In addition to this product and system we've developed,
earlier this month, Universal Music and Sony Music
announced a joint venture to develop subscription-based
services that will include music and video offerings
across every possible platform.
We are very aware of the intense and the vast demand
that exists on the part of music lovers to find the
music they want, when they want it, where they want it,
all the time. And we are responding by delivering
competitive - and legal - systems for them to do so.
Second, we know that going into a record store and
removing a CD is wrong. It is stealing. It is thievery.
We will re-emphasize this truth and articulate this
message in an educational effort, with our industry
allies, targeted to the great majority of people who
want to do the right thing - yet, may not fully
comprehend that accessing copyrighted material without
proper payment or permission in the digital world, is as
wrong as it is in the physical world.
Each new technological advance inevitably requires new
behaviors. When tape recorders came along, we grappled
with the distinctions to be made between taping things
for your own enjoyment and selling the tapes. When
photocopiers came along, we had to deal with how much of
something could be copied and under what circumstances
without constituting theft.
Now the Internet has created a newer version of the same
issues. Once again, we need to thrash out how
intellectual property can and should be protected in the
context of new, digital technologies.
The Internet world is a brave new world. But make no
mistake, it could only have been created and it will
only survive, in the context of our civilized world,
which has taken humanity centuries to construct.
This technological revolution will reshape it - perhaps
even more dramatically than the Industrial Revolution
reshaped its world. But the principles of law, of
justice and of civilization will not be overturned. If
the Internet requires these basic principles to be
sacrificed so that it may prosper, it will wither and
die like the Hantavirus, which expires as it devours the
very life that would sustain it.
Universal's third initiative is the use of technology.
Just as technology gives, so can it take away. As
technology enables crime, so can it be used to protect
us from crime and criminals.
We have available to us growing arsenals of
technological weapons that will be brought to bear on
inappropriate access to material on the Internet.
Whether it is better and more robust methods of
security, or tools to track down those who ignore right
from wrong, technology will offer the owners of property
at least as much comfort as it may currently offer to
hackers and spies, pirates and pedophiles.
Technology exists that can trace every Internet download
and tag every file. These tools make it possible to
identify those who are using the Internet to improperly
and illegally acquire music and other copyrighted
information. While adhering to the principle of respect
for individual privacy, we fully intend to exploit
technology to protect the property which rightfully
belongs to its owners.
The fourth route we have already pursued is to utilize
existing laws to bring to justice those who demonstrate
contempt for law and copyright, and seek to profit from
that which is not lawfully theirs.
Here, we have already seen some major successes:
** In late April, a U.S. District Court for the Southern District
of New York ruled that myMP3.com was liable for copyright
** In mid-May, the U.S. District Court in Northern California
ruled against Napster. The court denied Napster's claim that
it was a mere conduit, and the court determined that Napster had
not taken adequate steps to keep repeat infringers, who use
pirated material, from using the site.
** Another recent victory confirming the application of copyright
law to cyberspace involved the unlawful dissemination of
DVD anti-copy codes.
** A fourth case involving the retransmission of television
signals over the Internet resulted in a clear-cut victory for
copyright holders. The judge in this case enjoined iCraveTV from
re-transmitting broadcast signals via the Web from Canada.
These four court rulings illustrate the legal process
that is defining the boundaries of right and wrong as
intellectual property rights are applied to a new
All of us who believe in the right to own property, and
therefore in the sanctity of copyright, will be fiercely
aggressive in this area. We will fight for our rights
and those of our artists, whose work, whose creations,
whose property are being stolen and exploited. We will
take our fight to every territory, in every court in
every venue, wherever our fundamental rights are being
assaulted and attacked.
Let me now turn to my fifth point. We must restrict the
anonymity behind which people hide to commit crimes.
Anonymity must not be equated with privacy. As citizens,
we have a right to privacy. We have no such right to
Privacy is getting your e-mail address taken off of
"spam" mailing lists; privacy is making sure some hacker
doesn't have access to your social security number or
your mother's maiden name. On line, privacy is assuring
that what you do, so long as it is legal, is your own
business and may not be exploited by others.
Anonymity, on the other hand, means being able to get
away with stealing, or hacking, or disseminating illegal
material on the Internet - and presuming the right that
nobody should know who you are. There is no such right.
This is nothing more than the digital equivalent of
putting on a ski mask when you rob a bank.
Anonymity, disguised as privacy, is still anonymity, and
it must not be used to strip others of their rights,
including their right to privacy or their property
rights. We need to create a standard that balances one's
right to privacy with the need to restrict anonymity,
which shelters illegal activity.
We cannot suggest that the ready and appropriate
distinctions we make between privacy and anonymity in
the physical world are irrelevant in the digital world.
To do so would be to countenance anarchy. To do so would
undermine the very basis of our civilized society.
In the appropriation of intellectual property,
myMP3.com, Napster, and Gnutella (which has stolen from
the breakfasts of 100 million European children even its
name) are, in my opinion, the ringleaders, the exemplars
of theft, of piracy, of the illegal and willful
appropriation of someone else's property.
What individuals might do unthinkingly for pleasure, in
my view, they do with forethought for profit, justifying
with weak and untenable rationale their theft of the
labor and genius of others.
They rationalize what they do with a disingenuous appeal
to utopianism: Everything on the Internet should be
Other than the gifts of God and Nature, that which is
free is free only because someone else has paid for it.
What of the extraordinary gifts of software and whole
operating systems of which we sometimes read?
They are rare, and sometimes they are loss leaders. Some
of the donors may regret their generosity when later
they are confronted with their children's college
tuition and orthodontic bills, but yes, they have given,
and they have given freely.
There is a difference, however, between giving and
taking. Had those donors been compelled to do what they
have done, it would be a tale not of generosity but of
coercion, not of liberality but of servitude. Those
whose intellectual property is simply appropriated on
the Internet or anywhere else, are forced to labor
without choice or recompense, for the benefit of whoever
might wish to take a piece of their hide.
If this is a principle of the New World, it is
suspiciously like the Old World principle called
It is against this that we have initiated legal action.
It is not, and will not be, because we wish to suppress
ingenious methods by which our products may be
delivered, but because we wish to maintain rightful
control and receive fair compensation.
The massive power of the Internet can permanently wipe
out and shut down in one unthinking moment, a writer who
may depend for his living on the sale of 5 or 10
thousand copies of his book. It can devastate a musician
who sells a few thousand copies of a homemade CD to his
fans in some small and little known community.
And these would only be the first casualties. The rest
would follow as the very basis of the New Economy was
Undermined - by whom?
Well, not by most people, who have stated in
overwhelming majorities time and again that they would
be perfectly happy to pay a fair price for what they
receive, but by a very small segment who would profit by
cultivating and taking advantage of each person's least
And while it is often true that ambiguity exists at the
core of a controversy, here, however, is perhaps the
clearest exception to date to that general rule of
ambiguity, for the dangers are obvious, the issues
familiar, the principles long established and for good
To those who would abandon or subvert those principles,
I say we are right with the Constitution, in which
protection for intellectual property is founded; right
with the common law; right with precedent and right with
what is fair and just.
But being fair, or being just, in a battle for survival
is often not enough.
World War II was won by the Allied forces, not only
because we were right, but also because we had more men
and women, more weaponry and more money, and that money
in turn would train more men and women and build more
But being fair, and being just, is what allowed our
civilized society to survive and prosper, while that of
our conquering ally, the Soviet Union, cracked, crumbled
and collapsed because it attempted to perpetuate a
society that was fundamentally unjust, and unfair.
And if the Internet should require an unjust and unfair
paradigm in order to perpetuate itself, then it too will
crack, crumble and collapse, and it won't take five
decades of Cold War politics for it happen.
That is why it is in your interest to join our fight to
protect and defend the property rights of creators
everywhere. And that is why we are bringing our fight to
the court of justice and to the court of public opinion.
We will fight our battle in the marketplace as well, by
bringing our products to consumers with innovative,
legal, consumer-preferred solutions. And we will work
with the research laboratories of technology companies
throughout the world, so that we may better protect our
property and promote our purpose.
Let this be our notice then to all those who hold
fairness in contempt, who devalue and demean the labor
and genius of others, that because we have considered
our actions well and because we are followers without
reticence of a clear and just principle, we will not
For in the end, this is not only a fight about the
protection of music or movies, software code or video
games. Nor is it a fight about technology's promise or
its limitations. This is, at its core, quite simply
about right and wrong.
Thank you for letting me speak from the heart.
More information about the Marxism