The Internet is ours.
For many it’s a hard concept to grasp, and for others it’s something to be afraid of. The Internet is a marketplace, it’s a cultural phenomenon, it’s a library, it’s a video depository. The power of the internet is almost limitless. It breaks down barriers of communication, opens new channels of communications, allows you to embark upon new and exciting projects with people from all over the world. It’s big. And it’s been big for a while. But the single characteristic that makes the internet stand out from most human endeavors is that it’s ours.
We make the rules.
The Internet users make the rules for the net. To understand the gravity of the above statements, we must embark on a brief history lesson.
In the very late 1960s, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) began work on a network of computers that would by the early 1980s have linked more than two hundred computer terminals across the United States and beyond. Its purpose was to share information. It was a paperless xerox machine designed to give people with the ability to connect the capacity to copy and share data. There was no central point. Users could connect directly and share information with whoever they wanted, without needing the permission of an administrator middle-man.
‘ARPANet’ was the precursor of the internet. Its purpose was to copy and share information.
The internet is a common law jurisdiction by default. Common law arose in England in the Middle Ages, and was based on customs, cultures and traditions. Judges would travel around the nation resolving disputes and use their resolutions to create precedent for following decisions. The internet is self-regulating. There are codes that must be followed, actual hardware and software protocols required to network, but also behavioral protocols, or ‘netiquette,’ that must be observed. Disputes are resolved within communities so that while there might be problems from time to time, the internet largely exists as a jurisdiction that needs little extra help. Rules get established through precedent, and therefore the internet is a common law jurisdiction.
This is not to say that the internet is perfect. In the “real world” there is murder and rape and all sorts of debased behavior. This is not the fault of the system but the fault of the humans involved in it. Much the same goes for the internet. Pedophiles, cannibals, kidnappers, people who access, manufacture or distribute “kiddie porn” and used car salesmen also exist online. None of this would happen without human input. However, the majority of internet users, as in civil society, are not the ones at fault, and in fact many individuals and even groups react strongly to such behavior (perhaps “hacktivist” collective Anonymous are an appropriate example of a group reacting against those members who bring shame to the largely well-mannered internet society).
One of the most astounding things about the internet is its liberating power. Lola Voronina makes the point that a nine year old girl in Paraguay is able to communicate with the same rights as any other internet user. Whose opinion is more valuable? Neither. Because they are both on an equal footing. There is no one around to make value judgements about what should and shouldn’t be published: everything can be published. Everything can be shared. One of the biggest problems that has been faced by literary and artistic works is the issue of distribution. Only the most popular works could be distributed, because the time and money was not available to finance the publication of books, music and films targeted towards niche markets.
The record industry, for example, had to make choices, and they can’t be blamed for it. They outlaid vast amounts of monetary resources to build recording studios, and the capacity to record absolutely everything just didn’t exist. There was limited amounts of time and money. Vinyl cost a lot to press. Distribution was expensive. It was more economic to record what could be a big hit than to record a less popular artist. Until now.
The cost of a digital audio workstation is currently so astonishingly cheap that it is not impossible for an artist to record and produce themselves in their own home. The concept of ‘value judgements’ has largely been removed, and what music gets distributed is no longer in the hands of the record companies. It has been returned to the hands of the artist. The recording industry enjoyed their period of control over music, and now the sun is setting for them.
A dilemma is then created. If it is affordable to produce and distribute record, there are few limits on what can be heard. In Australia, the German band Die Ärzte will not be found in any mainstream record stores. The internet alleviates this issue: we can import music direct from Germany with minimal cost. The internet has freed our culture, removed barriers of value judgements, of commodification, and of distance. Thus we can share our culture with whoever wants it.
Furthermore, art is not a one-way conversation. The musician calls, the audience responds. The audience calls, the musicians responds. Musicians are dependent on a culture to contribute to – they do not live in a vacuum. The dialogue that occurs is them plucking inspiration out of the culture, interpreting it, and putting it back. They are partaking in a discussion that has few, if any, rules.
The notion of intellectual property has changed this. Suddenly you can own a slice of culture. You have exclusive rights over a piece of art, inspiration from which came from a pre-existing culture. Does the artist pay royalties to God for the landscape he is painting? Copyright is an artificial construct, intended originally to reward the artist for their hard work in forming a creation from the raw materials provided. It has since evolved into a way of establishing a monopoly over culture to build one’s fortune, a fact proven by the continual and unnecessary extension of the copyright term to where it is not given back to the culture from whence it came until seventy years after the ‘owner’s’ death.
From the above, several conclusions may be drawn. Firstly that the rules of the internet are made by the users; secondly that the internet is a technology that facilitates copying and sharing en masse; thirdly that art is not produced away from culture, but is shaped from the existing cultures; and fourthly that the creators have not much more right over their work than those who contributed to the climate from which they could be hewn.
The fight against piracy is lost. Why? Because the internet is ours, and the culture is ours. We make the rules, and if you aren’t going to play by them we don’t want you. If you refuse to share, we don’t need you.
The BitTorrent network alone accounts for anywhere between 43% and 70% of the internet traffic in any given region. The internet users have chosen what they want. They want to utilise the internet to share. They want to use it as it was originally intended. Culture is not, and never will be, a commodity. Culture is the backbone of society. Music existed long before the record industry, and it will continue long after it. Hollywood might fall, but films will still be produced.
At the core of the human existence is love. Culture will flourish not from self-interest, but from genuine love, and a desire to share without restriction. We need to reclaim the internet and reclaim our culture.