One should know its enemy

My polemic with Marc Ribot’s interview was published in last week. My text was first (as I recall) publication under free license on this state owned on-line magazine. I decided to take advantage of the kindness of the editor and the possibilities that CC BY-SA 3.0 PL give and translated some excerpts from the article (whole text in Polish can be found here):

A simplified view of the world probably has a rhetorical power, but it is not a good starting point for political action. In the poorly recognized area one can easily get lost and start sawing the branch on which it sits. And it seems to me that this dangerous sport an excellent musician Marc Ribot began to cultivate. In an interview for he confused – in an unbearable waythree different concepts: free culture,  culture for free and piracy. He was lost too looking for guilty ones among the victims.

In the first part of an article I am explaining the difference between culture that is „free as in freedom” and this that is „free as in free beer”, what is piracy, what does it mean that „information wants to be free” (as in freedom, not as in free beer). I’m also arguing with Ribot’s unfair accusation that EFF and Lessig are payed by corporations („are subsidized by big corpos” & „received bunch of money from firms like Google”). But you know all of that, right? So am skipping it in translation. Last part is about the copyfight battle field:

But I do not want to undermine Ribot’s important insights about the deteriorating situation of authors and the need for solidarity to counteract it. The fact is that we live at a moment when situation of millions is worsening. Old world in which capitalism has been civilized by social and state pressure is falling apart right before our eyes. Precarity becomes an experience of growing number of citizens,  also of  formerly well-functioning creative middle class, we can see it now in Poland as well. Not all artists recognize however that only they, due to its high social and symbolic capital, have a chance to reach the media, politicians and express their needs in a language accepted by the mainstream media. Other groups affected by changes in the creative sector, such as the owners and staff of video and DVD rental, also suffered but no one cares and is trying to change the law to keep their jobs. But it is worth to see because it let understand that we have to deal with the problem source of which is not the internet but public policies that see its role in the field of culture as to protect the interests of intermediaries and take some showy activities in the name of artists, most of them in fact leaving for a mercy of allegedly free market. Who knows why those policies do not consider as being appropriate to represent the interests of the largest group in this field users.
Therefore it is very good that the authors want to organize in bottom-up model. No doubt only by solidarity activities  they will be able to improve their working conditions. For the record, one of the largest strikes in recent years in the US was a 3-month protest and refusal to work made by 12 thousand of unionized screenwriters against audiovisual producers. Also musicians should direct their anger against those who do not want to share the profits with them, that is intermediaries in the circulation of cultural works, not against human rights activists like Lawrence Lessig and EFF, not to mention users.
One can not earn the most and in the fastest way from the free culture because under capitalism it is usually more financially effective to take activities aimed at a quick profit then those that are pro-community. But observing practice of free culture creators (like on the Humble Bundle) you can learn effective ways to reach your customers and shortening the distribution chain, and therefore to minimize the margin that must have been left to intermediaries. You can also see that loosening of copyright monopolies helps authors. Studies also confirm that even piracy does not cause a decline in sales (and therefor authors’ loss) as shown by researchers from the Warsaw University Faculty of Economy (project iPiracy).
Am sorry but if someone wants to resist the system, not only have more pocket money right now, s/he must identify the conditions under which the entire chain of value is created. Then we can talk about possible solutions – those immediate and far-reaching. In contrast, the reproduction of propaganda narration produced by companies operating on the basis of copyright monopolies (aka Big Content) about bad pirates and bad freedom only strengthens the current, dysfunctional from authors’ point of view, system.


Pic by CC BY 2.0. from


Piracy as an act of resistance

Cultural piracy is often recognized as a behavior resulting from the lack of money. For example this was the main form of explaining why Poles were protesting against ACTA in 2012. The mainstream media built rationalization based on economical discourse – people are fighting for free access to culture because they don’t have money for tickets, dvd’s, books etc. So – as one can understand from that reasoning – if they had more money they would buy cultural works or access to it.I’m sure that partially it can be truth but there are other ways to explain why people do piracy. My suggestion is that piracy is i.a. an act of resistance.

I’m trying to be sensitize for pitfall of limiting agency of researched people. This  results from subaltern studies’ reflection that western researchers easily create vision of individuals dominated by social structures and passively following cultural rules. This idea of people deprived of self-consciousnesses and enable to recognize their situation one can also find in Marxists or post-structuralist works.  But I’m sure that that this review of the limited agency of sub-dominated one must be debated. One of the reason of this common mistake is reckoning to resistance practices only confrontational methods. Especially valuable to me are the insights of James C. Scott. This American anthropologist conducting research in rural cultures in Asia pointed out number of behaviors which he described as „a weapon of the weak”. In his research Scott identified „silent” tactics of resistance such as tardiness, laziness or alleged ignorance. They are, in his opinion, forms of resistance. He pointed out that such behavior does not indicate acceptance of self- subordination and even less the internalization of the position of „dominated”. There are very rational behaviors in confrontation with the overwhelming power of the state. In my opinion therefore are strictly political behavior which are aimed at changing the power status quo – although not articulated in this way. People precisely recognize their situation (no internalization), see the injustice and try to confront the power int the way they consider as an effective and safe.
Such tactics of resistance can be observed today in Poland. For example people do not pay bills and loan repayments, not only because they can not afford but also because they do not accept the dominant position of banks or unjust economic system. They do not pay obligatory tv tax because they do not feel represented by the media, they are also aware of the mismanagement of the issuance of money flowing out of their payments. They don’t go to the cinema because ticket prices are too high as the wages of Hollywood actors. They don’t want to support a system that as they feel is not working in their favor.
From that perspective so-called piracy is also a tactic of resistance. People willingly use the Internet as a source of free (gratis) culture not only because it is free but because this is an action directed at a system that they don’t want to support. In commoditized world money are the weapon and as consumer boycotts shown before it is powerful weapon when people are united in using it.

Piracy doesn’t bother #surprise

‚Games of Thrones’ and ‚Breaking Bad’ directors said that they see some benefits from pirating their series:

It builds a buzz that helps them sell their products. So they don’t mind :)