In the Independent on June 24, Patrick Cockburn reported a vital development countering official propaganda on Libya:
'Human rights organisations have cast doubt on claims of mass rape and other abuses perpetrated by forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, which have been widely used to justify Nato's war in Libya.
'Nato leaders, opposition groups and the media have produced a stream of stories since the start of the insurrection on 15 February, claiming the Gaddafi regime has ordered mass rapes, used foreign mercenaries and employed helicopters against civilian protesters.'
Amnesty and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have checked the claims and found flat zero evidence.
June 30th marks a very considerable mobilisation of industrial action in Britain, in the shape of a large public sector strike. The Trades Unions are making their first tentative steps towards politically motivated action for a generation, with a massive withdrawal of workers labour in response to government plans for pensions reform; whilst the pensions dispute is the legal justification for industrial action (under Britain’s strict, Thatcherite anti-strike legislation), in reality the issue is the tip of the iceberg. The consensus behind the strikes is that of a political fight against the cuts in general. The range of action we will see on June 30th will stretch far beyond those “directly” affected by pensions plans, with a cross-section of those worst hit by the cuts expected to engage with the day of action– the disabled, those who face massive reductions to vital welfare benefits, students, schools pupils and parents and other public-service users.
firstname.lastname@example.org (The Fargate Speaker) | 25-06-2011 15:55 | Sheffield
Late last month a Sheffield Hallam University student, Richard O’Dwyer, was arrested as the alleged founder of the media streaming website TVShack. It emerged earlier this week that he is now facing extradition to the US for criminal copyright infringement.
Media commentators have been drawing comparisons between O’Dwyer and the on-going legal battle of computer hacker Gary McKinnon who is similarly fighting extradition proceedings for hacking into United States military and NASA computers. McKinnon’s case is also far from uncontroversial; not least because of his diagnosis as a sufferer of autism spectrum disorder and clinical depression, along with the motives for the hack (to look for evidence of “free energy suppression” and UFOs). Nonetheless, it is actually perhaps more appropriate to look at the 2006 Pirate Bay Raid as a better precedent. O’Dwyer, after all, and unlike McKinnon, had no intention of accessing heavily guarded computer networks nor waging a cyber-war against US authorities: TVShack is a media sharing website where people can watch TV shows and Films for free. What’s really at stake here is intellectual property rights and the need for the US in particular to enforce this on an international scale.
It is pretty clear, from the TV shows we watch, the music we listen to and the films we enjoy, that American culture is hegemonic. Hollywood is a multi-billion dollar industry, an industry that is heavily dependent on revenue streams that stretch across the globe. Intellectual property rights have been a central plank in maintaining this economic monopoly over America’s cultural products and have been reflected in the international institutions and agreements that the West has built to regulate global trade (e.g. the World Trade Organisation). Of course, these regulations stretch much further than artistic copyrights. Laws concerning the regulation of the pharmaceutical industry (another multi-billion dollar industry), for example, have been a barrier to the cheap manufacture of vaccines and medicines for public health epidemics, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, for years. Nonetheless, since the advent of internet piracy concern for artistic copyright has been a growing priority for US law enforcement and, as incidents like the Pirate Bay raid demonstrate, a battle in which they are willing to go significantly beyond their own legal jurisdiction (flexing their global influence in the process) to fight.
Quite obviously sharing something for free that would have been otherwise paid for is going to have an effect on the sales of a product. Contrary to the view promoted in the media, however, the artist’s earnings are a minuscule chunk of this revenue. In the music industry, for example, artists are paid royalties usually somewhere between 8% and 25% of the suggested retail price of the recording (and from this percentage, a 25% deduction for packaging is taken out, even though packaging rarely costs 25% of the total price of the CD or cassette). Record companies usually treat downloads as “new media/technology,” which means they can reduce that royalty by 20% to 50%. This means that rather than paying artists a 10% royalty on recording sales, instead they pay them a 5% to 8% rate when their song is downloaded from the Internet. In the case of downloaded music, although there is no packaging expense, many record company contracts still state that the 25% packaging fee will be deducted. In short, the bulk of the money when you pay for a downloaded song, CD or cassette is going to the distributor and the record label. Hence the reason that it is media companies, and not recording artists or actors, who are currently spear-heading the fight against piracy (with some unfortunate exceptions) and pressurising government’s to take a tougher stance on copyright infringement.
However, there is also a much more fundamental issue at stake here than simply the economic damage that piracy causes to a companies bottom line; largely, the need for capitalists to control and regulate information within the market place. More often than not when we buy a product, especially products related to entertainment, we typically know very little about it. Modern advertising tends not to be based on promoting the functionality or utility of a product (or in the case of entertainment an experience) but its “image”. That typically involves manufacturing a certain amount of spectacle - social hype, a certain lifestyle, a feeling, a sentimental response – for the consumer so they will feel some sort of deeper engagement with the product that is being sold. Take, for example, a contemporary movie – The Hangover Part 2. Now this is a film that was made on a budget of $80 million (incidentally about three times the cost of the first film). That’s a pretty serious investment for a company to make. So, in order to guarantee a return a company has to not only ensure that it is selling seats in the cinema, but people are pro-actively wanting to watch this film. This means they need, what marketing companies refer to, a “campaign”. In the case of the Hangover Part 2 this meant posters, TV trailers, a website (complete with promo shots, previews, production notes), youtube spots, promotional interviews on TV shows, one of the companies promotional partners ran a scavenger hunt, a few phoney leaks to the press (as well as a bit of controversy for good measure) and other stories intended to promote and sell the films “bad boy” image. All of which is meant to generate a “buzz”, a degree of hype and excitement – an emotional investment- in seeing this movie. Of course the Hangover Part 2 was a shit movie (for a good review see Movie Bob’s take on the thing). Transphobic, racist, sexist crap that was bad even on it’s own terms. Of course that doesn’t really matter once you’ve been sold by all the publicity and bought your cinema ticket. And to be honest, with an estimated $494,077,681 gross, it doesn’t really matter to the company that you didn’t like the film.
This is where internet piracy offers some form of alternative. Instead of being offered images bundled in plastic crap we have the potential for a form of free, cultural exchange. We are able to judge products for what they are and what, directly, they offer to us. I might choose to download The Hangover Part 2, if I don’t like it I haven’t lost anything, and if I really don’t like it I can decide not to share it with anyone else (or recommend to others that they do not download it). This is damaging to capitalists because it not only hits them in the pocket but because it undermines one of the regulating mechanisms of the marketplace – commodity fetishism.
It was Marx who first identified this process in his studies of political economy. Commodity fetishism describes the effects of capitalism on our social understanding. It argues that capitalism allows social beings (people) to be presented in the form of objects (as a value of money or market mechanisms). Conversely, and particularly in the case of cultural products, it also presents objects (commodities) as having social characteristics. Hence, to return to the Hangover Part 2, the idea that we are not simply being sold a film here but a “bad boy” lifestyle. Of course, the notion of flickering images making substantive changes to the way we experience social life is clearly absurd. But this is the product that is sold to us nonetheless. Without these spectacular images we can perhaps better see products for what they truly are.
The drive for states to control and regulate information has not been limited to advanced capitalism and the birth of the internet. As this excellent film documents as early as the advent of the printing press there developed forms of book piracy. Cheap, mass printing offered a means of exchanging cultural products and ideas in ways that were not restricted by monetary value and allowed them to spread outside of the elite and educated classes. Most importantly these channels of cultural exchange were also the sites for the transmission and sharing of radical political ideas. Something we can perhaps see a contemporary version of in the evolution of anonymous (a group born, quite appropriately, from image sharing message boards) and the more explicitly political initiatives that have emerged out of it (Project Chanology, Lulzsec, Anonymous Anarchist Action and other “lulz” and meme inspired projects like the Deterritorial Support Group).
The internet allows space for unmediated exchange – whether it is political or cultural in nature – and this has the potential to be a powerful tool for activists who occupy cyber-space. In some cases the combination of piracy and activism have been used quite inventively. Labour organisers in the US, for example, as part of a recruitment drive have given out DVDs (for free) of the latest blockbuster which is preceded a short film explaining the benefits of the union. Sites like onebigtorrent offer free resources for activists (whether this is in the form of comics, pamphlets or films to publicly screen), while Libcom has recently been adding scans of books to its library which are often too expensive to buy or difficult to obtain outside of an academic setting. These are just a few examples.
Richard O’Dwyer is currently fighting the extradition process through the UK courts, his case is likely to be one in many as states increasingly look to cyber-space as a “threat” to capitalist security. Whether this is in the form of the threat of “cyber-sabotage” or the existence of a free market beyond its control. The UK government, for example, currently accesses the security risk of a cyber attack on its infrastructure as an equivalent threat level to a nuclear strike. At this time it is important to stand by all who fight for the maintenance of the systems of free exchange, creativity and collaboration at the heart of the internet and against the attempt to impose propertarian and authoritarian systems of control. We offer him our fraternal support and solidarity.
The revolutionary movement that began in Tunisia at the end of last year has now sparked mass movements in Europe; principally, to date, in Greece and Spain. On the surface, these movements have little in common. In Tunisia and Egypt, the people came out in vast numbers to overthrow the hated dictators who, for decades, had strangled their economies and presided over police states, whereas in Greece and Spain, the protestors are not seeking the overthrow of dictators, and are not rebelling against a police state (although both countries can draw on their relatively recent experience of dictatorship).
Public sector cuts
April 2006 No Borders Days of Action
Art and Activism Caravan 2006
Climate Camp 2006
French CPE uprising 2006
G8 Russia 2006
Lebanon War 2006
March 18 Anti War Protest
Refugee Week 2006
Transnational Day of Action Against Migration Controls
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