www.nettime.org
Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Musings on what's left of copyleft
Florian Cramer on Wed, 5 Jul 2017 10:19:32 +0200 (CEST)


[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Musings on what's left of copyleft


The following piece was commissioned for the book
"Being Public - How Art Creates the Public Domain" (
http://valiz.nl/webshop/en/categorieen/product/120-being-public-how-ar
t-cre= ates-the-public.html) ,a volume containing essays chiefly by
Dutch art researchers on the status quo of art in the public sphere.
I had been asked by the editor to investigate this subject more
specifically in relation to the Internet and digitality. The book, as
such, addresses a traditional arts audience that may be completely
unfamiliar with the subjects I cover, including free software,
copyleft, net.art, UbuWeb etc.

The publication of this volume happens to coincide with (a) my 20th
anniversary of being a user of Debian GNU/Linux and involvement in
one of the first conferences on the interrelations of Free Software
and culture (Wizards of OS in Berlin), (b) the defense of Aymeric
Mansoux's monumental PhD thesis on Free/Libre/Open Source Software and
its complex appropriations and misreadings in the arts, at Goldsmiths
in London.

- Hence, the first half of the essay is an introduction into the
subjects of anti-proprietary models of authorship and distribution,
pointing out that they weren't invented by Free Software copyleft, but
had important precursors in art movements like lettrism and Fluxus.
The second half is a more pensive consideration of where the practical
success of Free/Open Source software has led to (among others,
low-cost infrastructures for Internet monopolists and the crapularity
of throw-away gadgets), and to which degree artists' concepts of
cornucopian gift cultures (from Bataille via the Situationists to
Kenneth Goldsmith and Hito Steyerl) and ecologists' concepts of the
commons aren't fundamentally at odds.


-F




% Does the Tragedy of the Commons Repeat Itself
as a Tragedy of the Public Domain?

% Florian Cramer, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences


Gift Economies
==============

‘Potlatch’ is a traditional Native American gift exchange ceremony. In
the twentieth century, the word was adopted for a radical politics and
aesthetics of the public domain. The *Lettrist International*, a group
of poets, artists and political activists that preceded the Situationist
International, published its periodical *Potlatch* free of charge and
free of copyright. From 1954 to 1957, *Potlatch* appeared in Paris and
the Dutch section of the Situationist International published its own
issue of the bulletin in 1959. In an essay included in the Dutch
edition, Guy Debord explained gift exchange as a way in which to
‘reserve and surmount’ the ‘negativity’ of modern arts.[^1] With
‘negativity’, he not only meant aesthetics, but also economics. The
successor to *Potlatch*, the journal *Internationale Situationniste*,
was free of copyright too. This way, Lettrists and Situationists sought
to pre-emptively undermine the collector’s and art market’s value of
their work, at least in theory. In practice, none of the major
participants kept up anti-copyright.[^2]

Around the same time, in the 1960s, Fluxus sought to fundamentally
rethink the economics and public accessibility of art when it focused on
street performances and on its own genuine invention ‘multiples’: the
production of artworks (from artists’ books to small sculptural objects)
in affordable editions. Fluxus’ founder and theorist George Maciunas did
not literally use the terms ‘access’ or ‘accessibility’, yet radically
addressed them on both an institutional and aesthetic level. By moving
contemporary art from museums and galleries to bookshops and streets,
Fluxus sought to give it ‘non-elite status in society’.[^3] This, by
itself, does not differ much from other programmes of bringing art into
the public space, for example as open air sculpture. But Maciunas also
sought to radically change form and language of contemporary art for
this purpose. He wanted art to become ‘Vaudeville-art’ and
‘art-amusement’.[^4] Art should become ‘simple, amusing, concerned with
insignificances, have no commodity or institutional value … obtainable
by all and eventually produced by all’.[^5] This eventually lead to
Fluxus being perceived, like Situationism, as counterculture rather than
as contemporary art in its own time. Today, both are mostly seen as
forerunners of contemporary performative, conceptualist and political
art, although their radical anti-institutional agenda is being
overlooked. Little attention has been paid to political-economic visions
in both movements: a radical public domain without commodities and
private property.

This did not prevent Lettrist, Situationist and Fluxus work from ending
up (or even being produced) as collector’s items wherever this work had
a conventional material form, such as auto- or serigraphs, objects,
installations, performance remnants, photographs or original copies of
*Potlatch*. When the World Wide Web became a mass medium in the
mid-1990s, the first avant-garde and contemporary art that became
available online were Situationist writings from the 1960s; works that
were conventional text with no collector’s value. Thanks to their
non-copyright status, they could easily be retyped and uploaded. Works
from Fluxus and closely related conceptual and intermedia art movements
(including concrete and sound poetry, video and audio art) became the
foundation of UbuWeb (www.ubu.com). Created in 1996 by poet and
conceptual artist Kenneth Goldsmith and still maintained by him today,
UbuWeb is the largest online library and electronic archive of
avant-garde audio-visual documents. It has become the historically most
successful public access initiative for contemporary arts, since it gave
artists’ books, recordings and videos a public visibility which
pre-Internet museums, archives and libraries could not physically
provide. In addition, UbuWeb turned this art into a common good since
all content of the website is freely and easily downloadable for any
Internet user.

This type of public access, however, should not be confused with ‘Open
Access’, the publishing of articles and books as freely available
reading materials that, since the 1990s, has become a common practice in
academia.[^6] UbuWeb does not comply to the legal requirements and
formal criteria for Open Access since it operates in a grey zone of
intellectual property. Unlike an Open Access website, UbuWeb neither has
formal copyright clearance for all the works it contains, nor does it
provide them under formal Open Access usage terms such as those of the
Creative Commons licenses (more on them later). What UbuWeb does,
however, have in common with the Open Access movement, is that it used
the Internet as a catalyst for redefining publishing, from physically
limited ownership of material properties to unlimited collective use of
non-material goods.

In her 1973 book *Six Years*, art critic Lucy Lippard characterized the
performative, conceptualist and intermedia art of the late 1960s and
early 1970s as a movement towards the ‘dematerialization of the art
object’.[^7] In 1983, Jean-François Lyotard, founder of postmodernism as
a philosophical concept, organized the exhibition *Les Immatériaux* at
Centre Pompidou in Paris, which combined art installations by, among
others, Daniel Buren and Dan Flavin with extensive displays of
scientific inventions and computer technology. If one were to construct
a genealogy from Fluxus and conceptual art via Lippard’s
‘dematerialization’ and Lyotard’s postmodern ‘immaterials’ to UbuWeb and
the online Situationist text archives, then the latter might be seen as
the ultimate realization of 1960s gift economy promises. Promises which,
at the time, were still held back by analogue material constraints. Even
cheap media such as print have affordances that can be prohibitive:
printing, shipping and storage costs, the limited number of print copies
versus the unlimited copying of digital files. Live performance art in
public spaces was non-reproducible and therefore reinforced the aura of
the unique artwork.

In such a reading, UbuWeb delivers the original yet unrealized promise
of Maciunas’ Fluxus Editions from the 1960s. Likewise, the Situationist
servers—but also: every other electronic book, audio record, film, game
copied and shared among people—provides the *Potlatch* that the Lettrist
bulletin symbolized rather than realized. Digital technology, with its
inherent facility of copying a file in infinite generations without
quality loss and at comparatively negligible costs, would then have been
the final missing building block for a working ‘gift economy’. This idea
had also influenced the first generation of net.artist in the 1990s,
including jodi, Heath Bunting, Alexei Shulgin, Vuk Ćosić and Olia
Lialina, whose work mostly circulated outside exhibition spaces and
suspended notions of ‘the original’.

Concepts of a ‘gift economy’ based on ‘the commons’ did not only exist
in the arts. They became generally popular with the Internet. By the
1990s, two popular phenomena substantiated them: Firstly, the GNU/Linux
computer operating system, a fully working alternative to proprietary
computer operating systems such as Unix, Windows and Mac OS, programmed
by volunteers and available for free downloading, copying and
adaptation. Secondly, the popular culture of freely sharing music in the
MP3 format through decentralized Internet services such as Napster.
Kenneth Goldsmith, founder of UbuWeb, later described Napster as his
‘epiphany’: ‘It was as if every record store, flea market and charity
shop in the world had been connected by a searchable database and had
flung their doors open, begging you to walk away with as much as you
could carry for free. But it was even better, because the supply never
exhausted; the coolest record you’ve ever dug up could now be shared
with all your friends.’[^8] Linux received similar artistic
appreciation, when in 1999, the Ars Electronica festival awarded it with
its Golden Nica in the ‘.net’ category, a prize meant for electronic
media art. The jury cited Linux’ cultural ‘impact on the “real” world’
as a reason for its decision, along with the intention ‘to spark a
discussion about whether a source code itself can be an artwork’.[^9]

As if to prove that avant-garde art still does justice to its own name
and historically runs ahead of popular culture, the fringe ‘gift
economy’ concepts of Lettrists, Situationists and other counter-cultural
groups became mass phenomena with Linux and MP3 file sharing three
decades later. In his 1998 essay *The Hi-Tech Gift Economy*, British
cultural studies scholar Richard Barbrook therefore called the Internet
‘Really Existing Anarcho-Communism’. He credited the Situationist
International as a forerunner but criticized that it ‘could not escape
from the elitist tradition of the avant-garde’.[^10] For his references
to Linux, Barbrook drew on the software developer Eric S. Raymond who,
in the same year, had helped coin the term ‘Open Source’ for the new
collaborative software development model. (Shortly after, ‘Open Source’
in software engineering became the blueprint for ‘Open Access’ in
publishing.) In 2000, Raymond’s paper *Homesteading the Noosphere*
characterized the ‘The Hacker Milieu as Gift Culture’, arguing that
‘Gift cultures are adaptations not to scarcity but to abundance’.[^11]
The promise of digital technology and the Internet was that electronic
replication of digital zeros and ones had overcome the constraints and
affordances of mechanical reproduction. In that light, Lippard’s
‘dematerialization’ in conceptual art and Lyotard’s postmodern
‘immaterials’ seemed to be issues that the digital commons had resolved.

As Aymeric Mansoux points out in his critical research on Open Source and
its
adoption in arts and culture, Raymond and others effectively paraphrased
social-liberal economist John Maynard Keynes who, in 1930, had predicted
that
thanks to automation ‘the *economic problem* may be solved … within one
hundred
years’ so that an ‘age of leisure’ would follow.[^12] Keynes’ theory was
influential in French post-war sociology and most prominently adopted by Guy
Debord’s teacher Henri Lefebvre. Debord and the Situationists expected a
transformation of society into a leisure society, propagated machine-made
‘industrial painting’ and based their ‘Potlatch’ on a firm expectation of
the
near end to economic scarcity.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the debate on the Internet as a gift
economy found its most prominent voice in law professor Lawrence Lessig,
who saw the technology as a means to a *Free Culture* outside
traditional intellectual property and media industry regimes.[^13] In
2001, Lessig co-founded the Creative Commons, a non-profit organization
whose licenses encouraged people to apply the distribution principles of
Open Source software such as Linux, including free copying and
modification, to creative works of any kind, including texts, images and
sound recordings. Wikipedia, founded in 2001, is among the best-known
projects licensed under Creative Commons, and has become, besides Linux
and MP3 file sharing, a poster case for the Internet as a ‘digital
commons’. Today, most academic Open Access publications are released
under the terms of a Creative Commons License, too.

The underlying assumption is that in the age of digital media technology
traditional copyright is too restricted for works to be truly publicly
accessible, since it doesn’t permit downloading or sharing. In former
times, public access to a work of art, such as a sculpture, would be
simply granted by the fact that it is physically accessible and visible
to anyone because it is a piece of public property installed in a public
space. Copyright would only restrict others from reproducing this work.
Today, this no longer affects only commercial parties. Taking, for
example, a cell phone picture of a public art work and sharing it online
constitutes an act of reproduction and publishing (rather than legal
personal use), thereby legally violating the artist’s copyright.

When the World Wide Web and social media were still new, these issues
were not seen as issues of access and shifts in consumption of culture,
but rather as a paradigm shift in cultural production. This was
perfectly in line with Maciunas’ pre-Internet vision of art being
‘obtainable by all and eventually produced by all’.[^14] When legal
scholar Yochai Benkler coined the notion of ‘commons-based peer
production’ in 2002,[^15] he saw Wikipedia, Creative Commons and
blogging as living proofs of a participatory ‘Wealth of Networks’, as
opposed to traditional mass media with their sender/receiver and
producer/consumer hierarchies.[^16] On a larger economic scale, ‘wealth
of networks’ implied that economic egoism would be overcome and would
lead to more effective and sustainable production. Where Keynes saw
automation as the key to overcome economic scarcity, Benkler advocated
network collaboration.[^17]

The latest Internet-cultural iteration of Benkler’s optimism and,
according to Mansoux,[^18] of Keynes’ 1930s post-scarcity visions is to
be found in the so-called Maker movement. It was founded on the idea of
using 3D printing and FabLabs for fully self-sufficient fabrication
outside classical capitalist production and distribution chains.
Bestseller writer and political consultant Jeremy Rifkin propagates a
‘Third Industrial Revolution’ based on these technologies. In his
vision, they will lead to a ‘Zero Marginal Cost Society’.[^19] With
nearly costless production, according to Rifkin, ‘the Internet of
Things, the collaborative commons’ will lead to an ‘eclipse of
capitalism’.[^20] In other words, Linux, MP3 file sharing and Wikipedia
were seen as working commons because of their ‘dematerialization’ – with
software and data being no longer subject to the material constraints of
industrial production. But now this vision has transcended software and
data to the point where even material products are expected to become
shareable, like MP3 files. What Goldsmith had written about record
stores ‘begging you to walk away with as much as you could carry for
free’ with ‘the supply never exhausted’, would then apply to *any* store
and *any* commodity.

>From the 1990s to the early 2010s, these visions and debates remained
largely exclusive to hacker culture, media activism and specialized
areas of Internet art and media theory. This changed only recently. In
2013, artist and filmmaker Hito Steyerl brought the issue to the centre
of contemporary art when she coined the term ‘circulationism’ in an
essay for the *e-flux journal*. Using filmmaking terminology, Steyerl
stated that, in the Internet age, image production is superseded by
‘postproduction’. She suggests:

> > What the Soviet avant-garde of the twentieth century called
> > productivism - the claim that art should enter production and the
> > factory - could now be replaced by circulationism. Circulationism is
> > not about the art of making an image, but of postproducing,
> > launching, and accelerating it.[^21]

The label ‘circulationism’ is not only a good fit for the endlessly
‘post-produced’ visual memes on image boards and moving image remixes on
YouTube. The older Internet gift economies of Linux, Wikipedia, MP3 file
sharing, UbuWeb and Situationist web sites are ‘circulationist’, too,
since they are all sites of postproduction: Wikipedia with its policy
not to publish any original research but only information from
‘reputable sources’, GNU/Linux as a clone of the Unix operating system
that AT&T had developed in the 1970s. Steyerl concludes her essay with a
Rifkin-esque extrapolation from software and data to hardware:

> > Why not open-source water, energy, and Dom Pérignon champagne? If
> > circulationism is to mean anything, it has to move into the world of
> > offline distribution, of 3D dissemination of resources, of music,
> > land, and inspiration.’[^22]

This view is shared in the contemporary philosophical movement of
accelerationism. In their 2016 book *Inventing the Future:
Postcapitalism and a World Without Work*, Nick Srnicek and Alex
Williams, authors of the 2013 ‘\#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an
Accelerationist Politics’,[^23] advocate ‘full automation’ in
combination with universal basic income.[^24]

What is envisioned in these scenarios is the maximum expansion of the
public domain through the abolition of work and any form of
property.[^25] Yet the political backgrounds of these writers and actors
are extremely diverse, sometimes even contradictory: democratic
socialist (Barbrook), neo-Leninist (Srnicek/Williams), right-wing
libertarian (Raymond), liberal (Lessig), new age (Zeitgeist movement).
On top of that, they range from contemporary art (Steyerl) to political
consultancy of EU governments (Rifkin).

The Double Meaning of the ‘Public Domain’
=========================================

Strictly speaking, a gift economy, and a potlatch, can only exist if the
difference between gift exchange and other forms of economic exchange is
still in place. In a Keynesian full-automation, post-scarcity future,
everything and hence nothing would be a gift. From the Lettrists to the
‘Third Industrial Revolution’, the gift thus covertly disappears from
the scene. What’s more, technology gradually replaces culture as agent
and site of economic change. This results in artists’ real-life public
domain practices, from Lettrism to net.art and UbuWeb, being less and
less acknowledged, even in the writings of artists such as Steyerl.

For their concept of the gift economy, Lettrists and Situationists drew
on the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss (like Georges Bataille before
and Jean Baudrillard after them). In the 1920s, Mauss had described the
Potlatch as an ‘archaic’ economy of reciprocal gift exchange. Despite
its common understanding as a counter-model to modern Western economic
models of accumulation, the Potlatch ultimately is no less consumerist
than modern capitalism, since it is based on social peer pressure of
excessive giving and taking.[^26]

In the contemporary art market, where 19th/20th century-style production
and sales business models rule and economic visions such as Rifkin’s or
Srnicek/Williams’ are out of question, gift economies nevertheless
remain a provocation. They squarely contradict the art market’s
principle of selling items to collectors and its creation of value
through balancing an item’s scarcity against collector demand. There
could thus be no sharper contradiction than the one between a Potlatch,
whether in its traditional or in its Lettrist form, and a contemporary
art fair such as Art Basel or Frieze.[^27]

Reformation-age pamphlets and graphic prints, including Dürer’s, can be
interpreted as early Western forms of an art in the public domain that
circumvented traditional art markets (most of all, clerical and
aristocratic patronage, churches and palaces). With early 20th century
Dadaism as their precursor,[^28] Situationism and Fluxus pioneered a
practice of the public domain that transgressed the two realms of
publishing media and public space. Merriam-Webster defines the public
domain both as ‘land owned directly by the government’ and as ‘the realm
embracing property rights that belong to the community at large, are
unprotected by copyright or patent’.[^29] Contemporary English
gravitates towards the second definition, the public domain as creative
works that are free from individual rights claims. In other European
languages, however, the double definition of ‘the public domain’ is
still more pronounced, for example in the French expression ‘domaine
publique’ and the Dutch ‘publieke domein’. Legally, the concept thus
refers to (a) physical property and (b) intellectual property: to
physical territory that is not privately owned, and to creative
work—writing, pictures, audiovisuals, designs, technical
inventions—whose copyrights or patents have either expired or been given
up.

The cybernetic utopia of circulationism, accelerationism, the Third
Industrial Revolution, Open Source thus is to collapse both definitions
and areas of the public domain into one: When the Dom Pérignon bottle
becomes infinitely downloadable, there is no more sense in
differentiating physical from intellectual property. De jure, however,
intellectual property has a clearly different status from physical
property, being a metaphor born out of the invention of the printing
press. Western jurisdictions put most intellectual property violations
under civil law yet physical property violations under criminal law.
‘Property’ thus does not equal ‘property’.

>From Peer Production to Non-profit Organization
===============================================

In 2012, *Forbes Magazine* estimated the total operating costs for the
Internet at \$100-200 billion per year.[^30] The figure only reflects
operating costs of Internet service providers, excludes public
investments into network infrastructure, costs for cell phone and
telephone networks, expenses of Internet and media companies for
maintaining their own services as well as computer hardware expenses of
private households, public administrations, educational institutions et
cetera. The Internet is not, to use Lyotard’s word, an ‘immaterial’.
Optical fibre cables, its infrastructural backbone, are a degrading
organic material that needs to be replaced every ten years. Scarcity of
Internet resources may not be visible today since its infrastructure
still benefits from massive private and public investment, and from
slave labour combined with massively unfair trade in the production of
electronic hardware. The current picture of data abundance might be
skewed in the same way as the picture of electricity and oil abundance
was skewed in the 1950s and 1960s.

With the world population projected to grow to ten billion people and
more, global warming, depletion of natural resources, scarcity of
energy, scarcity of raw materials needed for electronics and industrial
production and, leaving hyperbolic prophecies aside, no realistic
perspective that artificial intelligence robotics will soon make the
bulk of manual labour obsolete (which would still beg the question on
what energy and material resources those machines would run?), Keynes’
hope that ‘the *economic problem* may be solved’ and create an age of
leisure, appears dated. It is one of the contradictions of our present
times that some of the same thinkers who subscribe to a philosophical
‘new materialism’—with its focus on ecology, a ‘parliament of things’
(Latour), ‘object-oriented ontology’ and worries about the ecological
catastrophe of the anthropocene—also believe in total leisure through
total automation, as if computing and robotics operated in some
immaterial void where the laws of physics, economy and natural resource
exploitation are suspended.

Likewise, a critical look back at radical public domain projects of
artists and media activists reveals countless flaws: The anti-copyright
publishing of the Situationist International was only possible because
the group was financed through gallery sales of paintings by its
co-founding member Asger Jorn.[^31] Fluxus’ alternative business model
of selling multiple editions faltered after less than a year. None of
the participating artists followed the initial suggestion to sign over
their individual copyright to Fluxus Editions.[^32] Most Internet public
domain projects were only possible through infrastructural support of
public arts or educational institutions. UbuWeb, for example, runs on a
university server in Mexico. Kenneth Goldsmith periodically warns users
that the website might cease operation any day because of technical or
legal difficulties, and recommends that people download its contents to
their home computers. Unlike Fluxus Editions, UbuWeb does not have an
economic compensation model for the artists whose works it provides,
thus assuming that they have other sources of income (including the art
market). The support infrastructures for Internet art in the public
domain are, in the end, identical to those for traditional public art.

The most prominent digital commons projects have, in the meantime,
become corporate. Linux started as a student project at a public
university but is now financed by an IT industry consortium consisting,
among others, of IBM, Intel, Samsung, Huawei, Oracle, Hewlett Packard,
Qualcomm, Google, Facebook, Ebay, Toyota and Hitachi. In 2014,
statistics showed that more than 80% of Linux kernel code is currently
written by corporate employees, with the mobile and embedded devices
industry and its agenda driving the development of the software (among
others, because Linux forms the basic software stack for micro
controllers and for the Android smartphone operating system).[^33] This
does not change the fact that Linux is Open Source and freely available
to anyone to download, use and modify. But ever since the Linux commons
has become a corporate commons, it is evident that a commons does not
necessarily need to be democratic; it is not necessarily a public domain
under public governance.

Wikipedia and its sister project, the Wikimedia Commons, is subject to
similar issues of governance and community representation. 90% of
Wikipedia’s editors are male and most of them work in the technology
industry. The non-profit organization running the encyclopaedia
experiences major internal conflicts over organizational policy and
transparency, and is being criticized for being ‘increasingly run by
those with Silicon Valley connections’.[^34] Academic Open Access
publishing has turned—squarely against its founders’ intentions—into a
revenue model for publishers that charge extra fees for giving up
exclusive distribution rights.

Given their present state, none of these projects still fit the
1990s/2000s narratives of ‘Anarcho-Communism’ (Barbrook), ‘bazaar’
development (Raymond), ‘read/write culture’ versus ‘read-only culture’
(Lessig) and ‘commons-based peer production’ (Benkler). Instead, as a
result of matured and professionalized organization, their ways of
working have aligned themselves to those of industry consortia and
design committees. It is difficult to spot organizational differences
between non-profit Internet projects such as Linux, Wikipedia and The
Creative Commons, and the general sector of non-profit organizations,
with their mix of volunteer and payroll work. The same questions that
concern internal governance and external influence of non-profit,
non-governmental organizations thus also concern the major Open Source
and Open Content projects.

Tragedy of the Commons
======================

Activist arts projects weren’t free of these pressures and dynamics
either. *Potlatch* ended up being reprinted as a book by Gallimard,
France’s most reputable publishing house. The book cover does not
attribute it to the anonymous collective of the Lettrist International,
but reads ‘Guy Debord présente Potlatch (1954-1957)’, with ‘Guy Debord’
typeset as the book’s author’s name. On page 7, the book bears the
copyright mark ‘© Éditions Gallimard, 1996’.

When the ecologist Garrett Hardin coined term ‘the commons’ in 1968, he
intrinsically linked it to the idea that they were doomed to fail in a
‘tragedy’. In his paper, Hardin used the term in a way similar to the
first dictionary definition of the ‘public domain’, namely as commonly
used space.[^35] However, he did not focus on the space as such but on
its economic exploitation. For Hardin,

> > The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture
> > open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to
> > keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. … As a rational
> > being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain.[^36]

As a result, the herdsmen will have their cattle overgraze the shared
resource:

> > Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his
> > herd without limit - in a world that is limited. Ruin is the
> > destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best
> > interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons.
> > Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.[^37]

Today, Hardin’s theory seem to be backed up by facts like the one that
the world’s biggest fifteen ships create as much environmental pollution
as all the cars in the world because their engines run on waste oil, on
open oceans.[^38] Yet his notion of the commons has been criticized for
lacking any differentiation between unregulated ‘open access resources’,
such as open oceans, and policy-regulated ‘common-pool resources’, such
as fisheries and forests, to use the terminology and examples of Nobel
Prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom.[^39] Ostrom’s notion of ‘open
access resources’ must not be confused with ‘open access’ as in Open
Access publishing. It concerns the exploitation of material resources
while Open Access publishing is about the creation of immaterial goods.
Furthermore, Ostrom’s ‘open access resources’ are ‘open’ in the sense
that their access and exploitation is completely unregulated, while Open
Access publishing involves standards and rules for both, such as the
provisions that an Open Access publication may not be commercially
exploited or incorporated into a non-Open Access work.[^40]

The various theories of the commons from Hardin to Ostrom indicate the
lack of a generally agreed-upon concept of ‘the commons’ and thus, by
implication, the lack of a universal notion of access. Terms such as
‘Creative Commons’ and ‘Open Access’ avoid these issues by offering
practical solutions rather than theoretical definitions. Yet the issues
remain unresolved. As the understanding and practice of copyright and
intellectual property greatly differs across cultures and political
systems (despite the Berne Convention for Protection of Literary and
Artistic Works signed by all 170 United Nations member states), neither
‘the commons’, nor ‘access’ can be as universally defined as suggested
for the Creative Commons and the Open Access movement.

It is even questionable whether the notion of the commons applies to
such a globally standardized system as the Internet. In its current
status quo, the Internet can hardly be called a commons. It is, in
Ostrom’s terms, neither an open access resource nor a common-pool
resource, because of the private ownership and control of most parts of
its technical infrastructure. As it exists today, the Internet is also
driven by industrial manufacturing of electronic hardware in low-wage
countries, the inexpensive, ecologically questionable extraction of
natural resources for manufacturing and electricity, and finally the
concentration of Internet traffic and, increasingly, physical network
infrastructure onto only a handful of large corporations (Google,
Facebook, Amazon).

If one nevertheless suspends these objections and hypothetically assumes
Benkler’s belief that the Internet *is* a commons and that projects like
Linux and Wikipedia constitute true commons production, then Hardin’s
‘tragedy of the commons’ still provides a useful critical perspective.
Increasingly, Linux and Wikipedia are exploited to serve as ‘back-ends’
for private services. Google’s search engine now relies on Wikipedia for
its top-ranked search results and uses the free encyclopaedia to
auto-generate information summaries on search result pages themselves,
thus encouraging users to remain on Google’s advertising-financed site.
By putting a proprietary service layer on top of Linux that, among
others, heavily tracks user behaviour, Google’s Android operating system
effectively turns Linux into a proprietary operating system while
legally conforming to its Open Source license. In a 2012 critical paper
on Android, Kimberly Spreeuwenberg and Thomas Poell therefore conclude
that the ‘exploitation \[of Open Source\] has not only become more
pervasive, but also more encompassing and multifaceted’.[^41]

Hardin identifies economic growth and surplus extraction as the ultimate
reason for the tragedy of the commons. This is just as true for a case
such as Linux whose Open Source availability may be pessimistically
interpreted as a driver for surplus extraction like Google’s - which
conversely results in wasteful gadget production and resource
consumption. Yet for Hardin, commons ‘may work reasonably satisfactorily
for centuries’ if there is no economic growth and population numbers do
not increase above ‘the carrying capacity of the land’. Gift economies,
however, from Potlatch to Kenneth Goldsmith’s cornucopian record stores
and Hito Steyerl’s open-sourced Dom Pérignon, *are* economies of excess.
They never pretended to be ecologically reasonable. Against communist
interpretations, Georges Bataille characterized the Potlatch as ‘the
meaningful form of luxury’ that ‘determines the rank of the one who
displays it’.[^42] The gift economies of Lettrism, Situationism, Fluxus,
1980s postpunk culture and later net.art involved excessive production
of ephemera—pamphlets, multiples, performative leftovers, badges,
pamphlets, code works—whose exchange was poor people’s luxury and whose
volatility was part of this ‘circulationism’. In that sense, the tragedy
of the commons, violation of the commons’ rules of constraint, is a
crucial part of these practices. ‘Circulationism’, if taken as an
umbrella term for everything from Berlin Dada to UbuWeb, is not about
ecological-ethical self-constraint, but it amounts to a bohemian
antithesis to scarcity, including the artificially created scarcity of
gallery art.

In this perspective, the Internet has only been a temporary accelerator
(in the late 1990s and early 2000s perhaps more than today) for a
history that is politically, not technologically driven. Being neither
commons nor gift, the public domain now exceeds separations of ‘public
space’ and ‘free information’, as these cultural practices and excesses
show.

(With thanks to Marcell Mars, Henry Warwick and Jens Schröter for their
suggestions and critical feedback.)

[^1]: NOTBORED, ‘Potlatch’. Web. 2007.
    http://www.notbored.org/potlatch.html

[^2]: Debord, too, published all books that appeared with his author’s
    name under classical copyright.

[^3]: Maciunas, George. ‘Manifesto II.’ Text. George Maciunas Foundation
    Inc. N.p., 24 Feb. 2010 (1971). Web. 12 July 2016.

[^4]: Ibid.

[^5]: Ibid.

[^6]: This book is an Open Access publication, too.

[^7]: Lippard, Lucy R. *Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art
    Object from 1966 to 1972*. New York: Praeger, 1973.

[^8]: ‘Kenneth Goldsmith on the Joy of Acquiring Music via File Sharing
    Networks.’ *Epiphanies: Life-changing Encounters with Music*. Ed.
    Tony Herrington. London: Strange Attractor Press, 2015. 75.

[^9]: ‘Linux Torvalds Wins Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica.’ *Linux
    Today*. 29 May 1999. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.
    [http://www.linuxtoday.com/news/1999052900305PS]

[^10]: Barbrook, Richard. ‘The hi-tech gift economy’. First Monday 3.12
    (1998).

[^11]: Raymond, Eric S. ‘Homesteading the Noosphere’. First Monday 3.10
    (1998).

[^12]: Keynes, John Maynard. ‘Economic possibilities for our
    grandchildren’. *Essays in Persuasion* (1933): p. 358-73. Mansoux’
    full doctoral research is still unpublished; an excerpt is available
    in Mansoux, Aymeric. ‘My Lawyer Is an Artist: Free Culture Licenses
    as Art Manifestos.’ *Hz \#19, Fylkingen’s Web Journal*. 2014. Web.
    01 Apr. 2016.
    [http://www.hz-journal.org/n19/mansoux.html]

[^13]: Lessig, Lawrence. *Free Culture: How big media uses technology
    and the law to lock down culture and control creativity*. Penguin,
    2004.

[^14]: Maciunas, George. ‘Manifesto II.’ Text. George Maciunas
    Foundation Inc. N.p., 24 Feb. 2010 (1971). Web. 12 July 2016.

[^15]: Benkler, Yochai. *The Wealth of Networks: How social production
    transforms markets and freedom*. Yale University Press, 2006.

[^16]: Ibid.

[^17]: In 2008, the cultish ‘Zeitgeist Movement’ advocated a
    ‘post-scarcity economy’ in which economic and political decisions
    should be delegated to a central computer. Zeitgeist became a major
    force behind the *Occupy* protests in New York City and Frankfurt,
    Germany, both taking place at the center of the two cities’ banking
    districts.

[^18]: Mansoux, Aymeric, unpublished PhD thesis

[^19]: Rifkin, Jeremy. *The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of
    Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism*.
    St. Martin’s Griffin. 2015.

[^20]: Ibid.; Rifkin, Jeremy. *The Third Industrial Revolution: how
    lateral power is transforming energy, the economy, and the world*.
    Macmillan, 2011. Rifkin, Jeremy. *The End of Work*. Winnipeg: Social
    Planning Council of Winnipeg, 1996.

[^21]: Steyerl, Hito. ‘Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?’ *E-flux
    Journal \#49*. E-flux, Nov. 2013. Web.
    [http://www.e-flux.com/journal/too-much-world-is-the-internet-dead/]

[^22]: Ibid.

[^23]: Srnicek, Nick, and Alex Williams. ‘\# Accelerate: Manifesto for
    an accelerationist politics.’ *Accelerate: The Accelerationist
    Reader* (2013): 347-362.

[^24]: Srnicek, Nick, and Alex Williams, *Inventing the Future:
    Postcapitalism and a World Without Work*. Verso Books: 2016

[^25]: A demand that Situationists and Anarchists had voiced much
    earlier, for example: Black, Bob. *The Abolition of Work and Other
    Essays*. Loompanics Unlimited, 1986.

[^26]: Mauss, Marcel. *Essai Sur Le Don. The Gift. Forms and Functions
    of Exchange in Archaic Societies…* Translated by Ian Cunnison,
    London, 1954.

[^27]: The dominance of the art market for early 21st century art—along
    with the political-economic shifts away from welfare state systems
    in Europe and elsewhere—means that even traditional forms of art in
    the public sphere are no longer firmly established. They no longer
    function as a Keynesian corrective to the free market. 1950s/60s
    Situationist psychogeography was a counter-movement to post-war
    modernist urbanism where drifting in the urban space contradicted
    any rigid, built structure. Yet today, even a classical modernist
    sculpture on a public square might qualify as ‘situationist’ when
    juxtaposed to an oligarch’s private art depot locked away in an
    airport warehouse. - See Segal, David. ‘Swiss Freeports Are Home for
    a Growing Treasury of Art.’ *The New York Times*, 21 July 2012. Web.
    31 Mar. 2016.
    [
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/22/business/swiss-freeports-are-home-for-a-growing-treasury-of-art.html
]

[^28]: For example, the absurdist political leaflets and tabloids that
    were spread on streets and in parliament by the Berlin Dadaists.

[^29]: ‘Public Domain.’ *Merriam-Webster*. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.
    [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/public%20domain]

[^30]: Price, Greg. ‘How Much Does the Internet Cost to Run.’ *Forbes
    Magazine*, 14 Mar. 2012. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.
    [
http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2012/03/14/how-much-does-the-internet-cost-to-run/\#22f6467e5b64
]

[^31]: Kurczynski, Karen. *The Art and Politics of Asger Jorn: The
    Avant-Garde Won’t Give Up*. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2014. Print.
    148

[^32]: Kellein, Thomas. *The Dream of Fluxus: George Maciunas : An
    Artist’s Biography*. Edition Hansjörg Mayer, 2007. Print.

[^33]: ‘Who Writes Linux? Corporations, More than Ever.’ *InfoWorld*.
    Web. 01 Apr. 2016.
    [
http://www.infoworld.com/article/2610207/open-source-software/who-writes-linux--corporations--more-than-ever.html
]

[^34]: Atlantic Media Company, Web. 01 Apr. 2016.
    [
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/90-of-wikipedias-editors-are-male-heres-what-theyre-doing-about-it/280882/
];
    ‘The Secret Search Engine Tearing Wikipedia Apart.’ Motherboard.
    Web. 01 Apr. 2016.
    [
http://motherboard.vice.com/read/wikipedias-secret-google-competitor-search-engine-is-tearing-it-apart
]

[^35]: Hardin, Garrett. ‘The Tragedy of the Commons.’ *Science* 162.3859
    (1968): 1243-1248.

[^36]: Ibid.

[^37]: Ibid.

[^38]: Vidal, John. ‘Health Risks of Shipping Pollution Have Been
    ‘Underestimated’’ The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 09 Apr.
    2009. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.
    <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/apr/09/shipping-pollution>.

[^39]: Ostrom, Elinor. ‘The Challenge of Common-Pool Resources.’
    *Environment Magazine*. July/August 2008. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.
    <
http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/July-August%202008/ostrom-full.html
>.

[^40]: These are options in the Creative Commons Licenses, the licenses
    most frequently used for Open Access publications.

[^41]: Spreeuwenberg, Kimberly, Poell, Thomas. ‘Android and the
    Political Economy of the Mobile Internet: A Renewal of Open Source
    Critique.’ *First Monday*, 17, 7, 2 July 2012. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.
    <http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4050/3271>.
    There are more examples for the private-market exploitation of the
    Linux operating system, most prominently the use of Linux and other
    Open Source software as technical engines for running proprietary
    web services and social media. They have been left out here for the
    sake of brevity.

[^42]: Bataille, Georges, *The Accursed Share*, New York: Zone Books,
    1988. 76.


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0
International License. To view a copy of this license, visit
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative
Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.




#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org
#   {AT} nettime_bot tweets mail w/ sender unless #ANON is in Subject: