Giles Moss on Sat, 10 Jan 2004 03:04:32 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> LibreSociety Manifesto Manifesto
David Berry & Giles Moss

A constellation of interests is now seeking to increase their ownership 
and control of creativity. They tell us that they require new laws and 
rights that allow them to control concepts and ideas and protect them 
from exploitation. They say that this will enrich our lives, create new 
products and safeguard the possibility of future prosperity. But this 
is an absolute disaster for creativity, whose health depends on an 
ongoing, free and open conversation between ideas from the past and the 

— In response, we wish to defend the idea of a creative sphere of 
concepts and ideas that are free from ownership.


Profit has a new object of affection. Indeed, profiteers now 
shamelessly proclaim to be the true friend of creativity and the 
creative. Everywhere, they declare, “We support and protect concepts 
and ideas. Creativity is our business and it is safe in our hands. We 
are the true friends of creativity!”


Not content with declarations of friendship, the profiteers are eager 
to put into practice their fondness for creativity as well. “Actions 
speak louder than words” in capitalist culture. To display their 
affection, profiteers use legal mechanisms, namely intellectual 
property law, to watch over concepts and ideas and to protect them from 
those who seek to misuse them. While we are dead to the world at night, 
they are busily stockpiling intellectual property at an astonishing 
rate. More and more, the creative sphere is being brought under their 
exclusive control.


The fact that the profiteers are now so protective of creativity, and 
jealously seeking to control concepts and ideas, ought to rouse 
suspicion. While they may claim to be the true friends of creativity, 
we know that friendship is not the same as dependency. It is very 
different to say, “I’m your true friend because I need you”, than to 
say, “I need you because I’m your true friend”. But how are we to 
settle this issue? How do we distinguish the true friend from the false 
one? In any relationship between friends we should ask, “Are both 
partners mutually benefiting?”


The profiteers clearly benefit from their new friendship with the 
creative, when measured by their insatiable thirst for profit. Unlike 
physical objects, concepts and ideas can be shared, copied and reused 
without diminishment. However many people use and interpret a 
particular concept, the original creators’ use of that concept is not 
surrendered or reduced. But through the use of intellectual property 
law – in the form of copyright, patents and trademarks – concepts and 
ideas can be transformed into commodities that are controlled and 
owned. An artificial scarcity of creativity can then be established. 
Much money is to be made when creative flows of knowledge and ideas 
become scarce products to be traded in the market place. And, 
increasingly, intellectual property law is providing profiteers with 
vast accumulations of wealth. Indeed, immaterial labour (based on 
information, knowledge and communication) has largely come to replace 
industrial factory production as the main guarantor of wealth in the 
new post-industrial age of technological capitalism. And the social 
relations codified in intellectual property law, are a core element in 
this wider structural transformation of the productive processes.


For many of us, the thought of intellectual property law still evokes 
romantic apparitions of a solitary artist or writer protecting their 
creative endeavours. So it is unsurprising that we tend to view 
intellectual property law as something that defends the rights and 
interests of the creative. Perhaps, in some removed and distant time, 
there was a modest respectability in such a notion. But this romantic 
vision is now ill at ease with the emerging abuse of intellectual 
works. Creators have become employees and each concept and idea they 
produce is appropriated and owned by the employer. The profiteers are 
using intellectual property law to amass the creative output of their 
employees and others. What is more, they continually lobby to extend 
the control of intellectual property law for longer and longer periods.


The creative multitude is becoming legally excluded from using and 
reinterpreting the concepts and ideas that they produce. In addition, 
this legal exclusion is now being reinforced via technological means. 
Profiteers’ use technology to enforce copyright and patent law through 
the technical code that runs information and communication networks and 
machines. Using digital rights management software, creative works are 
locked, preventing any copying, modification and reuse. In the current 
era of technological capitalism, public pathways for the free flow of 
concepts and ideas and the movement of the creative are being 
eradicated — the freedom to use and re-interpret creative work is being 
restricted through legally based but technologically enforced 


This development is an absolute disaster for creativity, whose health 
depends on an ongoing conversation and confrontation between concepts 
and ideas from the past and present. It is shameful that the creative 
multitude is being excluded from using concepts and ideas. Creativity 
is never solely the product of a single creator or individuated genius. 
As the fusion point of singularities, creativity cannot subsist in a 
social nothingness. It always owes debts to the inspiration and 
previous work of others, whether they are thinkers, artists, 
scientists, teachers, paramours or friends. Concepts and ideas depend 
upon their social life, and it could not be otherwise.


An analogy can be drawn with everyday language — that is, the system of 
signs, symbols, gestures and meanings used in communicative 
understanding. Spoken language is shared between us. It is necessarily 
non-owned and free. But imagine a devastating situation where this was 
no longer the case. George Orwell’s 1984 dystopia — and the violence 
done to free-thinking through ‘newspeak’ — helps to illustrate this. In 
a similar way, the control and ownership of concepts and ideas is an 
emerging threat to creative imagination and thought, and thus also a 
grave danger to what we affectionately call our freedom and 


The creative multitude may decide either to conform or rebel. In 
conforming they become creatively inert, unable to create new synergies 
and ideas, mere consumers of the standardised commodities that 
increasingly saturate cultural life. In rebelling, they continue to use 
concepts and ideas in spite of intellectual property law. But they are 
now labelled “pirates”, “property thieves” and even “terrorists”, who 
are answerable as criminals to the courts of global state power. In 
other words, profiteers declare a permanent state of exception or 
emergency, which is then used to justify the coercive use of state 
power and repression against a now criminalised culture of creativity. 
As we will soon discuss, a growing number of the creative are moving 
beyond rebellion, through an active resistance to the present and the 
creation of an alternative creative sphere for flows of concepts and 


There will be immediate objections to all we have said. The profiteers 
will turn proselytizers and say, “If there is no private ownership of 
creativity there will be no incentive to produce!” The idea that the 
ownership of knowledge and ideas promotes creativity is a shameful one, 
however plausible it may seem from the myopic perspective of the 
profiteers. To say that creativity will thrive when the freedom to use 
concepts and ideas is denied is clearly upside-down. After giggling a 
little at this risible absurdity, we should now turn this thinking the 
right way up.


According to this “incentive” claim, there cannot have been any 
creativity (i.e., art, music, literature, design and technology) before 
the profiteer’s owned and controlled our concepts and ideas. This 
sounds like pure fantasy. Historians frequently profess that creativity 
was alive and well in the Renaissance period, despite this being a time 
before the advent of capitalist intellectual property. But, even so, we 
might concede that history weaves enough of a fiction to raise some 
doubt about the previous incarnations of creativity and the creative. 
The profiteer’s “incentive” claim, however, must also imply that there 
cannot be any creativity currently operating outside of the 
intellectual property regime. Fortunately, in this case, we are our own 
historical actors and witnesses. We can begin to know what we have 
always already known — creativity is not reducible to the exploitation 
of intellectual property.


A new global movement of networked groups that operate across a variety 
of different creative media — e.g., music, art, design and software — 
is now emerging. These groups produce a panoply of concepts, ideas and 
art that exist outside of the current intellectual property regime. The 
creative works of the Free/Libre and Open Source communities, for 
instance, can all be examined, challenged, modified and improved. Here, 
knowledge and ideas are shared, contested and reinterpreted among the 
creative as friends. Like the symbols and signs of language, their 
concepts and ideas are public and non-owned. Against the machinations 
of profit, these groups are in the process of constituting a real 
alternative. Of constructing a model of creative life that reflects the 
force and desire of the creative multitude and which restores their 
immanent relation to the works they collectively produce.


Through the principles of attribution and share-alike, previous works 
and ideas are given due recognition in these communities. This means 
that although a work may be copied, modified and synthesised into new 
works, previous creative work is valued and recognised for its 
contribution to creativity as a whole. Attribution and share-alike are 
constitutive principle of the Free/Libre and Open Source movements, and 
chromosomes of the new mode of creative life that their practical 
experimentations intimate.


These movements adopt an ingenious viral device, implemented through 
public licenses, known as copyleft. This ensures that concepts and 
ideas are non-owned, while also guaranteeing that future synergies 
based on these concepts and ideas are equally open for others to use. 
In this way, copyright (all rights reserved) is stood back on its feet 
by copyleft (all rights reversed). It now stands the right way up for 
creativity and can once again look it in the eyes.


Just as the functioning and violence of the intellectual property 
regime is seeking to intensify, it is now confronted by a real 
counter-power in the form of these groups. Indeed, the vision and 
practice of these movements is everywhere defiantly growing in 
strength. These groups offer a glimpse in formation of a creative 
sphere for flows of concepts and ideas that are shared freely among 
friends. These groups are acting in a way that is ‘counter to our time 
and, let us hope, for the benefit of a possible time to come’ 
(Nietzsche 1983:60) — Creativity is creating resistance to the present.


The creative multitude should everywhere embrace and defend these 
groups and the untimely model of creative life that they intimate. For 
it is only the creative multitude, as absolute democratic power, who 
can determine whether this possible metamorphosis of our times becomes 

Short References

Adorno, T. & Horkheimer, M. (1976) The Dialectic of Enlightenment
Benjamin, W. (1935) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical 
Deleuze, G, & Gautarri, F. (1999) What is Philosophy?
Foucault, M. (1990) The History of Sexuality, Vols 1, 2 & 3
Hardt, M. & Negri, A. (2000) Empire
Feenberg, A (1991) Critical Theory of Technology
Martin, B. (2003) Against Intellectual Property 
Marx, K. (1974) The German Ideology
Nietzsche, F. (1983) Untimely Mediations
Rose, N. (1999) Powers of Freedom
Schmidt, C. (1995) The Concept of the Political
Stallman, R (2002) Free Software, Free Society


(cc) 2003 The Manifesto is made available under the 
Attribution Share-alike Creative Commons License 1.0.

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