Felix Stalder on Sat, 17 Jul 2004 15:23:48 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> "Content Flatrate" and the Social Democracy of the Digital Commons

This is a pretty good, if partisan, summary of the discussion and it 
highlights what is one of the most fundamental, and I would agree troubling, 
differences between the CreativeCommons and the 'flatrate' approach. CC 
relies on a bottom-up strategy that can start right here and right now. No 
need to wait for 'them' to do something before 'you' can get going.

The flatrate proposal has, in its implementation, strong top-down aspects. You 
cannot start it small and you cannot start on your own. This is where the 
EFF's voluntary proposal is fundamentally flawed.

In terms of process, this is a problem, and process matters a lot if you don't 
know where you are headed -- and I think it's pretty save to say that 
nobodies really knows how things will shape up in this area. It's all trial 
and error. 

However, the critique is based three very questionable assumptions.

First. In terms of network design, Rasmus, again and again, equates the system 
architecture with the application that will run on the system. The system has 
centralized aspects, hence the application and the effect of these 
applications will be centralizing. Yet, if you look at it, there is no direct 
relationship between network design and application effects. Take, as an 
example, the railroad network. It's highly centralized, yet it's social 
effects were decentralizing. Take electronic networks. Their architecture is 
decentralized on some levels, centralized on others and the effects are 
centralizing control and decentralizing execution, at least in the 
economy[1]. Now what does that have to do with Rasmus argument, one might 

Rasmus argues that because of the top-down aspects of the proposal, the effect 
will be as top down. It will only make the mega-corps richer. Well, it 
doesn't. Take the situation today. What does an artist really need a label 
for? Distributing CDs and collecting money. And for this, the bigger is the 
better. Small labels would like to do that, but there are structural reasons 
that favor economies of scale, not the least, because you need a large 
apparatus to distribute stuff and collect money. The p2p networks are great 
at doing the first, but lousy at doing the latter. Hence, the majors lost 
control only over distribution, not over compensation and as long as this 
situation persists, they hold some important cards.

Now, when it comes to compensation, they do a really poor job, but the key is, 
they are still better than anyone else. And this is the reason why they still 
exist and why few musicians are outright fans of p2p. If you can wrestle 
control over the other half also away from the majors, their lease on life as 
expired for good. Then we will have a situation where smaller labels will 
prosper because they can concentrate on doing what they do best -- support 
talent -- while not being structurally disadvantaged when it comes to 
compensating talent. In this perspective, an network architecture that has 
top-down aspects can have a decentralizing effect.

Second. Most artist don't make any money today, why should they make any 

> Cultural producers are making their living in a true multitude of ways.
> The sale of reproductions is just one. People have other jobs part- or
> full-time, they have subsidies of different kinds, some are students,
> many get money by performing live and giving lessons. In general,
> "workfare"-type political measures on the labor market [22] is a far
> bigger threat against most artists than any new reproduction technique.

Great, working 8 hours at McDonald's so you can produce free culture in your 
spare time. Or perhaps free culture is only for those lucky enough to have 
high-paying jobs that give them free time (like high-end programmers?).

I personally don't like the situations -- and I'm sure most of us know them -- 
where everyone gets paid except the artists. How many artists show their 
stuff without compensation in museums and kunsthallen? How many curators work 
there for free? How many printers print the fancy catalogues for free? How 
many janitors do? 

You get the drift. There is a clear imbalance, and one that gets legitimized 
with some outmoded mystique about creative work being rewarding in and off 
itself. OK, artists don't get paid in cash, but, hey, they are showered with 
symbolic capital! 

It is not that a 'new reproduction technique' is threatening the artists. 
What's happening desite deep technological change, the situation is not 
changing. All that empowering, and, yes, decentralizing potential of new 
media has stopped just where the money would have started. Hm.

Also, demanding that the welfare state cross-subsidizes the production of 
culture through a generous system of unemployment insurance is not only not 
particularly realistic, but also a strange in a text that uses 'social 
democracy' with such pejorative undertones. I find it hard to tell where 
social democracy ends and the welfare state starts and it seems no 
co-incidence that they are going down together.

Third. Technology is going to do the work for us. The media conglomerates are 
already obsolete and dead, they just haven't noticed. And what killed them, 
p2p, perhaps even wireless p2p. 

Am I sceptical about 'the revolutionary potential of p2p'? No, and yes. No, in 
the sense that it really is a new architecture for distributing material and 
one that has no immediate position for a centralized gatekeeper. Yes, I am 
sceptical that the technology, in and off itself, will be socially 
progressive, in the banal sense of giving more people control over their down 
destiny. p2p is not progressive, per se. In the same sense that free software 
is not progressive, per se, but can also be a great system to separate the 
highly productive from the less efficient ones. Like always, it's a great 
system for talented one.

Part of that control over one's destiny is being able to make a living from 
what one likes to do. And the discussion about the flatrate is, in my view, a 
discussion about how to contribute to that. 


[1] Peer-to-Peer and the Promise of Internet Equality

On Tuesday 13 July 2004 15:37, rasmus fleischer wrote:

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