on Sun, 6 Jan 2008 21:15:37 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> review: Steal this Film, II

Thanks, Felix, for the lucid review of 'Steal this Film II' which was
downloaded around 150,000 times in the first four days:
ance-b ut-the-11000-do/

Jamie King, who posted a link to the list about the same time as your
review, shows that money matters more to the makers of the film than
would appear to be the case from its content. The above post is almost
all about money. How much it matters is revealed by the failure of the
'business model' for Part 1 of the movie and by the fact that Paypal
has a virtual monopoly of small cash transfers on the internet. Jamie

We lost money on the third day of distribution because PayPal, pretty
much the only game in town at the moment when it comes to accepting
donations from users, unilaterally declared us to be "in violation"
of their "Acceptable Use Policy" because we were "promoting illegal
activity". Of course STF II doesn't do that and once we pointed out to
them why, they restored our account. But we lost a few hundred dollars
in the interim. The current state of taking online payments is just
woefully unfit for purpose. The commissions are too high and the level
of service too low. Someone needs to step into this arena with a new
attitude, though whether that is possible in the laundering-obsessed
post 9/11 world is another matter.

My friend Peter Sunde (Brokep), from The Pirate Bay, has been hard at
work with his development team on an offering he hopes to roll out at
the end of January: it will make it much easier for people to give
donations and (hopefully) take some of the power away from PayPal.

"I think that people will pay if there's a simple solution," Peter
says. "The payment solutions of today are not built for the new,
network economy -- they're built around the old one. As we move away
from the old economy, we're here without a new payment solution."

With this in mind, let us turn to your main complaint about the movie,
namely that the people who appear in it are not representative of the
human population as a whole (not enough women and coloured people).
Incidentally the demographic composition of 'The League of Noble
Peers' who claim credit for making the film is pretty opaque from a
quick search, but we can guess who they were.

I don't think it matters very much if the list of participants or
makers is not all that inclusive, unless it can be shown that more
women, minorities and citizens of poor countries would be likely to
have made the film's arguments better, more convincing, I wouldn't say
more representative. After all, what is the demographic composition of
nettime's moderators or the author of Shakespeare's plays? Regrettably
narrow, but we put up with it.

The class bias of the movie is serious, if only because its message
reflects a hidden contradiction in its making (made more explicit in
the post cited above). I am reminded of what someone once told me,
"Marriage is like flies on a window: all those on the inside want
to get out and all those on the outside want to get in." In this
case, substitute markets and money for marriage. I have argued that
Africa's development rests substantially on their ability to enter
world markets for cultural production (entertainment, education,
media, arts and design, games, software). The economic issues thrown
up by any such strategy are in some ways very different from those
experienced by the makers of this movie, but in others the same.

For cultural production at the global level, the concentration of corporate
capital in the US, Europe and Japan is underwritten by the promotion of the
TRIPs treaty, making intellectual property, with militarism and
mercantilism, one of the three legs of contemporary American imperialism.
(Mark Getty: 'Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century'). And
of course piracy flourishes in countries containing the bulk of humanity,
like China and India. But it might also be worth paying some attention to
the importance of some parts of the US and Scandinavia in the movement for
free culture. What difference would a wider global spread make to the
argument? I am not sure, but I suspect that an interest in economic
development might be more prominent.

The ideological bias has been touched on in Felix's review. This movie has
the classic form of a revolutionary manifesto: a demonised version of the
present will be replaced by its future antithesis. A world dominated by
money and special property interests will give way to one in which what
counts is free self-expression, not money. This exposes the reliance of the
film's makers on institutions whose existence they take for granted, but
prefer not to talk about about. The scenario depicted here has much in
common with the youth rebellion of the 60s when state capitalism was at its
height and offered a safe refuge to the rebels when they wanted it.

I am not denying the importance of the communications revolution for making
a better world, a proposition I have devoted some effort to advocating
myself. But I would restate Marcel Mauss's point that this kind of
revolutionary eschatology is irresponsible. Most of the economic
possibilities already co-exist in the world; our task is to build new
combinations with a different emphasis, not to repudiate what exists in the
name of a future fantasy. This requires an institutionalist political
economy with greater awareness of history than is shown in this movie.

But what about the women? Nettimers don't need me to remind them about the
gender bias of internet participation in general. It is hard to say what
difference more of them might have made to the arguments of this movie
without risking caricature or worse. But women might point out is that
Politics (with a big P) is a boys' game and less important than the boys
like to think. The internet is about nothing if not the extension of
society. Even if we gloss over the notion that piracy (like war) has always
been a predominantly male pursuit, could it be that many or most women
would be likely to give other things than taking on the barons of the
culture industry their highest priority (such as home-making and
reproduction, for example)? I make this stereotypical contrast since, if we
can't guess what difference women as a class would make, their inclusion
would be no more than cosmetic.

I look forward to a time when governance of the wider reaches of society
involves more women than it does at present. But I am not surprised that
Steal This Film II is a product of an Anglophone boys' club. That worries
me less than the movie's metaphysics and its political strategy; and I
really would like to know how these might be improved by broader
participation in its making.

Keith Hart


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