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Pirate Residuum

Hard to believe that only four or five years ago the Pirate Party (PP) were enjoying a German honeymoon, winning large numbers of votes and entering four regional parliaments. In the Berlin election in 2011 their results were so strong that they did not have enough candidates to fill all the seats won; candidates who ran with with little hope of getting into district assemblies were instead elected to the major-league Senate – the citywide parliament. But this unexpected triumph was to be their zenith, thereafter the party formed a circular firing squad.

During the five years of the Berlin Senate the PP parliamentary group had five chairs and co-chairs, of these four are no longer members of the party (although all continue to sit as part of the Pirate group) – Alexander Spies is the last of this band carrying a party card. Two of these former chairs were among  35 former Berlin Pirates who published an open  letter in January announcing their defection to Die Linke (the Left party) while another flirts with joining the SPD. Three other PP members elected to the Senate have also departed. This means that having started the Parliamentary session with 15 representatives, they now have 8.

A further twist to the current Berlin election is that former national chairperson of the Pirates, Bernd Schlömer, is running as a  leading candidate for the FDP (Liberals) having joined them last October. This is less surprising that it may seem as both FDP and Die Linke (as well as the Greens and the Pirates) once participated in the Freiheit Statt Angst! (Freedom Not Fear!) demonstrations, an annual field day of the forces opposed to mass surveillance/social control which used to take place in Berlin each September.


Pirate Party poster campaign against CDU law and order minister Frank Henkel

Berlin Election 2016

Polling currently puts the PP on 3%, well below the 5% threshold required to be allocated any seats in the Parliament. As in 2011 they are running an eye-catching campaign focused on issues where they have campaigned effectively: housing, the investigation into the billion euro airport scandal, against racism. But the nature of their public meltdown both at national and local level after 2012 has wrecked their credibility.  (If one wants to vote for a neo-Dadaist anti-party Berlin already has one, die Partei, who also have a European MEP!)

The departure of former members for other parties also undermines their position as  self-appointed interpreters of the magic powers of technology. This should not be underestimated: until 2012 they were effectively identified as the ‘party of the internet’, the people who wanted to usher in a streamlined tomorrow, the epitome of progress and forward thinking. But this stranglehold on the tech-dream is over.


Posters satirising the language of  danger zones ‘gefahrengebiet’ and highlighting local scandals around rising rents, the endless saga of the new Berlin airport etc…

The Berlin PP was regarded as representing the party’s left-wing and some of its votes will now return to Die Linke or move to the Greens. Meanwhile, populist discontent has shifted decisively right after the controversy over refugee policy met the gunpowder of the sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. electorally this means pay dirt for the Alternative fur Deutschland (AFD), a toxic brew of xenophobes, alienated conservatives, economic liberals and populists, who will almost certainly enter the city Parliament this month.


August 31, 2016 Posted by | /, berlin, Pirate Party | Leave a comment

ACTA Hits Turbulence (Berlin Edition)

Later I will take a more analytical look at the opposition to ACTA, but having attended the protest in Berlin on Saturday last it feels important to take note of what an unprecedented success it was. Similar dynamics are in play elswhere and understanding them is going to take some dowsing as well as reason, so a few observations on the mood appear pertinent.

The Long March of the Internetz

On Saturday I took part in the demonstration against the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in Berlin, a Treaty which has not yet been either signed or ratified by Germany. In advance my guess was that the numbers would be modest, a couple of hundred maybe. I had noticed the demonstrations in Poland attract tens of thousands and turn tumultuous in the city of Kielce, but wrongly interpreted it as a Polish particularity, perhaps fueled by the thusfar successful campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US together with the especially blatant flouting of any impression of democracy in Poland’s adhesion process.

In any case the size of the crowd amassed at Neptunbrunnen left me aghast, easily ten thousand. Without an aerial photograph it is difficult to convey the scale of the crowd but this video gives some idea. The video-still below is my own and shows about a quarter of the crowd.

What was striking about the composition of those present was the large proportion of teenagers and, interestingly, many young women; the Pirate Party, who have been ridiculed for their atrocious gender imbalance, will have glimpsed some potential for salvation… Other than a few knots of guys who looked like they could be in a German version of the “IT Crowd”, those braving temperatures of -8 degrees were an unexpectedly heterogeneous lot, defying the tendency of protests in Berlin to attract only the usual suspects.

Since the anti-SOPA blackout ACTA has garnered attention that must make its proponents very concerned, up until recently it seemed destined to roll through amidst the disinterested complacency which usually accompanies the ‘creative works’ of the bureaucracy. The raid on Megaupload, the rejection of an appeal application in the Pirate Bay case, and the ongoing legal racket demanding ‘compensation’ from German computer users accused of file-sharing, cumulatively provided ample grounds that any treaty touching on copyright was grounds for concern.

Anonymous helped bring the thunder to the online propaganda, and V masks to the party on the street, as ever an admixture between circus, mischief and ambivalent gravitas that is ‘their’ hallmark. In addition to denizens of online communities, the Chaos Computer Club and Occupy Berlin, the protest was supported by several political parties: Pirates, Greens and the Left (Die Linke), and even the youth wing of the SPD. Although the PP’s result in the last city elections was almost incredible, this is the first time there has been a mass mobilisation around the issue at its core. But those on the streets were by no means all PP supporters, and other Parties support for the protest suggests the reverberation of the vote is making an impact: the PP will not be left the copyright field to themselves.

En Marche
After speeches by a cabaret artist, a wikimedian, and some digital civil rights activists, it was time to hit the bricks. Somehow at the moment of departure two banners ended at the front, the first one, modest in size, stated: “Save Europe from ACTA” and was branded with the website of the clicktivists, Avaaz. Behind was a larger block with a more contestational message: “Property is Still Theft!” This was borne by a rather large group of left-libertarian teenagers (Out of Control?), and they remained at the head of the demonstration all afternoon chanting “Liberty, Liberty, Total anarchy!”, “We want… to copy… everything!” and “State, Nation, ACTA – Shit!” . post-nationalism, here we come?!

The route was selected to pass by the HQ of the pharma lobby and the national affiliate of the IFPI (music industry). Initial attempts to get to the latter were blocked by police and a gentle fracas ensued. Subsequently the second half of the crowd was allowed to reach the IFPI office, where a speech (by a member of the intriguingly named Hedonist International) lambasted the music majors for both encroaching on users’ online freedom and siphoning off the lion’s share of revenues for themselves, rather than the artists they purport to support.

Obviously overwhelmed by the numbers, neither organisers nor police were adequtely prepared; for the former this meant that the speeches were not heard from where I was positioned; for the latter it was a bigger problem as the crowd started to slip out of control, perodically charging ahead, gleefully, on the count of three, as if determined to get the forces of order out of breath.

Die Fahrt ins Blaue, or, Just for Lulz
At Hausvogteilplatz – official end-point of the procession- the advance section of the crowd found itself blocked from proceeding towards the Foreign Ministry. A large group decided not to linger, descending instead en masse into the subway station, pursued by harried riot police. Re-emerging five minutes later after some antics on the platform, they took off on an impromptu wildcat march, shutting down a major boulevard, and breaching the enclosures around an enormous building site to invent an unmapped route to the museum district before returning, panting, to Alexanderplatz. All, of course, accompanied by a continuous chants of “ACTA – Scheisse!”, and pursued by police. There was however no confrontation, instead it was like a game, the city as funpark, and a brisk wander attentuates the effect of icy temperatures.

Further speeches (in German) were held at Hausvogteilplatz, which might tempt a comparative assessment of the relative efficacy of sober pronouncements and instinctual creative chaos, but this doesn’t seem particularly germane as no contradiction materialised between the different styles. Stephan Urbach spoke of how the net was built on the sharing of data, its remixing, and further redistribution thereafter. A rave then broke out amongst a part of the crowd. Elsewhere in Germany the demonstrations ranged from massive in Munich and Hamburg to just ‘very big’ in others such as Frankfurt, Nuremburg, Cologne and numerous others. Similar gatherings took place all over the continent.

In Europe the last obstacle to the formal passage of the Treaty is the approval of the European Parliament, anticipated to climax in early summer. Current president of the EP is Martin Schulz, who has already started making disapproving noises about the treaty. If events of the last month are any guide, the outcome may not be as certain as was thought. And irrespective of the fate of ACTA itself, this campaign is going to make the introduction of further copyright enforcement measures a matter of heated public contention in the future.

February 13, 2012 Posted by | /, ACTA, berlin, civil liberties, copyright | 1 Comment

Pirate Berlin

Early last August Pirate Party posters appeared in large numbers throughout Berlin in anticipation of the city elections in mid-September. Since the Federal elections of 2009, where they reaped much media attention as new contenders, things had been quiet. On that occasion their final vote came in just under 2% nationally, but this concealed a vote in Berlin that was nearly double that level, with local support in the constituency of Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg reaching 6.2%, promising them seats in the next local election.

The 2009 campaign marked the first time that online public sphere began to be taken seriously as a factor in the vote, and through a combination of their intense social media presence, popularity amongst young voters as expressed in online polls and the general emphasis on network politics the PP became positioned as the ‘party of the internet’. Germany has a distinct engineering culture due to the scale and centrality of its technology-driven industries, and the PP drew heavily from this pool both in terms of activists and policy relevance, but this narrow techno-fetischism also constituted an inbuilt limitation to their appeal.

2011 was different. What was immediately striking about the PP’s poster campaign was its playful tone, self-irony and lack of focus-group sleekness. So much so, that the whole thing looked initially as if it might be a prank. Notable also was the expansion of the issues addressed: this was not an agenda of pure technophilia: posters laid out their support for a guaranteed basic income, decriminalisation of drugs, secularisation and increased transparency in political administration. In addition they proposed the introduction of city-wide free public transport, and set out alternative ideas about education in a country witnessing declining graduation at third level in comparison with the preceding generation.

“Why am I hanging here? You’re not going to vote anyway!”

How the Right Came Unstuck
I think it’s difficult to grasp what happened in Berlin without an understanding of the wider national political climate as well as local factors in the city itself. Since their election in 2009 the CDU/FDP coalition has met a series of defeats on a regional level. Two issues in particular have occupied public attention with devastating consequences for the government.

The first is the fight over the construction of a new central train station, Stuttgart 21, in the regional capital of Baden Wurttemberg. Opposition by a broad alliance of environmentalist groups culminated in the occupation of a green area, subsequently evicted amidst massive police violence. Clashes on demonstrations are not unusual in Germany, but on this occasion the victims were not principally anticapitalist youth, but middle class ‘civilians’ – with disastrous consequences for the local junta. As a result the CDU lost control for the region for the first time in more than half a century.

Then came the nuclear accident in Fukushima, which intensified an already stormy and longstanding political debate on nuclear energy, leading to the reversal of the government’s policy postponing reactor closures. The most immediate beneficiaries of this events were the Green Party which saw instant growth both at the polling booth and in opinion polls. Combined with an array of smaller controversies the governments popularity sank, with the SPD also putting a floor on their recent decline in support.

Wir Sind ein Volk: Ihr Seid ein Anderes!

“We are One People: You Are Another!”
Anti-gentrification poster on the streets of East Berlin, 2009

A reminder is in order here that the German economy has significantly outperformed the rest of Europe in the last couple of years. 1998-2003 was a period of recession, after which growth improved until 2009 where there was a sharp contraction in GNP of 5%, directly linked to the fall in global demand for Germany’s exports. Since then however, exports have recovered both to other EU states and emerging markets. Low levels of home ownership and the difficulty of accessing mortgage finance sheltered Germany from the financial events which have unfolded since 2007, although German banks and investment funds have been damaged due to investments made overseas, notably in the US sub-prime market.

What is poorly understood overseas however is the regional nature of the German economy, and the degree to which it continues to be centered on key nodes in former West Germany: a Munich-Nuremberg axis in Bavaria, Baden Wurttemberg, Frankfurt (finance), Koln, Hamburg and the Ruhrgebiet. Berlin is cut off both in terms of human capital and infrastructure from these areas, and struggles as a result. The local economy is heavily reliant on public sector employment in government and administration, tourism, and construction. While there is some software, pharmaceuticals and media production, they are in relative terms discrete employers. The biggest new employer is the German intelligence agency, the BND! Consequently local unemployment remains stubbornly high, over 13% according to official figures, and wages are low.

A corollary of the weak economic situation has been the relatively low cost of living, especially in terms of rental rates. Notoriously this has attracted a lot of under-remunerated cultural producers to make the city their home. But in the last four years rents have increased precipitously, between 15-20% annually in some centrally located areas, and when combined with weakened tenant protections and reduced investment in social housing; the result has been significant levels of displacement. New construction is occurring but is confined to apartments marketed to investors from other areas of the country and abroad. In fact this process has been underway since the 1990s, but had abated during the 1998-2003 slump – now it is back with renewed vigor. Local conflicts over urban development and planning have intensified and drawn in wider tranches of the population. The failure of the local administration – a coalition of the Social Democrats and die Linke – to respond to the resultant insecurity, combined with the poor economic opportunities available have opened the door to other forces. Previously the Greens would have been expected to clean up in this scenario, but they are perceived increasingly as the party of a lifestyle-defined middle class which has jettisoned its radical DNA, and in Berlin this doesn’t play as well compared to prosperous regions in the west.

In sum the conditions for a new protest party were ripe, and the Pirate Party were there to capitalise. They took more votes off die Linke proportionally than from anyone else, especially in the constituencies in the east. In areas characterised by a high level of conflict over housing such as Friedrichshain, they scored their highest results in absolute terms, hitting up to 17%. This area had been the scene of a massive campaign in defense of a squatted ‘house project’ (where people live collectively and conduct cultural and social activism), Liebig 14, which was evicted in February of this year. One element of the PP’s programme is to enable access to loans for tenants who want to buy their houses out from their owners rather than there being released on the open market. Meanwhile, on the border of Prenzlauer Berg and Wedding one of the city’s most popular parks is slated to be partially developed as condominiums, provoking anger and regular demonstrations in which the PP have been active. Along the site of the former wall, what was once social housing (built during the massive architectural project of the 1980s, the IBA) is in the process of reverting to private ownership, with increases in rents of up to 200%. This does not mean that the PP is a new Tenants Rights Party, but simply that the failure of the historical ‘alternative’ and ‘left’ parties has alienated many and opened the door for others.

What I want to get across is the complexity of trying to analyse the Pirate Party’s extraordinary result. While no enthusiast for electoral politics, I have been involved in the fight against intellectual property expansionism and have thus paid attention to the progress of the various PP’s since the start. But the copyright question which instigated the organisation’s creation was a footnote in the election. Nonetheless there has been enough happening in the copyright and surveillance realms to steel activists attracted by this issue. Germany, in fact, has had one of the most frantic enforcement campaigns in Europe in recent years, with the development of what is widely referred to as an enforcement industry where IT companies are contracted to trace those sharing files online so that lawyers can then make demands of ‘compensation’, an approach exemplified by companies such as Constantin GMBH, rights owners responsible for the famous sweep of Downfall videos from youtube. In October CDU politician Siegfried Krauder floated a proposal for a three strikes style law also in Germany, even though this would go against the coalition agreement made with the FDP (which contains a determined civil libertarian faction). Elsewhere, the campaign against intrusive surveillance was enlivened by revelations that police in Dresden engaged in generalised interception and parsing of mobile traffic and SMS during popular demonstrations against a neo-fascist rally in Dresden last winter.

The Pirates took 8.9% in the Berlin election. So unexpected was this that they cannot in fact fill all their seats. Every candidate for the City was elected, but several of them were also elected to the local councils in their areas, and due to the prohibition on dual-mandates some will go unfilled. Opinion polls have put them on 8% nationally, but it will be difficult to sustain this if they do not transform novelty into meaningful intervention. The crucial question is what would a meaningful form be. Events elsewhere such as the Occupy movement reflect a general distrust of the political system and its modes, a humor which arguably is analogous to the motivation driving the Pirate Party’s success. If this is so, then there is a case that the PP would be best served not by playing the Parliamentary game with too much earnestness, but rather should expose it and demonstrate the castrated notion of participation which it represents.

Following the election a debate kicked off in the TAZ newspaper regarding the left-wing credentials of the party, or lack thereof. Opinions vary, as do the self-descriptions of prominent party members. Current leader Sebastian Nerz is a former member of the conservative CDU, and the party also includes many former liberals; he prefers to charcterize it as a socially liberal progressive party. From the other side of the spectrum the Pirates have picked up members from all over the left, including a former chairperson and MEP of the Green Party, Angelika Beer, and former MP Herbert Rusche.

Parallels have been drawn between the struggle between ‘vollis‘ and ‘kernis‘ in the PP and the earlier fight in the Green Party between ‘realos‘ and ‘fundis‘. In the PP context this refers to a tension between those favouring a minimal program based on technological issues and those who want the party to develop a full programme, including the thorny issues around the social state. A congress in Bingen in 2010 grappled with these issues unsuccessfully, but the question was resolved at another meeting later that year in Chemnitz. On that occasion the membership endorsed a proposal to support a guaranteed income and to back the introduction of a statutory minimum wage in the interim. This move was actually opposed by the then leader Jens Seipenbusch. The result in Berlin clearly favours the more expansionist current in the organization.

On the back of their gains, however, the PP has now also made itself a target for more calculated attacks. The Greens and die Linke will be ruminating on how to deal with the threat they pose, with Renate Kunast (the local Green leader) quipping to a business audience before the election that they could be ‘rehabilitated’, and presumably co-opted. This is unsurprising, seeing as in absolute terms the PP took more voters from the Greens than any other party.

Subsequent attempts to smear them mediatically may not be unrelated. One instance of this has been the attempts to link their activists with the far-right NPD, on the ground that a couple of their members had a previous involvement in that organisation. Having seen Pirate Party members in Berlin on grassroots antifascist demonstrations in the city, inches from braying boneheads, I would give this no credence. In every political organization there are those with flawed pasts – it’s no grounds to censure them forever. But the circulation of this story speaks to the new seriousness with which the Pirate Party are being treated, and they can afford to be sanguine about it. As disreputable friends in Italy would say: molti nemici, molto onore – many enemies, much honour. 🙂

October 31, 2011 Posted by | /, berlin, Germany, Pirate Party | 7 Comments

Meatgrinder or Filmcamera?

… either way it’s bad news for the television set.

Back from another hiatus…

July 31, 2008 Posted by | /, berlin, photography | 3 Comments

Is Paper Sharing Killing the Newspaper Industry?

I found this advertisement in Schonefeld airport in Berlin recently and was struck by the image which suggests the proliferation of a whole lexicon of anti-sharing imagery.

So does this ad tell you (a) not to share the news with your friends and neighbours (b) that reducing the distribution figures for the paper is hurting advertising income or (c) that “Welt Kompakt” is great because it’s a more convenient size than a broadsheet?

March 14, 2008 Posted by | berlin, language, photography | 7 Comments

Berlin, Groupiusstadt and STF2 in SF

So this page hasn’t been updated recently and I owe a lot of people mail (apologies). The reason is simple – a repetitive strain injury, which I hope will soon resolve itself, particularly because we’re off to film The Pirate Bay again shortly. Until then, it’s movies, books, food and wine for me. In the meantime here is a photo from one of the three Grosswohnsiedlung, Gropiusstadt, built in West Berlin (Neukölln) during the 1970s.

Incidentally, Steal This Film 2 will be shown in San Francisco tomorrow (!) in Craig Baldwin’sThe Other Cinema’ , ie, (saturday) March 1st, 8:30 at 992 Valencia (@ 21st) in the Mission. If you are curious to see the result on the big screen (thogh it was made for the small one). The film will be introduced by a hero of hours, Rick Prelinger, who is in the film himself.

February 29, 2008 Posted by | /, berlin, photography | 1 Comment

Copyfarleft: An Anarchist Gema?

I covered elements of Dmytri’s political critique of Creative Commons in the post below. For the full version I’d recommend the article that he co-authored with Joanne Richardson, Copyright, Copyleft and the Creative Anti-Commons. Now I want to move on to Kleiner’s proposal for an alternative approach to CC which eh outlined at the Oil event, as it is not dealt with in the paper. His approach takes existing organizational structures in copyright, and gives them a marxist twist.

His suggestion is to establish a form of cooperative which would function in the same way as the copyright collection societies, such as GEMA in Germany which collects licenses for musical performances. Members would assign their copyrights to the cooperative, which would issue free non-exclusive licenses to other members.This is a similar modus operandi to that used by the Free Software Foundation who collect copyright assignments from their contributors, and then grant back a series of guaranteed permissions which form the crux of software freedom. Non-members could still use the works but would have to negotiate and pay a licensing fee in the normal manner. The original twist is in the criteria for membership of the cooperative, which would be limited to those who do not employ wage-labour or capital-intensive technology in producing cultural works; Dmytri referred to these as the non-alienation clause, and it’s worth unpacking it a bit.

It is well documented that the vast majority of those using alternative licenses (Creative Commons, Free Art License etc) choose to apply restrictive non-commercial clauses to the reuse of their work. Effectively this negates the potential of the licensing system to impact on the mode of cultural production. As a (re)user you still have to get permission and are subject to what economists call transaction costs. Free software successfully altered the economic landscape of programming by enabling the accumulation of a large arsenal of code which any programmer could use for the purposes of their own work, thus saving them time, provided they complied with the terms of the General Public License. Kleiner locates people’s unwillingness to surrender control in their fear of exploitation, and at least in some parts of the Creative Commons ‘constituency‘, he is obviously on the button. It pains me to remember innumerable number arguments with video-makers unwilling to release their work for fear that they be ‘ripped off’ by a television station, as if Rupert Murdoch was just waiting for them to lower their license guard to give them a good shafting… He argues that if free use is only available to those following a method of production available to any cultural producer, regardless of their means, these fears can be assuaged. To give a practical example, this would mean that someone making a film on their own using off the shelf (probably pirated!) software on general purpose computers would be free to use images or music produced by other members of the co-operative, and would also be allowed to sell the resulting product and support themselves. On the other hand, a production company with fifty employees, using bespoke systems and dedicated animation workstations, would never be allowed ‘free use’ and would have to negotiate fees to clear the use of any works made by members of the co-op. In Kleiner’s framework, any license fees colected in the use way would flow to the co-op rather than the ‘individual’ creator, and would be reinvested in the expansion of the resources of the internal commons.



Copyfarleft essentially reformulates familiar problems from the creative commons discussion but arguably succeeds in framing them in a more interesting way. For those who use the non-commercial clause as an avatar for ‘keep satanic corporations away from me!’, he actually provides a means of identifying the ‘satanic’. But at a practical level, as a license, it would undoubtedly finish in the same theological attempt to ‘count the ‘number of angels you can fit on a pin’ which lies at the core of the non-commercial clause’s inanity. Let us recall at this point some of the basic issues raised by the latter. Site A offers works available for free and makes money off them by monetizing public attention through advertising sales. Site B sells .avi video files with printed covers at the cost of production and postage. Are either, neither, or both of these sites commercial? If one thinks about the alienation clause for ten seconds similar problems emerge: I make a film using unwaged labour, from youngsters who don’t have the money to buy a computer suitable as a basic video-editing machine, and then trade on the reputation gains of the output so as to make money in secondary activities (speaking, teaching, punditry) – has alienation take place? Has anyone been exploited?


Whilst the proposal has obvious conceptual difficulties, my real critique is a bit more unkind, which is that I think it projects desires from another political age onto an unwelcoming terrain. Effectively this framework expects people to apply a high-level political analysis to their online production, and this dies not jive with my perception of people’s motivations, which are complicated, contradictory and far from having the consciously contestational intention that Kleiner’s proposal implies as a given. In short his demand is for politics with a heroic capital P, in an age where the small ‘p’ is the fertile field of agency. Let me put it another way: there’s no problem in loosely aggregating millions of people around a diffuse pro-piracy/anti-copyright program, because it rhymes with their own interests, is composed of (a) negative thinking and (screw the industry!) (b) small homemade constitutive acts (rip!), and (c) the absence of heavy ideological baggage (all political shades love it!). Try and interest the same people in drawing up a political program that addresses the complexity of modern social organization and you’ll retain the attention of about .1% of them. Maybe 1.1%, if you can make them laugh with reasonable frequency.


In addition to the political problem, there is the matter of the lessons of recent history. Scrutiny of the story behind GNU/Linux, Wikipedia and any of the other really successful attempts to create functioning economic resources for their users, have proceeded by putting usability first, and limiting the political dimension to that which is directly pertinent to that field of activity. A totalizing critique of capitalist social relations simply has provided the base for a large-scale collaborative enterprise in the web so far. And there are some groups who are giving it a crack.

But now it’s late, so I’ll conclude. At a later point it will be worth taking a moment to consider how useful the contributions of Carol Rose, Elinor Ostrom and the scholarship on common property regimes/common pool resources could be.

Notwithstanding my criticisms, I really enjoyed Dmytri’s talk, and found the terms of the discussion much more stimulating that the usual drivel which is uttered when rooms fill up with pseudo-lawyers floundering around technical terms of art. With Mako and Jamie King, I used to joke that licenses should either be precise in their purpose like the GPL, or so outrageous as to open up other dimensions of reflection or satire – I always imagined it as a dadaist subversion of legal boilerplate. In Copyleft, Kleiner has managed to apply a similar method to good effect.

November 22, 2007 Posted by | /, berlin, copyright, licenses, oil21, social cooperation | 8 Comments

A Creative Commons Conspiracy?

Dmytri Kleiner gave a presentation as part of in its new premises the Wiederaufbau für Kreditanstalt, titled “Copyfarleft & Copyjustright – the critique of Creative Commons”. Those interested in such critiques may be interested in a short piece I wrote in 2004, as well as a much more substantial and articulate essay written by my friend Mako Hill, Towards a Standard of Freedom: Creative Commons and the Free Software Movement.

The substance of Dmytri’s argument is that whilst copyleft licenses such as the GPL are about users’ rights, Creative Commons (CC) is about producers’ rights and is not concerned with building a commons in the traditional sense – where it functions as an economic resource – at all. Instead Kleiner sees CC as an operation whose objective is to muffle the conflictuality expressed through the various expressions of anti-copyright culture which were incubated in the 80s but were massively bolstered by the emergence of the online environment and the opportunity it offered to move from critiquing the theory of copyright to a rejection of its control.

Whilst agreeing with much of the substance of the criticism of CC, I shy away endorsing what seems like a pretty tidy theory whereby CC was instrumentally created to quell the rising tide of anti-copyright. For example I’d argue that as soon as it became clear that the gate-keeping role of distributors of cultural works was in crisis, it became obvious to many people that there was an opportunity for many other cultural producers to get a part of the limelight, and that this would necessarily take place on terms which were different to those traditionally imposed by the cultural industries. Standard copyright provisions in this sense represent the inherited form of industrial regulation, designed by and for those with a stake in the old organization of cultural production. Lawyers of course wondered how they might manufacture themselves a role as advisers on rights issues, and offering an a la carte menu specifying permissions and reserved rights was an obvious way to do it. I know this because the idea occurred to me, too. So something like CC was always going to be born, it is a child of its time, a zeitgeist.

There is also a more historically specific and contingent aspect to all this. CC is Larry Lessig’s project to a significant extent, and has been the locomotive of his own views which are wide-ranging and not limited to the field of copyright. Co-founder James Boyle, for example, appears puzzlingly AWOL when it comes to ideologically contextualizing CC. CC came into the world after Larry’s defeat in the Eldred case and many years spent pushing a narrowly legalistic agenda, whose objective had been to persuade nine supreme court judges to adopt a conservative scheme of interpretation to overturn the legislature’s capitulation to Hollywood lobbying embodied in amongst other laws the Sonny Bono Copyright Term extension Act. By 2000, failure in court had called time on this strategy and it was time for a new one. Lessig confessed his errors in Free Culture and moved on: CC was the result. In addition 1999 had seen the explosion of p2p onto the landscape of legal conflict, and it was clear that somewhere down the road there would be a challenge to these technologies under one or another theory of secondary liability for copyright infringement. In such a situation it would be necessary to demonstrate that these technologies had substantial non-infringing uses. The last time a major case was fought on this issue involved the video cassette recorder in Sony v Betamax, where the fact that there existed some producers of broadcast television materials which did not object to copying, and some uses – “time-shifting” materials for later viewing – considered legitimate, cumulatively brought the technology within a space where it was allowed to exist even if it could be used for purposes infringement.

Millions of people are today using CC licenses that permit the reproduction of their ‘content’, such that any means of digital communication can have a significant non-infringing use. If one is searching for an instrumental explanation for the establishmnet of CC, I think this is it. And it has been successful, at least to the extent that when the Grokster et al. went down in the Supreme Court, they went down on the basis of a completely different theory than that used in Sony, a precedent most of the judges simply skirted around.

Ok, I started with the intention of writing about another aspect of Dmytri’s talk but got distracted. Tomorrow, I’ll be writing about the proposal for an anarchist GEMA (the German collective rights organization similar to ASCAP).

November 20, 2007 Posted by | /, berlin, copyright, licenses, oil21 | 1 Comment

The Oil of the 21st Century

The Oil of the 21st Century” conference on Intellectual Property conflicts and perspectives was officially launched thursday night in Berlin, where the was a discussion of Terror, Drugs and Piracy in the shadow of Deleuze’s Post-Script on the Society of Control. I’ll post the notes from my talk next week.

The main event unfolds from next friday at Tucholskystr. 6 in Mitte, and I’ll be on a panel with Daniela from Piratbyran and Volker Grassmuck on saturday, discussing the pros and cons of thelegalization of file-sharing from a users’ perspective. All the necessary information is to be found on the website. The conference title is taken from Mark Getty, scion of an oil fortune, of Getty Images’ characterization of IP as the oil of the 21st century in an interview with the Economist magazine in 2000.

“The coils of a serpent are even more complex

that the burrows of a molehill.”


October 20, 2007 Posted by | berlin, copyright, events | 1 Comment

0xdb Movie Database Goes Live

Friends from Pirate Cinema Berlin went live with their software/database magnum opus yesterday evening. In order to access the full functionality of the site, you will need to register as a user and be in possession of a registration code, which you can acquire by writing a friendly mail to the administrators, whom you can contact here.

The 0xdb collects information from numerous sources including allmovies, wikipedia and the internet movie database, amongst others, and offers users the chance to search and organise it in interesting ways. Where geographical data as to shot locations is available, for example, this can be plotted on google maps.

(Location information for ‘Goodbye Lenin’)

Entries in the database are acquired through the constant monitoring of bit torrent traffic taking place on trackers around the net, and this foundation in real data objects allows queries of a type unavailable elsewhere. Apart from nifty coding, the functionality of the database relies on a key element contributed by p2p users: subtitles. Subtitle files contain time code information that enables users to search for textual references and match them with frame/sequence locations. A search for ‘Berlin‘ or “you don’t love me any more” in the 0xdb will thus return all references to these phrases within an individual film, a set of films selected by the user, or the entire database. The result can then be previewed in flash as two second quotations.

(‘You don’t love me any more’ in Kusturica’s ‘When Father Was Away on Business’, Hamer’s ‘Factotum’, and Godard’s ‘Le Mepris’)

Alternatively one can look at the film broken down into scenes; the image is taken from the first frame in each minute and the sequence is five seconds in total:

(Scenes from ‘Grands Soirs, Petits Matins’ by William Klein)

Another innovative feature allows users to preview the entire film on a visual time-line. The 24 or 29 frames in each second are averaged out and generate a composite image one pixel wide and sixteen pixels long. Effectively this creates a visual summary of the movie similar to a film print. By clicking within the time-line brings up a miniature flash movie in a window to the left, and users can navigate through the film using the arrow keys:

(Time-line for Francesco Rosi’s ‘Mani Sulla Citta’, the frame to the left of the time-line corresponds to where I clicked on the time-line, indicated by the red bar in the top left corner)

Apart from providing useful charts for browsing the film’s script and content, this form of representation can also reveal a lot regarding visual style, as is demonstrated by the example below. Benning’s Ten Skies is exactly what it sounds like: a film split into ten long sequences focused on the sky:

(Structural movies like James Benning’s ‘Ten Skies’, as never seen before).

There has even been a film especially made to play with the form of composite image creation used to create the time line, something like a form of reverse steganography.

(‘Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap’ by Robert Luxemburg)

Around 2,500 films are currently present in the database, with relatively few mainstream films and a preponderance of arthouse, documentary, experimental and classic works. In addition to its ludic virtue and usefulness for research, the 0xdb raises a lot of interesting copyright questions. This aspect, as well as what it will mean for film-making will be dealt with in a later post.

August 13, 2007 Posted by | berlin, cinema, copyright, p2p, social cooperation | 11 Comments