WORD COUNT: 8229
This text will be published in the
book Noise and Capitalism (Edited by Mattin & Anthony Iles)
Anti-Copyright: why improvisation and noise run against the idea of intellectual property
Property is theft
Intellectual property is shit
– Billy Bao
No other type of music-making contradicts itself through its recording like improvisation does. In this essay I intend to explain certain aspects inherent within the practice of improvisation and noise that counter the idea of intellectual property practically and conceptually. While many musicians would probably argue in favour of getting rid of any notion of authorship, and sharing their recordings, there is often a lack of discussion about this aspect of musical practice. Almost all the people that I know are downloading music, but people rarely talk of the consequences. Some people tell me it is very utopian or naïve to think that one can get rid of copyright and intellectual property, but to a certain extent it is already happening in practice. Most of the music that is heard in the world is likely to be from downloads using different peer to peer (P2P) networks such as Soulseek, Amule or Bittorrent, or one-click hosting pay websites such as Rapidshare. Because of its rigid and bureaucratic structure, the law is always left behind by the questions posed by new technologies. But, apparently, it is only a matter of time before the law catches up. Right now repressive measures aided by technologies of surveillance and control are already being developed without our consent by the most powerful governments under the pressure of corporations (ACTA being a good example).1 Should we allow them to do this or should we start to develop our own platforms outside of the ideological framework that lets them behave this way? I will argue that the practice of improvisation in itself questions the foundations upon which intellectual property is based, such as: authorship, rights, restrictions, property, and the division between production and consumption. Improvisation and noise distribution, with their hardcore DIY (do it yourself) aesthetics, indicate alternatives to the mainstream means of production and distribution of music. Both practices are intertwined and share many things in common, but I am taking their obvious characteristics as a way of showing that within these types of music-making, there is already an existing critical attitude towards copyright that should be deepened and developed consciously.
Recording the Moment
In improvisation one always tries understand and play with the specific characteristics of this situation. The relationship between the instrument, the other players, the space and audience (if there is one) becomes intensified through a mutual understanding that everything is at stake at every moment. Power structures can be changed at any point because the future of this practice is unwritten. The social relations being produced are questioned as the music develops. If successful, improvisation runs against its own dogmatism. This is done through developing agency and responsibility towards the present among the people involved by questioning established norms of behaviour. In this sense we could say that improvisation is the ultimate site-specific form of performance. There is no outside to improvisation, no end, it is akin to what Walter Benjamin calls pure mediality or pure violence which is human action that neither founds nor conserves the law. Pure means as revolutionary violence. How can we translate this kind of activity into the making of a record, an object? How can a performance that is so specific then be put forward into something that could be heard, read or seen at any time by anybody in the future ? How can this activity in time be brought to an end? Made into something that can be consumed again and again?
The relations between musicians are directly dialogical: i.e. Their music is not mediated through any external mechanism e.g. A score.2
Often in improvisation one finds an attitude towards recording as one of merely documenting the creative process at an specific moment (as for example is often the case with the record label Emanem). Placing a stereo microphone in the room, the players play, the sounds get recorded and then released, with as little intervention in the process as possible. I find this approach problematic. It is a fallacy that one can capture the moment through audio recording – that the recording can really represent that 'creative process'. We all know that the moment is gone forever, that the recording can never reproduce all the specifics of the situation, the room, the feeling of the players, their history and backgrounds, the conditions, reasons and interests for producing such a recording. Peggy Phelan, an important feminist scholar in the field of performance studies, has discussed the problematics of documenting performance through writing. Her view might help us with our concerns here of documenting improvisation through recording. In the last chapter of her book Unmarked: the politics of performance, she says:
Performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation or representations of representations: Once it does so, it becomes something other than performance. To the degree that performance is enters the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology. Performance’s being, like the ontology of subjectivity proposed here, becomes itself through disappearance.3
Phelan argues that the writing about performance should be performative. By writing about performance one is transforming the work discursively giving a new perspective which breaks with its previous one. It is important to understand that you can never capture a moment, and therefore must never attempt to make a universal truth that represents the moment. It's only through understanding this disappearance that one can bring to life different qualities that might feel similar but nonetheless raise new perspectives. One should have an active and creative attitude towards the documentation, understanding documentation not as merely subordinate to the action of improvisation but instead as a collaborator, applying the same kind of exploratory approach that ones uses in improvisation to all the processes of production (recording, distributing, different ways of networking...). Never taking anything for granted, we should question the laws that try to define notions of authorship, freedoms and the values of what we produce. One brings his or her subjectivity into the material, recreating it and redefining it for one's needs. The division between making and listening to music would disappear if the notion of authorship was not there. But because the author must protect her cultural production, a need arises to make clear cut boundaries between production and consumption. If improvisation is an exploration of freedom and the limitations of that freedom then it should always problematise clear cut notions of producer and consumer, of making and consuming. This would be a situation in which the notion of authorship is constantly put into question as it is these 'authors' who categorise our freedom. The framework of improvisation is wider than just the moment in which the musicians are playing with each other. As the specific conditions of where they are playing such as the room, the type of audience and their expectations, and the way they make money, all effect the amount of time that they practice, obviously all this and more affects their playing. Therefore if we change the conditions of our production we would also change the way we play.
Warning – Copyright subsists in all Matchless Recordings. All rights of the producer and the owner of the recorded work reserved. Unauthorised copying, public performance, broadcasting, hiring or rental of this recording prohibited. In the UK apply for public performance licences to: PPL. 1 Upper James Street, London W1R 3HG.4
Matchless recordings is the label of Eddie Prévost, member of the radical and innovative improvisation group AMM which started in 1965. All the records of AMM released on Matchless recordings have this or a similar copyright warning. There is a huge contradiction in finding this copyright note on an improvised record, a music that questions so deeply the notion of authorship. When I asked Eddie about his use of copyright, he told me that it was because of practical reasons. PRS/MCPS Alliance (the home of the world's best songwriters, composers and music publishers!)5 has a deal with the BBC, so BBC will always pay a certain amount for copyright. If the BBC would play some uncopyrighted AMM recordings on the radio, then it would be allocated to an unattributable copyright section which will then be shared by percentage with the members of PRS/MCPS. So, the already rich, 'best songwriters and composers', would basically get richer. While this is an understandable and strategic use of copyright from Eddie's side, there is not doubt that this use also implies the same conservative attitude inherent in copyright which the music itself supersedes. By being part of the copyright system, one reinforces the whole structure that underpins the star/celebrity system.6 How can it be possible for recordings in the so-called 'free' improvisation genre to restrict the possibilities of what you can do with this material? What are the limitations of that word 'free' for the person who is listening to the record? You are free to pay for the record, you are free to listen to it, to enjoy it, but not to be creative with it, to use it to, give it to your friends, to make music out of it, to download it, to copy it, to make money out of something for which you had to pay? I perceive the sounds on records as an extension of the sounds that you put into space, in the concert. The improvisation among the musicians does not happen at that precise place or moment where the record is played, but people can apprehend it as material for thinking or working with. The music is not a pure representation of the individual playing of which the only possessor is the musician. Think of the people that you are playing with, of all your influences and all the comments made by friends. By thinking the situation through in this way we can open up the framework of an improvised concert in both time and space.
While in improvisation there is a sense of craft within one's own instrument and in being able to interact with other musicians, in noise this disappears to the extent of anti-virtuosity becoming a virtue. A nihilist approach to improvisation in which the interaction is not based upon developing common denominators for some communication to happen among the players, but rather a matter of developing the freedom of individual expression. In this sense I find the noise scene even less academic than the improvisation scene. The noise scene is founded upon people organising concerts in all kinds of places, releasing music in any kind of medium and finding, along the way, different means of distribution. This allows for many collaborations to occur. In this scene the do it yourself ethos is part of the survival. If nobody gives a fuck, at least you do. People have been self-organising themselves by organising concerts wherever possible and more. This self-organisation, which constantly makes people change roles; from player to organiser, from critic, to distributor, helps people understand each others roles. An example of this is Daniel Löwenbrück, who for the last 15 years has run the label and mail order outfit Tochnit Aleph. He has just opened the record shop Rumpsti Pumsti (Kreuzberg, Berlin), he performs under the name Raionbashi and he has organised concerts for some of the most radical artists in Berlin. Both in the improvised and noise scene the question of authorship is completely interrelated to that of the producer.
Means of Production
The best political tendency is wrong if it does not demonstrate the attitude with which it is to be followed7
Walter Benjamin, in his 1934 text 'The Author as Producer', discusses how the political tendency of the work of art, cannot be justified solely by being just 'politically correct'. Instead, its politics should be demonstrated in its relationship to technique and of equal importance is the matter of how the writer positions himself/herself within the means of production. While the practices of improvisation and noise are often very progressive regarding their content, technique and relationship to the means of production – generating alternative, self-organised, and open structures for music making, presentation and distribution – these days there is little discussion of their politics. People might want to distance themselves from the political discussions characteristic of the '60 and '70s, in which the politics might be seen today as oppressive and all too clear cut, propagandistic and carrying an overly defined message (see Eddie Prévost text in this volume). What are the elements that constitute the means of production in the specific case of CDs? Authorship, market, distribution... . I remember having a conversation about copyright with the experimental electronic musician Dimitris Kariofilis (artist name Ilios, who also runs the label Antifrost focussing on experimental electronic works). Dion Workman and myself released a duo CD on his label in 2004, and we attached an Anti-Copyright statement. When asking me about the reasons behind the copyright note, Dimitris suggested that by not putting any note he himself was more radical than we were, because not even caring about it at all was more of a 'Fuck Off' to the system. But if you do not care, somebody is going to care for you especially if there is some profit involved. By default, thanks to the Berne Convention, whatever you do is copyright, so you will still be under the legal framework.8 By including an Anti-Copyright statement as part of the release we were purposely not adopting the language of the law (as the Creative Commons licences do) but making obvious the fact that one is, in practice, totally free to use the recording in any way one wants to. This rhetorical gesture – which makes it obvious that we do not support the ideology behind copyright – has a long history, from the Situationist International to Woody Guthrie and many punk and anarchist publications. Taking control over what you have to hand, we and other people are free to do whatever one might imagine with this material.
An author who has carefully thought about the conditions of production today [...] will never be concerned with the products alone, but always, at the same time, with the means of production. In other words, his [/her] products must possess an organising function besides and before their character as finished works.9
Myspace.com reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to reject, refuse to post or remove any posting (including private messages) by you, or to restrict, suspend, or terminate your access to all or any part of the Myspace Services at any time, for any or no reason, with or without prior notice, and without liability.
This statement makes very clear the amount of control that you have in using Myspace. You might own the rights of the music that you put on Mypace (this was not the case until 2006), but you do not have any control over the future of the infrastructure that you are promoting yourself on. The statement makes a clear differentiation and division, at the end of the day, the future of your music distribution might be decided by a corporation which behaves according to their interests and not yours. You surrender control over your future and the future of your music.
What matters, therefore, is the exemplary character of production, which is able, first, to induce other producers to produce, and, second, to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better, the more consumers it is able to turn into producers-that is, readers or spectators into collaborators.10
Breaking clear cut divisions between producers and consumers, in order not to reproduce the hierarchical structures that puts limitations on our creativity. The underground noise tape circuit in the 80's is a good example of how people were sharing their music. You would send some tapes to some of the people interested in the same music in other parts of the world, and people would rework the material, and it would be considered more of an honour than a matter to get angry about. What could be a more creative attitude towards somebody's work than making a work out it? Myspace does not encourage this type of activity, because its' collaborative character disturbs the foundations of their ideology which is aligned with simple proprietorship and exploitation.
How has the idea of authorship developed through history?
The author is a modern figure, a product of our society insofar as, emerging from the Middle Ages with English empiricism, French rationalism and the personal faith of the Reformation, it discovered the prestige of the individual, of, as it is more nobly put, the ‘human person’. It is thus logical that in literature it should be this positivism, the epitome and culmination of capitalist ideology, which has attached the greatest importance to the ‘person’ of the author.11
It is very important to understand that the idea of the author was not always there – think of stories, folk tales, epics and tragedies that were passing through people without the need of pointing out a person responsible as the originator. The idea of authorship has been constructed throughout history, depending among other things, on philosophical discussions such as the freedom of the individual and the development of new technologies. The invention of the printer was crucial for the developing the idea of the author. Once people could reproduce books, leaflets, images and were able to distribute these in very different places, the connection with the printed commodity’s locality was lost. It is at this point that the notion of the author as some sort of genius, who had some transcendental qualities that went beyond the reproducible object that you had in your hands and gave value beyond the reproducibility of the book at hand. This conferred a special value upon the individual as creator, even if culture has been always about reappropriating somebody else ideas and using them in different and playful ways.
In the 60's with the arrival of post-structuralism, thinkers like Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault began to criticise the notion of the author and its authoritative power. For Foucault, the idea of the author developed as a way of controlling the press through censorship and it was a way of finding out who did what in order to then punish them. As one cannot punish ideas or texts, the (often nominal) author became responsible for his/her ideas and text, by which in this process they became his/her property. By establishing legal structures like Copyright, the classification of transgressive work and its authors was made easier, the works themselves became part of the canon of our culture. Through its institutionalisation the transgression was no longer in need of being prohibited but instead became accepted.
But it was at the moment when a system of ownership and strict copyright rules were established (toward the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century) that the transgressive properties always intrinsic to the act of writing became the forceful imperative of literature. It is as if the author, at the moment he was accepted into the social order of property which governs our culture, was compensating for his new status by reviving the older bipolar field of discourse in a systematic practice of transgression and by restoring the danger of writing which, on another side, had been conferred the benefits of property.12
Could we see this as an act of progress or of recuperation? The law is always behind with peoples’ activities, and what once might have been seen dangerous for society later on becomes perceived as an enrichment of the general culture. The transgressive character of a work gets assigned to an ‘author’ then classified, categorised & marketed.
Writing is not the vehicle for the author’s expression of his/her emotions or ideas, since writing isn’t meant to communicate from author to reader, but rather writing is the circulation of language itself, regardless of the individual existence of author or reader: ‘it is primarily concerned with creating an opening where the writing subject endlessly disappears.13
Opening up new ideas and works, is the issue here, not self-promotion and egoistic acceptance by a passive audience. Once you put work out there, is no longer yours, it should be considered in the public domain and people should do with it whatever their imagination drives them to. And that is not some bullshit piracy discourse, this is the way people have behaved throughout history. Once written, the author stops having control over the text. The text is has its own discourse and power and we should not be limit it to an authoritarian voice, language itself has is own potential and to make it solely the property of the author might dilute its power. While many people have argued that responsibility is a very important question with regard to what somebody does, and how he or she must have responsibility to that which what she or he says, that responsibility should be extend to the distribution of what they do.
In order to trace the notion intellectual property historically we have to look at the idea of property propagated by the English philosopher John Locke, a key contributor to liberal theory (a defender of individual freedom, his ideas became very important for the American Constitution). Locke can be identified as the creator or main theorist of the idea of property. He suggests that an individual, by the application of his/her labour, produces private property for their exclusive use. As Sabine Nuss puts it, 'he who plucks the apple shall keep it'. Locke premise was that everybody has property in himself or herself, that everything in the state of nature is still held in common and was given by god in order to be propertised. If you add your own labour to something that is in the commons then you make it your property, since otherwise if it remains in the commons it will be neglected, it will be left to rot. Marx criticised Locke’s notion that one could have exclusive control over the goods originated through his/her labour as part of bourgeois ideology. Marx maintains that the social relations of production are what produces the goods. It seems that Locke had in mind rival goods when he developed his theory (if one consumes it, others can’t). What happens to non-rival goods like ideas? George Bernard Shaw famously said that if you and I have an apple and we exchange apples, you would only have one apple but if you and I have an idea and we exchanged them, we will have two ideas. So, how is it possible to treat ideas as if they were apples i.e. To make them into commodities? It is only through copyright that it is possible to produce scarcity out of ideas and this of course can produce serious benefits for some but not all:
The core copyright industries are serious business: the top three exports of the US for instance are movies music and software. In 2001 the value of the Copyright industries stood at $535 billion and exports form the same accounted for $88-97 billion, while that of chemicals were $74.6 and automobiles were $56.52. It is only within this context of the global political economy of the media industry that we can even begin to understand the ramifications of licensing in copyright law.14
Again technology is posing interesting questions regarding intellectual property. Today with the help of the internet, audio-visual material can be reproduced at no cost except for that of a internet connection and hard drive space. There are licences that try adapt copyright or at least play with it in order to make legal the new possibilities for reproduction. Many of these licences come out of the Copyleft movement. The concept of Copyleft comes from a play of words of Richard Stallman as a way of opening up the notion of Free Software and his GPL licence (General Public Licence) to a broader cultural spectrum. Richard Stallman started the Free Software Movement and created the GPL licence as a way of countering proprietary software. While proprietary softwares were about restricting your use, the GPL licences gives you four freedoms:
0. Users should be allowed to run the software for any purpose.
1. Users should be able to closely examine and study the software and should be able to freely modify and improve it to fill their needs better.
2. Users should be able to give copies of the software to other people to whom the software will be useful.
3. Users should be able to improve the software and freely distribute their improvements to the broader public so that they, as a whole, benefit.
In the GPL licence you always need to reproduce the GPL, so one cannot close the code. Thanks to this licence Linux, was developed. Many people tend to confuse 'Free Software' with 'Open Source' but they each contain different ideological positions. Open source was a term developed by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond in a Netscape navigator conference in 1998 as a strategic term to appear more attractive to the market – the word Free, unless as in 'free market', is not such a cool thing for the development of capitalism. The word free contains two meanings: 'free as in speech' and 'free as in beer'. Richard Stallman only refers free software to 'free as in beer'. So a politically correct term to gather the whole movement has become FLOSS (Free, Libre, Open, Source, Software-Libre in Spanish meaning only 'free as in speech'). One of the main alternative licence systems to follow up the Copyleft movement, developed by the lawyer Lawrence Lessig, are the Creative Commons licences (CC). These licences give you the opportunity to decide what kind of licence you want to apply to your work. The diversity of CC licences is very wide, from the very restrictive (close to copyright) to the public domain (not owned or controlled by anybody, public property for anybody to use). While Copyleft functions more like a concept, backed by a whole movement, CC are trying to take advantage of that movement in order to get users to use their licences. Lawrence Liang founder of the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore suggests that the CC are the gentrification of copyright, making it look nice and trendy but operating according to the same principals (in fact Lawrence Lessig is a great defender of Copyright, and also of the free market, so the notion of freedom gets a bit confused here). As with gentrification what the CC has done is to appropriate a movement that was posing interesting and cutting edge questions reforming its content until no rough elements remain. Looking back it seems rather like a trend where many people got interested and put so many CC logos on their work and media output, but now one questions the ideology behind those logos. This might be one of the reasons why the discussion around Copyleft has decreased (three yeas ago in Spain and Italy it briefly became very popular to have alternative symposiums about copyleft and this brief moment even produced certain celebrities).
As copyleft does not allow the extraction of rent for the right to copy, and what owners of property want is not something that will challenge the property regime, but rather to create more categories and subcategories so that practices like filesharing and remixing can exist with the property regime. In other words, copyjustright. A more flexible version of copyright that can adapt to modern uses but still ultimately embody and protect the logic of control. The most prominent example of this is the so-called Creative Commons and it’s myriad of ‘just right’ licenses. ‘Some rights reserved’, the motto of the site says it all.15
Dmytri Kleiner, in his text 'Copyfarleft and Copyjustright', suggests a new method for distribution which would help artists to make a living from their work. His argument is based on making a distinction between those who own the means of production, make profit out of the use and distribution of the material and on the other hand those who are not making any profit out of the use and distribution of their own material. Those who make profit should pay for using this material. The rest should be able to use it for free. To defend his argument he cites David Ricardo's 'The Iron Law of Wages', which states that the workers can only earn from their wages enough money to survive and reproduce themselves 'to perpetuate their race'. Just enough to live but not enough to acquire the means of production. As we have seen before, in the improvised and noise scene, people create means of production within minimum possibilities. Exceeding the just subsistence, making a living in any way we can – creative survival.
The purpose of property is to ensure a propertyless class exists to produce the wealth enjoyed by a propertied class. Property is no friend of labour. This is not to say that individual workers cannot become property owners, but rather that to do so means to escape their class. Individual success stories do not change the general case. As Gerald Cohen quipped, ‘I want to rise with my class, not above my class!’16
Do people in experimental scene these days identify themselves within this class division? With precarious jobs in different kinds of conditions one constantly has to negotiate one's relationship to capitalism and having enough time to express oneself. This does not mean that class division has disappeared by any means, but I would think that most of the musicians are in situations where the class division is blurry and problematic, probably earning money somewhere else and then making their music in their free time. People might also be dubious about class identification, as previous generations have suffered from clear cut and crude class categorisation (again see Eddie Prévost text in this volume). A question arises? Should we see what we do as work? I would suggest that the making of improvised music has more to do with situationist notions of play (ludic desire and instability) than work (more fixed in its productivity). In conversations with Keith Rowe (ex-AMM) and Philip Best (ex-Whitehouse, Consumer Electronics), two of the most innovative bands to come out of England, they agree that one should not make a living out of making this kind of music because the music is compromised. Another question would be how they and other musicians earn their living.
Kleiner's argument does not work for the the kind of music that we are talking about it. This music has only very small repercussions in the mainstream media and few companies or corporations are making any profit out of it. And even if they do, would it be better to be protected by a legal system or some bureaucratic organisation that divides people according to class relation? How would this division take place?
Would this not mean to fix people according to their own situation which in many cases might already be precarious? The distribution of this kind of music is not based in getting profit out it. Whilst there might be few people making some money out it, I would say that most of the musicians, labels and concert organisers interest behind what they do is to get the work across in small, self-organised and informal networks. Two important aspects that can characterise the practice of noise and improvisation are its anti-academism and its DIY aesthetics (if you do not care about what you do nobody else will). Improvisation and noise usually try to question the parameters in which one can act, using instruments in unconventional ways, finding venues for playing in strange and difficult spaces adapting to these particularities and finding different methods of distribution. We could say that this is an enclosed way of working, without much relevance outside its context. One could criticise its lack of mobilisation towards something bigger, but on the other hand it creates exactly the kind of network that Kleiner’s critique does not apply to, it is just too small.
Improvisation and noise are informal in their operation, they are practices that adapt, play against or at least take into account the specific conditions of their own production. The question remains, how to earn a living doing what one wants to do? This problem actually opens up many questions, such as why this music does not produce enough value for me to make a living? Should it? But we should be careful not to fall into a similar situation to the one that produces Prévost's argument for using copyright, namely a pragmatic attitude towards an economic and legal system which could easily compromise questions posed by music production itself. This would cut the potential effect of the discursive radicality of the music, which would mean to see this type of music-making in formal terms rather than as a progressive and experimental mode of production that could be extended to different areas (distribution, recording, social relations...). Please do not get me wrong, I do not want to appear as a liberal communist. Even if Olivier Malnuits' first of the 10 commandments for liberal communists is 'to give everything away for free (free access, no copyright...) just charge for the additional services, which will make you rich', the liberal communists still believe that it's possible to make a more just world out of capitalism, which frankly I do not believe. The acceptance of the capitalist basis (our creativity as work) and the legal framework means the perpetuation of our constant desire to find a nice niche in this fucked up world. We should be working to enable (which to a certain extent is already happening through the filesharing and free software movement) the foundations of the capitalist system to be questioned and at some points bypassed. This does not mean that capitalism is going to be easily abolished, but it shows different alternatives and different ways of thinking that could quickly be recuperated by capitalism if we do not develop a sense of our own agency.
Beyond the Law: Pure Mediality
We are above all obligated to note that a totally non-violent resolution of conflicts can never lead to a legal contract. For the latter, however peacefully it may have been entered into by the parties, leads finally to possible violence. It confer on both parties the right to take recourse to violence in some form against the other, should he break the agreement. Not only that; like the outcome, the origin of every contract also points towards violence. It need not be directly present in it as law-making violence, but is represented in it insofar as the power that guarantees a legal contract is in turn of violent origin even if violence is not introduced into the contract itself. When the consciousness of the latent presence of violence in a legal institution disappears, the institution falls into decay. In our time, parliaments provide an example of this. They offer the familiar, woeful spectacle because they have not remained conscious of the revolutionary forces to which they owe their existence.17
Walter Benjamin, in his famous essay ‘Critique of Violence’, talks of a revolutionary violence that does not have an outside to itself. Divine or pure violence is revolutionary because it cannot be fixed into definitions or categorisations that fall into the bureaucratic apparatus of the law and this is precisely because it does not produce an end. Benjamin explains at length how in order to perpetuate itself the law needs violence. If violence is not constantly performed, law would cease to exist. In this sense the law produces what Benjamin calls mythical violence, which is law and power making – a violence that strengthens the state. I find very interesting the last line on the Benjamin’s quote above in which he mentions how parliaments had degraded into a ‘woeful spectacle’. The intentions behind forming them might have been revolutionary, but the establishment of bureaucratic functions over time lets them and the people using them ‘fall into decay’. Relying purely on parliamentary structures to base their arguments, the politicians stop developing a sense for responsibility and urgency, instead reducing any revolutionary power through the constant creation of boundaries and limits to popular power.
If mythical violence is law-making, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them; if mythical violence brings at once guilt and retribution, divine power only expiates; if the former threatens, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood. 18
The clear separation of ideas as property cannot but only develop this type of mythical violence, in which one is always protective about the fictitious boundaries established by the law, of what is one’s idea and what is not. This type of thinking benefits only capitalists and people in power. If you protest using their tools, such as their legal system, they know what you want and it becomes easy for them to give it to you and to shut you up. A quick and superficial fix that momentarily makes happy the people underneath. But fundamentally nothing has really changed and of course this system will continue to produce misery and frustration. Pure means, another term by which Benjamin names revolutionary violence, is about pure mediality, in the sense that we are responsible for what we are doing without having a structure outside of what we do (such as the law) that defines whether what we are doing is right or wrong.
It is possible to connect Benjamin’s notion of pure means and Guy Debord’s unitary revolutionary praxis, a theory and practice which attempted to abolish all separations (between art and politics, leisure and work, producers and consumers...), in the sense that is not a matter of consolidating structures (then it would produce an end), but instead a total intensification of life where everything is at stake at this revolutionary moment without the desire to look anywhere else or to achieve something concrete. There is no doubt that liberation hurts, it cannot be a smooth process, breaking stereotypes is difficult and disturbing especially if you are alone, and you might have the feeling that what you are doing is ridiculous – or even senseless?. But there is no deviancy in the use of other peoples’ material, ideas are not people, you cannot hurt ideas and knowledge, you can only discuss and work with them. People are scared, they are so protective about their individual work, but this is only because they have internalised the logic of authorship. Now we take it as natural the idea that whatever we could possess already has a value, and we do not want to diminish this value or question the foundations on which this value is based. I recently heard a story about the contemporary artist Paul Chan giving a lecture to MA art students at Columbia University. When one student asked him about a case in which Chan was accused of plagiarising a student of his, he admitted that when he was under pressure for a deadline and he did not have ideas , he just took the idea of one of his students. Later, some of the students refused to have a one-to-one tutorials with him because of his plagiarism. For me, the problem is not his pragmatic and uncritical use of somebody else’s idea, but the way these MA artists thinks about themselves, the distribution of their ideas, what they think art production is, and how they are so market-oriented. I use the anti-copyright term when I make records as rhetorical statement that does not refer to the language of copyright to let people know that to copy is not only fine, but encouraged. But what we really need to do is to use our creativity in order to find different ways of distribution. We have to change the signification of copying, or as Stewart Hall might put it, a class struggle of signification over the term ‘copy’ – copying not as piracy or stealing, but as sharing with good intentions and distribution of knowledge. Records stored in private houses are not doing much for the rest of the world apart from giving the person who owns them a good feeling. Instead, a file on the internet can be listened to and/or downloaded by different people at the same time in many parts of the world. Isn’t the process of misusing also a creative process which poses new questions that were not there before? In improvisation we constantly make errors, we use them and in fact we learn from them. The radical character of the work itself which might be difficult, its recuperation, or its content might exceed the limitations of the dexcontextualisation. Ready to destroy whatever parameters that comes in its way in a similar vein to the intensity in which it was produced. No half licences which try to help people not to make profit, we are aware that we are in capitalism, but we do not want to make it more nice and soft, we want to abolish it. That this might be difficult, or we might not actually be able to do it, does not mean we do not want a better life under this system.
Is any non-violent resolution of conflict possible? Without doubt. The relationships of private persons are full of examples of this. Non-violent agreement is possible wherever a civilized outlook allows the use of unalloyed means of agreement. Legal and illegal means of every kind that are all the same violent may be confronted with non-violent ones as unalloyed means. Courtesy, sympathy, peaceableness, trust, and whatever else might here be mentioned are their subjective preconditions. 19
As Richard Prelinger (from the Prelinger Archives and archive.org) said to me in conversation: artist, writers, film-makers, musicians, academics and the type of people who are producing stuff have not sat down to think all together what kind of conditions we want for our work. Surely discussions would arise. I get the impression that the discussion on intellectual property is based on a certain philosophy and abstract notions about the individual and its relation to cultural production. Thanks to the law these notions become solidified as universal truths (at least for the time being especially if profit can be produced out of it). But how will people look at this type of production in the future? Of course, we do not know. However, what we can do is to develop platforms for discussion. If we do not, somebody is going to take advantage of us. In a conference in Berlin, held as part of the project 'Oil of the 21st Century', Lawrence Liang gave an interesting example regarding intellectual property. Imagine you have three things: my pen, my poem, my friend. While Copyright makes you think of your poem as if it was your pen (something you use and then throw away), Liang suggested that we should instead think of the poem as a friend, to whom you have responsibility and you care about it. This is a lovely metaphor that takes on intellectual property in an affective way rather than as a cold legal system. But we should not forget that to make a poem one needs passion and must struggle with language to come up with something special. There is violence in the making of a poem, a creative violence that tries to break away from stereotypes and dead forms, which wants to open up a different way of understanding language, a torturing of language that cuts both ways, you try to torture it while in turn it tortures you. Let's think through Benjamin's notion of 'The Author as Producer': if we can extend this creative violence to change the conditions of production and issues of intellectual property in ways which neither founds nor preserves the law, then we would be talking about what Benjamin calls pure means or revolutionary violence. Notions of intellectual property are going to be the issue of the future, and if we do not find ways of challenging the structures that are being developed we are going to be pretty fucked. I don't think that to put the anti-copyright mark in whatever you produce is by any means enough. As I have tried to explain; the radical and exploratory character of improvisation should be directed not only to the making of music but in changing the conditions in which the music is produced. Today these conditions are at leas partially set by the discourses of intellectual property, copyright and authorship. These notions should be challenged and perverted the same way improvisers pervert their instruments to create new sounds, so we can create new conditions that suit our necessities, interests and desires.
I do not want to compromise nor police what is no longer ‘my’ music.
Mattin October 2008
1The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a proposed plurilateral trade agreement that would impose strict enforcement of intellectual property rights related to Internet activity and trade in information-based goods. See http://jamie.com/2008/05/23/we-must-act-now-against-acta/
2Eddie Prévost, 'Free Improvisation in Music and Capitalism: resisting authority and the cults of scientism and celebrity' in this book and (forthcoming) ed. James Saunders, The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009.
3Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The politics of performance, London: Routledge, 1993. p.146.
4Copyright Warning, printed on the back of most Matchless Recordings releases this is taken from Eddie Prévost solo entelechy.
5Statement found on their website: http://www.mcps-prs-alliance.co.uk
6See Eddie Prévost's essay in this book 'Free Improvisation in Music and Capitalism: resisting authority and the cults of scientism and celebrity'.
7Walter Benjamin, 'The Author as Producer' in trans. Edmund Jephcott, Reflections. New York: SchockenBooks, 2007.
8From Wikipedia.org: 'Under the Convention, copyrights for creative works are automatically in force upon their creation without being asserted or declared. An author need not "register" or "apply for" a copyright in countries adhering to the Convention. As soon as a work is "fixed", that is, written or recorded on some physical medium, its author is automatically entitled to all copyrights in the work and to any derivative works, unless and until the author explicitly disclaims them or until the copyright expires. Foreign authors are given the same rights and privileges to copyrighted material as domestic authors in any country that signed the Convention.'
9Walter Benjamin, 'The Author as Producer' in trans. Anna Bostock, Understanding Brecht, London: Verso, 1983; written as a lecture for the Institute for the Study of Fascism, in Paris, April 1934. p.98. This quote is taken from the website: http://www.kurator.org/wiki/main/read/Introduction
10Walter Benjamin, 'the Author as Producer' in Reflections. p. 233.
11Sabine Nuss, 'Digital Property', http://osdir.com/ml/culture.internet.rekombinant/2005-08/msg00012.html
12Michel Foucault, 'What is an Author', Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.), Art in Theory 1900 – 2000 An Anthology of Changing Ideas, London: Blackwell, 2007.
13Roland Barthes, 'Death of the Author'. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.), Art in Theory 1900 – 2000 An Anthology of Changing Ideas, London: Blackwell, 2007. p.139.
14 Lawrence Liang, Copyright, Cultural Production and Open Content Licensing,
15Dmytri Kleiner, 'Copyfarleft and Copyjustright' available at: http://www.metamute.org/en/Copyfarleft-and-Copyjustright
16Dmytri Kleiner, 'Copyfarleft and Copyjustright' available at: http://www.metamute.org/en/Copyfarleft-and-Copyjustright
17Walter Benjamin, 'Critique of Violence' in Reflections. p.287-288.