One of my fav writers in (but certainly not limited to) the games space, Lana Polansky, has written a great article which elegantly lays out the ways that IP law, instead of guaranteeing the right of artists of all types to be paid for their work, as it is often conceptualized, primarily serves to centralize and privatize the production of culture, and funnel its profits towards powerful corporations.

Read the whole article, of course, but this part struck me as especially incisive:

As time wears on, and IP law is used to criminalize all forms of file-sharing and sampling, it becomes increasingly clear that the focus on “piracy” and illegal file-sharing is only a pretext at wearing down what still exists of the public domain to squeeze it for profit. This is because the companies using IP law in this way need to enclose and privatize what remains of the cultural commons to keep up their rate of profit.

I think this points to something about how we can formulate demands to organize around for a true mass culture. Piracy is a touchy subject, even if rationally someone can admit that IP law and the DRM and streaming platforms that follow its logic clearly favor a minority of bigger players, they still often kind of believe that it somehow still secures the right to be paid for one's creative work. It absolutely doesn't, though! In essence, it ring-fences a subset of professionalized creative work that can be monetized, enforced with strong prejudice towards how corporations produce and distribute this work, while leaving an enormous portion of human creativity and response to culture in a no man's land of ambiguity, to be picked off by DMCA notices at will.

Smaller scale creators and their fans who still "believe in" this promise of IP law, which is, in essence, a sort of upward mobility thing, can often be instrumentalized as "useful idiots" to expand the stranglehold of corporate IP enforcement on the commons. Of course, the eminently loatheable Chuck Wendig is framed as primarily responsible for the ridiculous (and potentially ridiculously destructive) Internet Archive lawsuit, but several other more beloved YA, SF and Fantasy writers seemed to also agree... So naturally the publishers, an increasingly monopolized group of corporations who are the primary mechanism for the exclusive nature of publishing and the extraction of profit from authors' work can position themselves as acting in the same authors' interests.

Additionally, just shoring up IP law by complaining about piracy is a sort of middle manager response that fails to address the huge amount of productive cultural work that is completely outside of the remit of IP law and the ability to be monetized or protected to begin with. This podcast about fashion knockoffs was illuminating to me in how clearly it demonstrated this; Dapper Dan is targeted for decades for incorporating couture logos into designs nothing like the actual products they produce, and yet, years later, it's completely legal for them to turn around and copy the cut and construction of his work, so long as they're not using someone else's logo. It makes me think about how platitudes about professionalization almost always betray a complete ignorance of the ways many creators doing important work are already excluded from selling or protecting their rights to their own work, not just... idk, ignorant or stubborn.

It makes me think about how a common saying within software and open source communities is "free as in speech, not free as in beer." "Free as in beer," implies a sort of short-sighted hedonism to simply getting things for no cost, whereas it's more noble somehow to want things to be unrestricted in other senses, like non-proprietary and non-censored. But I dunno! As piracy, looting, "getting it for free" and even giving it for free become increasingly framed as a bad thing, I think we have to renew the demand for free beer too! Like, is the alternative to assert that any form of currency has ever, at any point, shown potential for being an adequate medium for distributing value fairly and meeting people's needs? Truly?

In essence, what's so wrong with short sighted hedonism as an alternative to playing by the rules of a dysfunctional and perverse system anyways? The laws and values that have become normalized, in most of anglophone society anyways, have already stolen the opportunity for a comfortable life and worthwhile reward for contributing to society from most artists and creative people in general, in favor of shoring up a minority of superstars and their handlers. In the long term, culture should be free in both senses, in that anyone can experience it, but also that anyone has the resources and free time to make it... but of course this is the point all of my blog posts reach, haha...

Anyways, I hope you're all having a lovely December... I am still scrambling around trying to get my cards and gifts together in a timely fashion! If you'd like to get your hands on some culture that can only exist in the gray spaces of IP law and the public domain, I have been listening almost non-stop to David Kanaga's spectacular, videogamey arrangement of The Nutcracker.