From the Philosophy of Copyright to the Copyright of Philosophy

Two interesting items in the global press today. First, a harrowing account of copyright enforcement in Argentina:

On the list of countries with the most draconian laws on authors’ rights, Argentina occupies 6th place. . . . The restrictive nature of the intellectual property law number 11.723 brought things to a head. Until that point none of the ordinary people who were regularly breaking the law were actually prosecuted. One heard unlikely sounding reports in the local media about cases of music being exchanged on P2P networks. But in 2009, something happened that no one in their right mind would have believed possible: the Argentinian Book Chamber filed charges against a university professor who was running a number of websites on philosophy. Among other things, these featured unpublished or unavailable texts by Derrida, Heidegger and Nietzsche. Horacio Potel’s name was picked up by the European, Asian and US media. The case of the Argentinian professor who was taken to court for putting philosophical texts online, with no intent to make a profit, made it painfully clear that if everyone breaks the law, anyone could be prosecuted.

To put developments like these in context, Leon Tan has this perspective on the social significance of file sharing, with a focus on Sweden’s Pirate’s Bay:

File-sharing activities and the online social networks that sustain them are treated as ‘repertoires of contention’ to use a concept from Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow. When taken up by users on a massive social scale, online repertoires of contention enable the production of what the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith called countervailing power. They make possible the emergence of ‘autonomous zones’ or ‘strategic sovereigns’ that resist lines of prevailing power in the absence of competition, and in the particular example in question — Sweden — in the presence of state collusion with anti-market forces.

Tan’s theory reminds me a bit of Wikileaks. Iceland witnessed a stunning collusion of state with market forces in the run-up to its bank collapse. In the aftermath, it has tried to help Wikileaks in the hopes that its “countervailing power” will expose corruption early enough to stop it. But the technology itself offers no guarantee it will be put to socially constructive ends.