FC Forum 2010

(For those who might read my blog for the first time – I never (ok, rarely) edit my blog posts and I write in affect. These are ramblings of my mind and might be contradictory but I’m trying to get a result using writing rather than getting a result with my writing).

I have been spending all day at #fcforum in Barcelona. There has been lots of heated debates going on, but it was not until I got back to the hotel before I really understood how upset I am about something. This post is to get things out of my system and is more “work in progress” than anything else.

First, the representative from SGAE (The spanish collection society) – why is he here? He is a propaganda machine. SGAE have been sending Cease & Desist letters to EXGAE (the hosts). After that he got invited to join as an observer. But more than that – he was allowed to speak, quite heavily. He infiltrated the debates and took a lot of space and time from the talks.
I am not against the democratic act of debate, but I am against the fact that he is participating (not observing) on these grounds;
A) He is a lobbyist, paid to not change his mind. It’s useless to even try.
B) For the pure reason that he is getting attention. “SGAE is reaching out”. No, it’s PR. And we allow them PR on our behalf.
C) He steals time from us getting rid of his organization.

I am not against the collection societies as such. I am against the fact that we have, for some mentally sick reason, agreed that it was Ok to have an employer also act as the union for the workers. The collection societies should have a clearly defined role of collecting fees for licenses. The artists shold have separate unions, maybe underneath different organisations depending on things such as geographical locations, style, artform, platforms or whatever. The split between the entity with the funds (and the interest of maximizing their funds) and the entities dependent upon the funds must happen. This is serious.
The representative (and a record label manager who was also present, I will not mention his name, you can google for it) both said it was “fair and the only logical way to keep control” for having a system of number of votes which is based upon the fact that “the artists that make the most money will have the most say”. This clearly shows that the current situation of how we allow capitalism to decide over cultural (and democratic) values is a decease that must be cured, urgently!

For some reason there are a lot of people at the forum whom are really for a flatrate solution. The problem that I see with this is that we are looking at the situation as it is presented to us, not reflecting over the real situation at hand.

Who actually has these problems that we are referring to? Going over the different parts of the cultural industries we see that they are growing and are in general very alive and well funded. What would then any flatrate model really mean?
The simple answer is that it would just mean an additional cash stream from the public to an industry that does not really deserve this extra money.

When I say deserve, I do not say that the creators of cultural works does not deserve money. But they do not deserve money just because they can have it. As with any other tax, the community should put it where the need is the most. And there exist no need in the cultural industries as a whole, but what is needed is a re-adjustment of the division of it within the industry. Reformation on the way we split the income is of far more value to culture, and inherently society,  than just adding more money to the equation. It’s just as with food; in the west we buy so much food that we throw most away, other places people are starving because of their shortage. There is enough to go around, but some people take more than they need.

So; there is NO shortage of money in the cultural industry and adding a flatrate on top of this just makes the positions for the richest entities within it more powerful and weakens for the rest. We’re feeding the fat beast.

Further more, I also object on the flatrate schemes on most technical levels. To make it short, there are very few methods that can be used to implement flatrate in a broad way. I see three that are somewhat the basic models, and will try to outline them. I do not say that they are the only ones, but the most feasible ones from an implementational view.

One; we try to measure all copies being sent across the network to make a statistical analysis of what is popular and being shared. This method would statistically be the most fair way since every download of a work could be accounted for. It would technically also mean deep packet inspection, total surveillance of all network traffic and it would also mean that we would keep conforming to putting value in a copy itself, and not the meaning or usage of it.

Two; we make it mandatory to stream the works. Works are for free when it comes to the price but not free in the way we behave. It would increase usage of the network itself, it would be open for censorship and other limitations such as regional control; just as Spotify has proven already. It is a non-environmentally friendly solution in both the aspect of humanity and nature.
Streaming is very gnostic to its context. The system must be aware of the datatype and we could not go outside of the set standards in order to conform. This is of course a huge restrain on art. For instance, it is not possible to stream works that are not controllable for the player of the work.

Three; we could do statistical analysis based on volontary feedback. But collecting this data can never be anonymous, contrary to what most people at the conference has wished for (and believed possible) in order to uphold privacy, decided by the pure nature of how the networks operate. It would not be a fair distribution since most works down further in the long tail would probably not show up. It means that only really popular works would benefit from the model, where the usually more interesting works further down the tail would have to pay. This is the totally opposite of sane cultural politics. As a society we should want to support the arts that are outside the most popular scope since this is the new expressions that will lead to new knowledge and thus this is the start of every new cultural platform. Statistical analysis also means that we, somewhere, must legislate on how certain types of players of works communicate with a Data Gathering System. I do not know if that would even be legal. There would have to be some sort of control over the software. I see tons of other problems as well – finding geographical location (many believe that IPs are registered to a country but they are not. Blocks of IPs are sometimes, but not always in the correct location since the core of the network would not be able to function if that was the case), cross-nation information exchange, anti-gaming systems, metadata control. Not to mention what would happen if we start to fund what is unethical expressions. In some countries it would be illegal to listen to white power music, so the system itself will have to prevent that from happening or it will be an accessory to the actual payment of an illegal act. I can go on, and I will, but in another blog post later.

But the most important point; If we are rewarding conformity in culture it will just mean fiscal incentive to adhere to “pop entertainment” rather than cultural expressions.

One obvious argument one could make is that it is currently (in most countries that I am aware of) not the usage of pirated material that is illegal, when it comes to the typical normal works, (with the classic exemption of proprietary software). The flatrate would in that case mean that we would put a economical price on what today is legal (usage) in order to prevent harassment in areas where illegality might occur. And why I touched the subject of software, let’s move on to my next objection about flatrate; what to include and where.

So where? Even if it would be legal to download and upload we have not talked about non-online sharing. This is by far the biggest sharing form in many if not most countries (especially the ones with underdeveloped network capabilities, such as India, United Kingdom etc). We are now no longer neutral towards where it is legal to participate in culture.

And what? A binary based network (such as the internet) has no knowledge or interest in what type of usage is going on. We are opening a dangerous door in adding a system on top of this network that will differentiate between worth-while data and non-worthwhile data. There is also a reason to ask the question why classically defined culture over the internet is being singled out as something we can charge for, but not services or other type of information. As the internets are agnostic to the content, then why should not search engines get paid for each sharing of a search result page? Why should not the creator of a commercial get paid for each play of his work? Why should not the newspapers get paid for each reading on their webpages, and only certain photographers get paid for each view of their pictures, depending on the mere definition of what culture is and is not? Why should not I, as the creator of this blogpost, be included in the fine elite of the people who will participate in this pot of money? An internet flatrate could be the easiest way of funding any service online, obviously (This is one of the basic ideas for Flattr – we build a system that cares only for the transactional parts and not about the content types).

And on top of that – what is the definition and formulas for sharing the money? This is a very technical question and I can’t see any clear or fair answer. Will we count value of culture in bytes all of a sudden? Will we count it in number of works? Why is not pornography culture according to these plans, and if it is (which most say it’s not from my experience) – why not? How many percentage of pornography can be included in a video file until it’s not culture anymore? And who will decide these virtual limitations of the definition of culture, which in my mind typically is defined as free expression, that now has to fit within technological definitions and limitations in order to be legal and funded?

If the answer to these question is that we’re doing this because we want to encourage culture, we need to ask ourselves what WILL encourage culture, not how to respond to the demand of even more economical benefits.

I see multiple other solutions which are more or less better, easier and more true to what the goal must be. We didn’t even touch the discussions of just removing the legislation saying that copyright violation is illegal. What would happen if we did? Maybe it would better to discuss how to increase the governmental spending on the cultural workers themselves. This might be much cheaper and much more effective. It probably is just that, since we would have less new infrastructure to create and maintain, and we could try to distinguish  between culture and entertainment, which is always mixed up in these discussions anyhow because they intertwine.

And what would happen if we just removed money from the equation – if all digital copies of cultural works would be for free and could never be charged for, at all? These questions are of far more importance, at least to me, than talking about how to limit the sacrifices we should do in order to shut some rich people up from screaming for another subsidy in order to not change their business models.


#1 FatGiant on 10.31.10 at 01:38

“The problem that I see with this is that we are looking at the situation as it is presented to us, not reflecting over the real situation at hand.”

That is IMO the most important point.

In any attempt to solve a problem, the first step should always be, defining the problem.

Accepting blindly that the problem exists and is defined, may be just a way to perpetuate errors already made.

First, what exactly is the problem.
Second, does it really exists?

After that you can start to formulate possible solutions, and, eventually implement them.

But without an initial assessment of the situation, and a definitive definition of the problem, all you are doing is futile and probably harmful.

The other points you mentioned were accurate.

Good reading.


#2 Tweets that mention FC Forum 2010 — Copy me happy -- Topsy.com on 10.31.10 at 01:54

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Peter Sunde, Esko Reinikainen, fRED, Nunya Business, Submarine and others. Submarine said: RT @brokep: I wrote a long blog post about today. http://bit.ly/9P8bK3 / #flatrate is a bribe, why extend the life of awful abuses? #fcforum […]

#3 Submarine on 10.31.10 at 02:14

I wasn’t in the fcforum but i follow a bit the discussion on the internet. I was a bit dissapointed seeing the Flatrate discussion back, in a forum about sustainable culture!

Mostly what i fail to understand yet is why “free culture” would like to mirror the same logic of the media monopolies, concentrating piles of money and offering it in exchange of something (laws, political compromise,younameit) and contributing in this way to change absolutely nothing.

We don’t have to pay anyone any rate to share. if you don’t want your content to be shared don’t publish it and that’s it.

As far i understood all this time Free Culture is not about getting paid or collect money to bribe the industry, but to build another option outside the repressive economic model of the big3dflashy content industries

If someone still thinking that will make a living out of digital downloads without getting out there and articulate with the world, then nothing has been learned from the internet at all.

I don’t want a free culture that mimic the logic of the propietary entertainment monopolies.

#4 Micke vK on 10.31.10 at 09:45

We went through these arguments in the Left Party in Sweden, and came up with the digital libraries proposal as an answer. We concluded that we simply wanted more people than today to be able to work full time with music and movies. We also thought libraries should be participating in the file sharing environment, releasing stuff that’s still absent and so on.

There’s also a strategical point to be made here: a lot of artists and film makers – not just the corporations – are concerned about the future of culture economy. They shouldn’t have to be. If we can delink their issue of financing from the issues of corporate control, we could get a lot more political support for copyright reforms.