A constellation of interests is now seeking to increase their ownership and control of creativity. They tell us that they require new laws and rights that allow them to control concepts and ideas and protect them from exploitation. They say that this will enrich our lives, create new products and safeguard the possibility of future prosperity. But this is an absolute disaster for creativity, whose health depends on an ongoing, free and open conversation between ideas from the past and the present. In response, we wish to defend the idea of a creative sphere of concepts and ideas that are free from ownership.
Profit has a new object of affection. Indeed, profiteers now shamelessly proclaim to be the true friend of creativity and the creative. Everywhere, they declare, "We support and protect concepts and ideas. Creativity is our business and it is safe in our hands. We are the true friends of creativity!"
Not content with declarations of friendship, the profiteers are eager to put into practice their fondness for creativity as well. "Actions speak louder than words" in capitalist culture. To display their affection, profiteers use legal mechanisms, namely intellectual property law, to watch over concepts and ideas and to protect them from those who seek to misuse them. While we are dead to the world at night, they are busily stockpiling intellectual property at an astonishing rate. More and more, the creative sphere is being brought under their exclusive control.
The fact that the profiteers are now so protective of creativity, and jealously seeking to control concepts and ideas, ought to rouse suspicion. While they may claim to be the true friends of creativity, we know that friendship is not the same as dependency. It is very different to say, "I'm your true friend because I need you", than to say, "I need you because I'm your true friend". But how are we to settle this issue? How do we distinguish the true friend from the false one? In any relationship between friends we should ask, "Are both partners mutually benefiting?"
The profiteers clearly benefit from their new friendship with the creative, when measured by their insatiable thirst for profit. Unlike physical objects, concepts and ideas can be shared, copied and reused without diminishment. However many people use and interpret a particular concept, the original creators' use of that concept is not surrendered or reduced. But through the use of intellectual property law - in the form of copyright, patents and trademarks - concepts and ideas can be transformed into commodities that are controlled and owned. An artificial scarcity of creativity can then be established. Much money is to be made when creative flows of knowledge and ideas become scarce products to be traded in the market place. And, increasingly, intellectual property law is providing profiteers with vast accumulations of wealth. Indeed, immaterial labour (based on information, knowledge and communication) has largely come to replace industrial factory production as the main guarantor of wealth in the new post-industrial age of technological capitalism. And the social relations codified in intellectual property law, are a core element in this wider structural transformation of the productive processes.
For many of us, the thought of intellectual property law still evokes romantic apparitions of a solitary artist or writer protecting their creative endeavours. So it is unsurprising that we tend to view intellectual property law as something that defends the rights and interests of the creative. Perhaps, in some removed and distant time, there was a modest respectability in such a notion. But this romantic vision is now ill at ease with the emerging abuse of intellectual works. Creators have become employees and each concept and idea they produce is appropriated and owned by the employer. The profiteers are using intellectual property law to amass the creative output of their employees and others. What is more, they continually lobby to extend the control of intellectual property law for longer and longer periods.
The creative multitude is becoming legally excluded from using and reinterpreting the concepts and ideas that they produce. In addition, this legal exclusion is now being reinforced via technological means. Profiteers' use technology to enforce copyright and patent law through the technical code that runs information and communication networks and machines. Using digital rights management software, creative works are locked, preventing any copying, modification and reuse. In the current era of technological capitalism, public pathways for the free flow of concepts and ideas and the movement of the creative are being eradicated - the freedom to use and re-interpret creative work is being restricted through legally based but technologically enforced enclosures.
This development is an absolute disaster for creativity, whose health depends on an ongoing conversation and confrontation between concepts and ideas from the past and present. It is shameful that the creative multitude is being excluded from using concepts and ideas. Creativity is never solely the product of a single creator or individuated genius. As the fusion point of singularities, creativity cannot subsist in a social nothingness. It always owes debts to the inspiration and previous work of others, whether they are thinkers, artists, scientists, teachers, paramours or friends. Concepts and ideas depend upon their social life, and it could not be otherwise.
An analogy can be drawn with everyday language - that is, the system of signs, symbols, gestures and meanings used in communicative understanding. Spoken language is shared between us. It is necessarily non-owned and free. But imagine a devastating situation where this was no longer the case. George Orwell's 1984 dystopia - and the violence done to free-thinking through 'newspeak' - helps to illustrate this. In a similar way, the control and ownership of concepts and ideas is an emerging threat to creative imagination and thought, and thus also a grave danger to what we affectionately call our freedom and self-expression.
The creative multitude may decide either to conform or rebel. In conforming they become creatively inert, unable to create new synergies and ideas, mere consumers of the standardised commodities that increasingly saturate cultural life. In rebelling, they continue to use concepts and ideas in spite of intellectual property law. But they are now labelled "pirates", "property thieves" and even "terrorists", who are answerable as criminals to the courts of global state power. In other words, profiteers declare a permanent state of exception or emergency, which is then used to justify the coercive use of state power and repression against a now criminalised culture of creativity. As we will soon discuss, a growing number of the creative are moving beyond rebellion, through an active resistance to the present and the creation of an alternative creative sphere for flows of concepts and ideas.
There will be immediate objections to all we have said. The profiteers will turn proselytizers and say, "If there is no private ownership of creativity there will be no incentive to produce!" The idea that the ownership of knowledge and ideas promotes creativity is a shameful one, however plausible it may seem from the myopic perspective of the profiteers. To say that creativity will thrive when the freedom to use concepts and ideas is denied is clearly upside-down. After giggling a little at this risible absurdity, we should now turn this thinking the right way up.
According to this "incentive" claim, there cannot have been any creativity (i.e., art, music, literature, design and technology) before the profiteer's owned and controlled our concepts and ideas. This sounds like pure fantasy. Historians frequently profess that creativity was alive and well in the Renaissance period, despite this being a time before the advent of capitalist intellectual property. But, even so, we might concede that history weaves enough of a fiction to raise some doubt about the previous incarnations of creativity and the creative. The profiteer's "incentive" claim, however, must also imply that there cannot be any creativity currently operating outside of the intellectual property regime. Fortunately, in this case, we are our own historical actors and witnesses. We can begin to know what we have always already known - creativity is not reducible to the exploitation of intellectual property.
A new global movement of networked groups that operate across a variety of different creative media - e.g., music, art, design and software - is now emerging. These groups produce a panoply of concepts, ideas and art that exist outside of the current intellectual property regime. The creative works of the Free/Libre and Open Source communities, for instance, can all be examined, challenged, modified and improved. Here, knowledge and ideas are shared, contested and reinterpreted among the creative as friends. Like the symbols and signs of language, their concepts and ideas are public and non-owned. Against the machinations of profit, these groups are in the process of constituting a real alternative. Of constructing a model of creative life that reflects the force and desire of the creative multitude and which restores their immanent relation to the works they collectively produce.
Through the principles of attribution and share-alike, previous works and ideas are given due recognition in these communities. This means that although a work may be copied, modified and synthesised into new works, previous creative work is valued and recognised for its contribution to creativity as a whole. Attribution and share-alike are constitutive principle of the Free/Libre and Open Source movements, and chromosomes of the new mode of creative life that their practical experimentations intimate.
These movements adopt an ingenious viral device, implemented through public licenses, known as copyleft. This ensures that concepts and ideas are non-owned, while also guaranteeing that future synergies based on these concepts and ideas are equally open for others to use. In this way, copyright (all rights reserved) is stood back on its feet by copyleft (all rights reversed). It now stands the right way up for creativity and can once again look it in the eyes.
Just as the functioning and violence of the intellectual property regime is seeking to intensify, it is now confronted by a real counter-power in the form of these groups. Indeed, the vision and practice of these movements is everywhere defiantly growing in strength. These groups offer a glimpse in formation of a creative sphere for flows of concepts and ideas that are shared freely among friends. These groups are acting in a way that is 'counter to our time and, let us hope, for the benefit of a possible time to come' (Nietzsche 1983:60) - Creativity is creating resistance to the present.
The creative multitude should everywhere embrace and defend these groups and the untimely model of creative life that they intimate. For it is only the creative multitude, as absolute democratic power, who can determine whether this possible metamorphosis of our times becomes real.
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(cc) 2003 The LibreSociety.org Manifesto is made available under the Attribution Share-alike Creative Commons License 1.0. www.creativecommons.org