Intellectual Property Is Not Property

I have been thinking about this subject for a long time. I now try to organize my scribbled notes into something a bit more organized.

In 2014 the newest U2 album descended from the cloud, unannounced, on to nearly every apple device on the planet. The reason seems simple enough; shrewd apple marketing, which hoped to keep apple users locked into apple products and maybe bring others over from elsewhere. The reason is fair enough, although with so much negative coverage it may have backfired slightly. But the negativity came in at a very strange angle (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/13/has-rocknroll-sold-out-u2-apple-stunt). The attacks have mainly originated from the music industry who see this as both a competition to their own corporate structure and to the inherent value of downloadable music itself. It now appears that U2 downloads are worthless in their assessment. I actually agree with them, but I want to universalize their argument a bit more. [I didn’t really enjoy that new album, but this has nothing to do with my opinions from hereon in.]

Marxism is old idea now, there are specific parts which remain popular and there are ideas that are heavily disputed, particularly by economists. However there is one thing that will always remain, and that is Marx’s method of investigation. Marx did not criticise capitalism from outside, he aimed to critique capitalism from within. Only by embracing everything about the system could he find problems and inconsistencies that he determined would undermine the system as a whole. This procedure of inquiry is valuable and could be used for this issue of music value assessment and copyright. So let’s start by not judging the current system but by analysing it form within.

In the artistic fields we have individuals who produce something, a musician for instance uses time from his/her days to compose a song and records the final version onto a single CD. This CD has acquired value from the time and energy expended by the human body. The musician then sells this CD (which is a material embodiment of his/her labour) to a record company for $1M. The record company is now in debt of that money. To recover this money the company makes many copies of the original CD and sells them to consumers. Now, in paying for the copying and the distribution of the CD the company has to make more than $1M to recover the costs, it will also charge more so as to make a profit for the capitalists. But where is this extra value coming from? Surely there is an exact $-amount that the CD contains within it. The ‘labour value’ held within the physical CD is being diluted with every copy made, but the price that is being charged to the consumer is much more than this. I think this is what is referred to as ‘surplus value’ in Marxist terms. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surplus_value#Theory ).

 

There is always ambiguity of where surplus value comes from. I argue that in the case of artistic endeavors the value comes from the collective recognition from (or reflection of) society. A terrible song made of random notes will not be popular (and will not sell) however a song which touches the hearts and minds of the society is rewarded with success (and money). Is the value of the artist’s expression in the form of e.g. a musical song not then partly a possession of the people? The surplus value can only be, in my opinion, from the reflective interplay between an artist and a collection of people i.e. society.

 

For this reason, I would actually go further and say that, an artist is not the sole owner of his work, for he/she could not have produced it without a society to reflect against.

So do I have a problem with apple paying U2 for an album then distributing it freely? Not really, it’s exactly what it’s worth in my view.