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.

Mr Nobody – an investigation into choice

I recently watch Mr Nobody, a film written and directed by the relatively unknown (at least to me) Jaco Van Dormael. The movie stimulated some thoughts, so I thought I’d share it.

Immediately I am intrigued; the film starts with an introduction to a famous psychology experiment devised by B. F. Skinner. The experiment, known as the “Skinner Box”, involves a pigeon in a box with a button that controls a hatch releasing food. The pigeon pecking randomly eventually presses the button and is rewarded with food. After a few more fortuitous pecks, the bird begins to realise the causal relationship between button pecks and food ‘reward’, so its behavior becomes less random and more focused – i.e. button pecks. However, rather than stop here at this interesting insight into psychology and conditioned behavior the film highlights another important finding from Skinner’s experiment. If instead the button is removed and the hatch is opened at timed 20 second intervals, the pigeon will associate whatever it is doing at that time of the hatch opening with a reward. If it happened to have been flapping its wings, it will now continuously flap expecting to get food, this is known as ‘pigeon superstition‘.

With this prologue, the viewer is now set up for the theatrical event, we have been primed so to speak. The pigeon wanted something (food) and it got it through various means, but the means to getting what it wanted are vastly different – In the first scenario the pigeon had full control over its reward (with the button) while in the other, it had only the illusion of control (with the 20s timer). We have to wonder sometimes if we, like the pigeon, are only flapping our wings throughout life or do we have control.

check this video about pigeon superstition.

Now with this philosophical preamble out of the way let’s get down to the literal story. The movie is about Nimo Nobody (Jared Leto) a 118 year old man living in the year 2029. And he is the last mortal alive, as technological advancement has cured all disease. There is no death from old age.

In his last remaining time, he has become a spectacle for the world and is asked to describe his life in an interview. This chronicle is the general framing for the movie.

Whether it is a bad memory, an overactive imagination or entropic arguments about the nature and direction of time; his life story is not straight forward. He describes many possible lives that he has lived without any clues to which is the truth.

!!! As I have already said too much I should warn you now of SPOILERS BELOW!!!!

As a child he is obsessed with the unidirectional nature of time, as he concludes “That’s why it’s hard to choose, because you have to make the right choice. As long as you don’t choose, everything remains possible”. This idea was cemented in his youth, when faced with choosing between his divorcing parents. This was the first of several difficult decisions he has made throughout his life.

In various scenarios, he stays with his father and in others with his mother, in some he ends up marrying Anna and others with Elise or Jeanne. He is either happy or sad, and usually relates these emotional states to the choices that he made.

check the movie trailer

He meets Elise because he slips on a wet leaf and they bump into each other. But the story of the leaf is maybe just as interesting. It is sent there through a complex process of air pressure influencing the weather, and the actual cause was due to a butterfly in Japan flapping its wing. This is known as the ‘butterfly effect‘ (in chaos theory) whereby a small perturbation can grow to become a significant event with enough time. He ends up being very happy with Elise – but did he make a choice or was he simply subject to chaotic external influences that cannot be predicted.

In another scenario he is not happy with his choices in life, and finds himself depressed.

This film reminds me of this quote that I like, “The illusion of choice, is an indication of our lack of freedom.” It seems to suggest that we should relinquish our usual idea of choice, for it is only an illusion. Our happiness or sadness should not be linked to the choices we have made, it should be an ongoing process of living in the present moment.
We should not have emotional attachment to the choices we have made, the difficult decisions and the regrets, because at the end of the day – we ultimately had much less control over them than we may like to believe.

I will leave with a quote from the movie and the moral of the story, “Every path is the right path”.