Who Controls Digital Culture [chapter] from More Information by Mark Poster
Poster in this chapter exposes his position toward digital sharing of culture objects. Poster denounces the entertainment industries as trying to stop technological development in order to maintain control over copying and distribution of cultural products, and portraits the scenario in which we live in, surrounded by digitized cultural objects. The movement that emerges from the facility by which digital cultural objects circulate and multiply, according to Poster, opens a new kind of public space, different from modernity, a heteropia.
Control information and its hazards
- Soviet Union and The Control of Information
Poster establishes a parallel between the Soviet Union's efforts to control the flow of information by restricting the technology that allowed it, such as photocopy machines, computers, and VCRs, with entertainment industry's reaction to peer-to-peer file sharing of music and films. 'The culture industries attempted to destroy the new information machines'.
- culture industries made redundant
The great threat for the culture industry seems to be, as in the example give by Poster, that a 12 year girl can replace, at zero cost, its function. She in her PC is capable of performing the same functions - copying and distributing music and films - to which the industry was previously necessary. This renders the entertainment industries redundant.
- resort to political power to stop the progress that threats the industry, nothing new.
Poster also points to the fact that copies 150 years after the invention of printing press, copyists requested the Parlement de Paris to destroy the printing press, who was rendering their job redundant.
However copyists' confrontation with printing press was based on the preservation of authority and tradition, while capitalism's confrontation with online distribution networks must prove that progress is promoted by destroying a innovative technology. [Entertainment industries can no longer use the preservation of tradition as an argument, they have to mask their attempts to control the dissemination of information as progress.]
- peer-to-peer will increase proliferation of music
Poster further argues that peer-to-peer networks will help proliferation of music, allowing more musicians to be heard. This abundance also will elevate the consumer into creator, promoting the transformation and recirculation of music by the consumer - a possibility of a democratic culture.
The Politics of Control, or Control as Politics
'Networked computing confronts humanity with a dramatic choice of opposing possibilities: an Orwellian extension of governmental and corporate controls or a serious deepening of the democratization of culture'(p.193)
- digitization opens 2 directions: flow and control
In the one hand digitization extends the control possibilities on the part large institutions (eg: DVDs regional codes, watermarks, expiry dates and number of uses of files, audio CDs that do not play in computers) Poster alerts that for the entertainment industry to maintain the current level of control over cultural objects it will have to increase the levels of surveillance over individuals, which will inevitably endanger our privacy (mainly trough ISPS monitoring costumers traffic) (p.207) [INFORMATION INTERSECTIONS: Parikka - Copy; Deleuze - Postscript to the Societies of Control]
Variable Versus Fixed Cultural Objects
Poster refers to the limitations of analogue cultural objects:
- changes in an exemplar of a book won't affect its (future and past) copies.
- objects can be mass-produced but only from fixed points of production, the user cannot mass copy them.
- since the production of copies requires extensible resources they became commodities, distributed through market mechanisms, acquiring a value and prince - economy of scarcity [as opposed to digital economy of abundance].
- 'Analog reproduction requires a material base that falls under the economy of scarcity'(p.195)
Since digital cultural object can be produced, copied, and reproduced at almost no cost, they do not need to fall under the economy of scarcity. [individuals how allow others in the peer-to-peer network to download their files do not loose, but simply share them]
Poster alerts for the necessity to take the specificity of the medium into consideration. He argues that digital reproduction does not fall within copyright because the materiality of digital files is not characterized by an economy of scarcity.
Poster concludes by stating that: 'We must invent an entirely new copyright law that rewards cultural creation but also fosters new forms of use and consumptions and does not inhibit the development of new forms of cultural exchange that explore new fluidity of texts, images, and sounds.'(p.209)