Let’s talk about “money”

State of the art and notes against taxes on internet conexion

Some ideas from our practices to be presented at the FcForum 2010

By EXGAE (now Xnet)

“More fairness, less compulsoriness” Plenides (400 a. C.) vía J. Cortell


Castellano: Vamos a hablar de pasta”

In the struggle to reconcile civil rights with the business interests of the cultural and ISP sectors in the digital age, the scales will tip towards a sustainable or an unsustainable model depending on the outcome of the confrontation between fear and people’s empowerment. It will depend on who creates the strongest meme: the empowerment meme that we as civil society can set up, or the fear meme that the propaganda of economic regimes can manage to instil.

On one hand, there is the imaginary created by and for big business, based on the idea that sharing is bad and that the only possible model is one in which they themselves decide who thrives and who perishes. On the other hand, there is an imaginary rooted in the human condition, in which sharing is the source that generates knowledge, relationships, creation, wealth and fulfilment in general [1].

Money comes later.

This text looks at the problem of “money,” which is of course indispensable in the capitalist system –we are not so naive or out of touch as to ignore this aspect. But we will never forget that money is a means, not a necessity in itself.

And this is the spirit for example of the UN 2005 declaration [2] and the 2009 FcForum Charter [3], for example, both of which clearly distinguish between the right of each person to use his or her abilities to make a living, and the traffic and exploitation of these skills by third parties.

With this very idea copyright, royalties and author’s rights were born, as a form of recognition and incentive, not as a mere money’s collection aim.

The cynical sophistry to associate and mix up “copyright” with “human rights” proves that it is necessary for us to work at the level of the imaginary.

The most important meme in this struggle is “sharing.”

Because this struggle is not about logic.
If you want logic, you can find it in those graphs [4], the graphs that prove the obvious: the Internet benefits creation at all levels, including the level of “money”.

We have to generate and sustain a strong imaginary that normalises the major changes we are living through, so that nobody will be able to take advantage of our vulnerability and try to crush our empowerment as civil society.

This is why we have to defend sharing above all else.

The living idea of sharing, its practice.

And not just because sharing is nice – which it is – but because it is the essence of the tool that is making this major paradigm change possible: the Internet . The Internet as we know it today can only exist if we protect the imaginary and collective practices of sharing among peers and of generating benefits without intermediaries on the basis of constantly mutating skills and interests, rather than hierarchical structures.

This is why we should guard against the incursion of “images” such as the proposed “flat-rate” levy on Internet usage.

Perhaps there will be a flat rate on Internet one day – if we accept taxes… There could be a tax on using the side-walks, for example, so why not on Internet usage?

But accepting it right now means throwing open the door to the criminalization of sharing.

Right now, we cannot accept anything that can empower any imaginary that attacks Sharing, even at the symbolic level.

If sharing is illegal, it must be legalised. Sharing has to be legalised as such, because sharing is fair, because it is the memory of our age and the essence of our development.

This is the only thing that we can tactically defend.

We understand what our colleagues mean when they say that the flat-rate is not a tax on sharing, but a contribution to creation.
But as a meme, as an image alongside the power of “piracy” iconography, accepting the flat-rate would only legitimate the idea that sharing involves blame and has a price.

If we open the door to this idea, all the rest will follow, based on a similar logic: that the Internet must have various range of access [5]; that people should buy content from entertainment specialists rather than making it themselves; that there should be a passport system for surfing the net [6]; that people should be checked at borders [7] ; that we should be liable to being disconnected and having our sites closed down [8].

As we know, this is not science fiction; all of these are memes that are being tested.

“There are a whole lot of rights, you can’t have them all” [9]. And as the president of Telefónica, Mr Alierta, would add, “they don’t come cheap.”

Any levy has an impact on users, and history shows that it is likely to grow exponentially, in this case making the Internet a luxury item.

So much so, that content providers – which any of us are right now – would have to pay to be online and since we will not be able to afford this fee, we would be swept off the Net. We don’t want the Internet to be another TV [10], an advertising platform for commercial products.

This is why net neutrality can only be linked to an imaginary that does not involve taxing the tool, the Internet.

Accepting flat-rate means accepting that defeat is inevitable. In the negotiations, it is not yet time for us to lower the stakes.

The Spanish case.

From this perspective, the Spanish case should be taken into particular account.

1º In Spain, sharing is not illegal. Dozens of court cases have been won, and judges have stated very clearly.

2º As recently shown by last week’s historic ruling of the European Court of Justice against 5 major collecting societies and in favour of a small family business, in Spain, the struggle against the criminalisation of private copies and against the indiscriminate digital levy is questioning the application of the EU directive on fair compensation [11].

3º In Spain, the anachronistic practices of collection societies and cultural industries lobbies has created a very clear awareness of the abuses that are committed and of existing legislative deficiencies, and have created a very active and well-informed public opinion: Over 200 000 in the Manifesto for Internet and in the struggle against legislation that makes it legal to shut down sites without prior judicial ruling [12]; 200,000 visits to the D’evolution Summit site during the EU ministers of culture meeting [13]; 110 000 responses to the threaten to our organization; a minister kick off in 2009…

This is why we should not see Spain as an exception on the brink of extinction, but as a point of departure.

If file sharing is not illegal in Spain, if levies applied as a form of compensation for a right such as the right to copy, which is a recognised right (and should therefore be “free”), are being dismantled, lets take Spain as a model and make non-profit file sharing legal at the global level.

If this exception becomes the norm, we will have won.

We understand our colleagues when they say “FlatRate it’s what we can do to compensate the powerful industries to avoid the repression”. But who said we are losing these fights? What compensation? What do we get in exchange?

We believe that the only valid form of support for these industries is a thorough restructuring plan, as in any other sector. We haven’t heard this meme loud enough.

We citizens, artists and entrepreneurs have been contributing financially to it for years through the surplus of collection societies (in Spain, more than 164 million in unclaimed royalties just from the SGAE in the course of 2008 [14]) and the indiscriminately applied digital levy or the speculation bubble generated by the costs and prices of cultural production based on the artificial scarcity of contents.

The aim of this Forum [15] is precisely to compile and articulate practical proposals around the possible paths that this restructuring can take.

Here are some ideas for the debate:


1 We believe that all commercial use (even in file-sharing) must have a financial impact on all the agent involved. If money is generated, it should be re-distributed fairly; if there is no money generated, there shouldn’t be any tax.

2 This does not mean that all cultural creation must necessarily be for commercial purposes, a conclusion which is inescapable with the current legislation.

3 Compulsory charging must be removed. It is a legal concept that was originally created to protect artists, but has now become an anachronistic obstacle for the benefits arising from the viral spreading of their work.

4 Intermediaries must cease being exploiters of talent, and become collaborators on an equal level – facilitators between financiers, fans, audiences and artists, in the style of Kikstarter, for example.

5 So-called “small rights” and site generating direct profit from the content must involve the calculation of downloads and streaming in order to allow the fair sharing of profits. This redistribution will benefit diversity of the independent productions, while artists will only have the obligation of been referable in order to be remunerate.

6 Meanwhile, all material that is published must be able to circulate freely, respecting attribution and ideological integrity, of course. When something is published, as the word suggests, it becomes public, ontologically part of our “nervous system” of our culture.

Collection societies are A major problem.

In all this collection societies are A major problem [16] as they currently act as a “bridge” for the lobbies against the democratic development of digital tools. And this does not only affect the cultural sector, but society as a whole.

We do ourselves a disservice if we see the problems involved in managing of these royalty collection societies as a trifling issue unrelated to us.

The mass of surplus value they manage that has not been generated through business activity, and the special mandates that they are granted by governments place them on the same level as public institutions in terms of wealth, powers, competitiveness and monopoly, but they remain private entities in terms of transparency, representativeness and distribution.

These organisations at the current stage are “vertical trade unions” – in which the exploitator is together with the exploited -, and therefore ontologically anti-democratic. With the collusion of governments, they play on the public-private ambiguity to produce their lobbies’s propaganda and feed a base of clients, clients and propaganda which they need to stop change with the aim of defending old privileges of a very limited sector.

This is another reason why a flat-rate on Internet usage should not be implemented in the situation as it is right now: it would mean continuing to invest in 10% of the most retrograde and mainstream members of these societies, which no longer even represent the majority of creators in the expanded sense of “creator” that the digital age allows. It would be cultural suicide.

It is fine if royalties collection societies continue to exist as a management service for artists who wish to make use of them. But in the new context, they should never represent the cultural share of a country.

Ok, so let’s talk “money.”

We don’t deny that creative work has become increasingly precarious, but this is not because the means of production have shifted.

It’s obvious that cultural consumption is greater than ever before, and this consumption represents a huge amount of “money.” Digital media create new kinds of resources and new kind of jobs.

Cognitive capitalism rapidly increase the workforce in the cultural sector, producing an enormous surplus of workers that can be blackmailed: here in Barcelona, for example, we are all artists :)

We should not make the mistake of extrapolating the struggle for labour rights in the creative sector to the struggle of all workers and no workers against the current precarisation of life conditions.

In creative sector, Royalties are actually a weapon that creates more precarity, given that they usually replace a fair wage for contracted work.

In a sector that is destabilised by psychologically displaced internal components [17] , which mix up work with personal fulfilment, the cultural industries have an easy way of neutralising the possibilities of struggle by preventing the productive autonomy of creators.

Workers themselves must realise when they are being used as a human shield in this precarisation, against the democratic diffusion of knowledge and entrepreneurial possibilities, and in favour of the gentrification of cities [18].

When seeking an answer to the question “how am I going to earn a living?” the poor should not fight amongst themselves.

The cultural industries have accumulated an enormous amount of money, a bubble based on the scarcity of content. This money rightfully belongs to the cultural sector, which must force the paradigm change. There should not be a flat-rate because it would only continue fuelling the existing economic empire and its propaganda against freedoms inside and outside the Internet.

So what if the multinationals were to have a little less “money”? They should be investing in independent productions that can be distributed live (through screenings or concerts) or directly to consumers via micro payments, rather than through hyper-commercial mass distributions or P2P.

Artists would have to be easily referable through their sites, so as to permit easy management of authorship rights and remuneration in for-profit projects, and these obligations should be reciprocal. You make diffusion easy, and I make payment easy.

The Internet has created historic conditions in the struggle for civil rights: it is unusual to be engaged in a struggle in which we do not need to imagine or invent that which we are fighting for. In much of the world, we access a neutral Internet for sharing among peers on a daily basis. Although the existing system can obviously be improved, we have to defend it from the plundering of the powers that be, and we have to realise when they are trying to take it away from us. We live with it, and we know what it is like to be deprived of it.

This struggle, the defence of the new existing “decentralised control, user empowerment and the distribution of resources for sharing purposes” [19] is the mother of all struggles right now. It affects all aspects of life, not just a single sector.

We demand that governments face up to their responsibility for all the “money” that they have spent in the effort to row against the tide of progress, all this lost income for society. We will dismiss – at the ballot box and through civil and economic disobedience – all governments who are afraid of being dismissed by the entertainment industries and banks.

All rites reversed [20]You can copy, paste, multiply, quote, and share, mentioning the source.

[Note: In the spanish versión you can find much more links to the sources, mostly in spanish]

[1] http://www.forumforcreativeeurope.cz/en/Simona-Levi
[2] http://fcforum.net/files/ONU-LPI-english.pdf
[3] http://fcforum.net/charter_extended
[4] http://2010.fcforum.net/wp-content/uploads/files/graficosdef.pdf
[5] http://www.laquadrature.net/en/Net_neutrality
[6] http://www.adslzone.net/article259.html
[7] http://www.laquadrature.net/en/ACTA
[8] http://redsostenible.wikia.com/wiki/From_now_on,_Net_and_Freedom
[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stbPf-fJLcg
[10] http://internetnoseraotratv.wordpress.com/en/
[11] http://xnet-x.net/spain-digital-canon-deemed-illegal-by-the-european-court-of-justice
[12] http://wiki.manifiestointernet.org/wiki/P%C3%A1gina_Principal
[13] http://d-evolution.fcforum.net/en/
[14] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mdlqj1IWzk
[15] http://fcforum.net/10
[16] http://www.cncompetencia.es/Administracion/GestionDocumental/tabid/76/Default.aspx?
[17] http://www.digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=1689
[18] http://innmotion09.conservas.tk/en/dequeva
[19] http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc3935.txt
[20] http://allritesreversed.com/