Blogging for the Economies of Commons 2 Conference: From Anti-Copyright to the Creative Anti-Commons

Dymitri Kleiner is a software developer working on projects that investigate the political economy of the internet, and the ideal of workers’ self-organization of production as a form of class struggle. Born in the USSR, Dmytri grew up in Toronto and now lives in Berlin. He is a founder of the Telekommunisten Collective, which provides internet and telephone services, as well as undertakes artistic projects that explore the way communications technologies have social relations embedded within them, such as deadSwap (2009) and Thimbl (2010).

Kleiner’s latest project however was the writing of “The Telekommunist Manifesto”, a book published by the Institute of Network Cultures of Amsterdam and launched in the Economies of Commons 2 conference at De Balie, Amsterdam, on Friday the 12th of November, 2010. Even though, Dmytri Kleiner introduced himself as a hacker or an amateur writer and not an academic, his work stimulated an interesting and rather intense discussion.

In his talk in the session “Critique of the “Free and Open”, Kleiner follows the track from Anti-Copyright to the Creative Anti-Commons and presented it to the audience as a tragedy in three parts, which are described below.

Kleiner opened his talk claiming that copyright was not created to empower artists. Instead, it was created by the bourgeoisie to embed cultural production in an economic system that encourages the theft of the surplus value. In this context, the notion of “author” was invented just to justify the making of property out of cultural works.

Further on, he presented the three parts of the “tragedy”:

ACT 1: ANTI-COPYRIGHT- A proletarian movement

Anti-copyright is a proletarian or anti- capitalist movement, embraced by labor struggles, that opposes mightily to the existence of the individual author. It is based on the ideal of a common culture with no distinction between producers and consumers. An ideal that makes it incompatible with the needs of dominant Capitalism. Consequently, Anti-copyright could never be seen as nothing more than a threatening, radical fringe.

ACT 2: COPYLEFT – Invasion of the Bourgeoisie

Copyleft on the other hand, an alternative form of dissent to copyright that emerged with the development of Free Software, is fully compatible both to the contemporary economic system and to Bourgeois capitalism. The reason is simple: Software is capital. Producers depend on it so that they can produce and make profit out of the circulation of the generated consumer goods. Free software’s sustainability is based on the fact that it is largely funded by corporations, since it’s cheaper and more flexible compared to software developed from scratch.

ACT 3: THE CREATIVE COMMONS –The author reborn as Useful Idiot

Both Anti-copyright and Copyleft celebrated the death of the author. In the Creative Commons model however, that was boosted by the success of the Free Software Movement “the author is reborn as useful idiot”. He can’t reserve “all rights” as copyright suggested, but only “some rights”, including the options of “Non Derivative” and “Non Commercial”. The unorthodox of the Creative Commons, as presented by Dmytri Kleiner, is that the consumer is deprived from his right to become a producer and that the “Free Works” are not actually free, but private. Thus, the “Commons” turns into an “Anti-Commons”, where free sharing encounters constantly the barrier of incompatible licenses.


Developing his thought on the Creative Commons, Dmytri Kleiner claims that it is not an example of Anti-copyright or of Copyleft but a case of Copy-just-right: the model is based on content distribution but the “mechanical royalties” are being eliminated. However, he comes up with the antidote: Copy-far-left.


Copy-far-left, acknowledging that neither Anti-Copyright not Copyleft can provide a sustainable solution for economic support of cultural producers, brings a new perspective: the Non-Commercial clause used by some creative commons license can be sustained but with limitations. Copy-far-left suggests that commons based commercial use should be allowed explicitly to Co-operatives, Collectives, Non-profits and independent producers and not to profit seeking organizations. That way, free licensing remains a source of funding, while consumers regain the right to become producers, as long as they don’t become exploiters.

In his epilogue, Dmytri Kleiner points out that in order to have a free culture we have to assert a free society. Cultural workers have to work in solidarity with other workers on that big idea.

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Not to get too emotional… but what happened to emotion?

She’ ll smile to you if you move to the left. No, try a different angle. I don’t know… Is she smiling at all? For over 500 years, viewers and researchers  have been trying to interpret Mona Lisa‘s enigmatic smile.  If a half-smile is worth that much attention, that says a lot about the importance of emotions. And maybe even more about the difficulty of their detection.

Internet users, having to deal with the lack of  face-to-face interaction and the frequency of misinterpretation, started to convey their feelings with emoticons, that are textual expressions “representing the face of a writer’s mood or facial expression. Emoticons are often used to alert a responder to the tenor or temper of a statement, and can change and improve interpretation of plain text […]In web forums, instant messengers and online games, text emoticons are often automatically replaced with small corresponding images, which came to be called emoticons as well”.

Maybe Scott Fahlman when sending the first 🙂 in 1982, didn’t realize that he was creating one of the most popular features of the digital culture. Today, we smile more than ever – digitally at least.  The thing is that now you, me and Mona Lisa have exactly the same smile : )

Emotions via emoticons: does it work?

According to Roy Ascott, we perceive the world through the artificial systems we have devised (The Construction of Change). Thus, in the virtual world of Facebook, a friendly chit chat is never perceived as such. Instead, it becomes a complicated procedure where soon the “friend”  becomes the receiver (or vice versa),  physical presence gives its place to online presence (Elektra is now online) and emotions are expressed by zeroes  and ones, disguised in smily/frowny faces. In this denatured world, it’s us versus the machine, emotion versus logic, the need for long love letters versus digital hugs and kisses.

Jumping into this way of living, has transformed us into “emotions factories”. We no longer spare time to express ourselves nor to convince the other. We mass produce smiles, frowns, digital tears, love e.t.c. just to punctuate every single phrase or to make sure that our message will not be misinterpreted. W. H Dilworth’s tips in The Complete Letter Writing– “when you write to a friend your language should be so natural […] and your sentiments may seem to have sprung up naturally like lilies of the field”- sound now more distant than ever. We seem to prefer the effortless usage of emoticons the way live TV shows use canned laughter to indicate the laughing start -time or the way restaurants use plastic lilies to make us “feel” the smell.

But it’s not only that. We demand from the friend – receiver to respond with a belly – laughter when we send jokes or to show compassion when we are in a bad mood. Isn’t it irrational to have such great expectations (both from the friend and the medium) when novelists could spend years to depict their characters’  mood?

Grrr, Sniff Sniff, RoaRRR and other emotions.

Comics, far before emoticons were invented, tried to establish some connection between the image and emotion. Filling the word balloons with verbalized sound effects (crash! bang! pow!) was an effort to bridge the gap that non-verbalized communication created.  Emoticons do the exact opposite. They provide us with icons that are supposed to depict facial expressions (using faces that have no flaws, wrinkles, dimples or even gender!!!). In both cases, comics and emoticons, the effort is foredoomed to fail. To feel an emotion, we have to experience it. With our senses and our body.

Facebook and social networks however, encourage a disembodied form of communication, considered to be deliberating since both our body and face betray our inner thoughts and mirror our emotions. That’s why “man is the sole animal whose nudities offend his own companions, and the only one who, in his natural Actions withdraws and hides himself from his own Kind” as Montaigne wrote. The biting of nails is commonly received as a sign of nervousness or stress. Blushing is conceived as a sign of shyness.  However, they are the body reactions that humans are able to decode from the very first years of their life.

Do we come face to face with our emotions?

It’s not by coincidence that emoticons remind us of children’s thum-bnail sketches. They mimic children’s behaviour putting out their tongue, applauding, bursting into laughter, crying for nothing… But children communicate with spontaneity, directness, genuineness. Is this the case for emoticons? Grown ups often use a smiley face even when they are bored, an indifferent face even when they get angry. When hiding behind the screen, it’s easier to hide one’s feelings, using the emoticons as masks.

Aristotle, when studying emotions in Nicomachean Ethics, claimed that:

those who do not feel anger in proper cases are thought to be fools; as well as those who do not feel it in the proper manner, nor at the proper time, nor at the proper persons.

Are we able to show our anger or any emotion in general in a facebook chat window? And even if we can, is the facebook chat window the “right place”? Do we get to chose the “right time” or the “right person” to talk to?

Facebook and social networks have reformed both time and space. The Facebook chat window frames the place where we can express “freely” ourselves, giving us a very small part of the screen to “develop” our thoughts. Chatting on the other hand imposes a really blistering pace of responses. No time for tattling. Straight to the point. Desperate with the lack of own time and space, we need the need for communication. Any kind of communication with anyone that is available at the moment. To sum up, it’s really hard when chatting in social networks to find the right time, the right person and the right way to express your emotions.

So the question that emerges is: “What are emoticons? Are they an intelligent device created to amplify our communication potentials or should we regard them as a  sign of emotional immaturity (and us as emotional fools ; ) )”.

It’s hard to give a straightforward answer, since the usage of emoticons is influenced by external factors that must be studied thoroughly (e.g. cultural background of the users). What is for sure is that for now emoticons content to depict the very basic emotions. What about emotions that are separated with that invisible thin line, such as sorrow and melancholy? Or can an emoticon describe sufficiently a more complex sentiment like nostalgia?

In my point of view, emoticons’ role is not that much to depict facial expressions rather than create impression, give an (slight?) idea to the recipient of what one feels. They could operate as entertaining and sometimes useful emotion simulators.

Most of us have tried the flight simulators in the entertainment parks. Few of us though know how to fly a plane.

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Book review: “The tyranny of e-mail” – The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to your Inbox

 I ‘ve read once a story about a Japanese man who got married to the virtual girlfriend he dated in a Nintendo DS video game called Love Plus- a wedding blessed by a priest and not a virtual one. This is no doubt an eccentric way to declare one’s devotion to a machine. But as John Freeman, an award – winning writer and editor of Granta, points out in his book The Tyranny of e-mail, we, the “normal” people of the internet era, spend more time with our computers than with our beloved ones.

Freeman, through a historical and social analysis upon the nature of correspondence, intends to illumine the causes and effects of information overload that reached its peak with the explosion of internet and especially with the apotheosis of e-mail. An invention which turned into obsession, “forcing” millions of users to shoot back and forth messages 24/7, no matter what, no matter when. Instead of deliberating us and saving us time, e-mail “has made us a workforce of reactors, racing to keep up with a treadmill pace that is bound for burnout and breakdown and profound anger”.

 The speed of sending and receiving messages, along with the easiness of forward and the ability to create new identities are gradually transforming us into “Borg”: a constantly connected life – form. Never before has man been so tightly embraced to machines than in the digital now. A fact that changed radically both our work and social life. In the name of productivity, we are willing to sacrifice our privacy, the fun of face-to face interaction, our critical thought.

But isn’t there a bright side? I couldn’t help thinking that Freeman in his effort to alarm us to step away from our inbox, he diminishes the “usefulness” of e-mail. I strongly believe that somewhere inside your inbox labyrinth there are answers to questions, notifications on events you are really interested in or just a few lines that will make you smile.

Thank God, Freeman goes further than just exposing the evil side of e-mail. He comes up with the slow communication movement, as an antidote to our e-mailing mania which is “encroaching on parts of our lives that should be separate or sacred, altering our minds and our ability to know our world, encouraging a further distancing from our bodies and our natures”. And everything starts with a simple recommendation: “Don’t send”.

The truth is that I could see myself in this book. Even while writing this review, I couldn’t resist checking my mailbox every now and then, chatting with friends on Facebook, sending messages loaded with emoticons to Skype. I myself am a victim of the tyranny of email, doomed to love this disembodied, impersonal, emotionally exhausting form of communication. Honestly, I would love to follow John Freeman’s tips that sound practical and sensible. But the question is: are they doable? Or in other words, will technology wait for us? Speaking from personal experience, if I had been checking more often my inbox, I wouldn’t have missed the deadline for the picnic contest. And as far as the “don’t send” recommendation is concerned, do I really have the option not to post my review today?

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Harvest your crops, feed your dog, serve the dishes… socialize!

Let me get this straight. I don’t have a pet. I never felt like growing pumkins. My cooking skills are below average. Does that make me socially “incompatible” with the millions of people playing Pet Society, Farmville, Cafe World and other social games?

Fun used to be an effortless process. And that was the fun part of it. Today however, one has to struggle, to compete, to undertake missions, to take on responsibilities, to invest time and thought, just not to see the “game over” on his screen.

So, why do people choose to have fun the painful way? Is it because they want to “live the rural dream” as Farmville suggests in its official Facebook page? A.J. Patrick Liszkiewicz’s answer sounds more convincing: “people work over time to develop something, and take pride in the fruits of their labor. Farmville allows users to spend their in-game profits on decorations, animals, buildings, and even bigger plots of land. So users are rewarded for their work.”

Another interesting aspect in the formation of fun in the digital era, is that social networks give the users the opportunity to live an exciting virtual life. A life free of responsibilities, timetables, routine and yet full of potentials. However, users seem to prefer playing it safe. Growing trees or playing ball with virtual pets and other boring chores, not only satisfy them but also motivate them to come back again and again.

Since it’s hard to believe that people have lost their interest in overcoming game challenges, I think that more and more users join the social game addiction driven by their need to socialize. Don’t forget that every bonus you take, every mission you accomplish gets published on your wall of fame. In addition to that, players may not need imagination, creativity or special skills to succeed in Farmville for example, but they do need a big network of friends, so that they can exchange gifts, share tips, develop a “give and take” relationship.

To conclude, boring or not, addictive or not, social games altered the way we have fun. As Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan outline in The Player Experience of Need Satisfaction (PENS): ”Motivationally, this dimension of games and virtual worlds can be compared to the ability to walk. Learning to do so is the means for our participation within the rest of the world, and as such we desire to master it quickly so that we can get on with the real business of ”living”.

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