The Oil of the 21st Century
In the age of digital reproduction, the problem of the “small author” remains: as the problem of the Intellectual Proprietor and his or her material reproduction, but also, and more importantly, as a problem of a specific political mentality. Among the many possible modes of production and subjectivation, the figure of the “small author” - who is always already deprived from the fruits of his hard labor, either by “the industry” or by “the pirates” - may be the most unfortunate one.
Current debates about Intellectual Property are often focused on the level of national law - and the need for its international harmonization - and the sphere of universal rights, like freedom of speech or access to information and medicine. Still, neither the vision of globalized law nor the desire for universal human rights seem to do justice to the facts on the ground, to the specific nature of the contained and often local Intellectual Property conflicts in everyday life.
Peer-to-peer networks are here to stay. Often dismissed as a mere conspiracy of teenage consumers against the media industry, these networks have become one of the most powerful and resilient environments for the collaborative production and reproduction of cultural data. Thus it seems that the question of file-sharing is no longer just a matter of identifying and routing around its corporate adversaries. Instead, it is becoming a question of organization.
Digital Rights Management (DRM) not only a proposes a set of new technological measures against unauthorized copying. It also promotes, on a conceptual level, an idea of individual rights that are no longer declared or granted, but instead directly implemented as the functionality - or the defects - of technology. Rights Management in general appears to be one of the most far-reaching new paradigms of control. The field of rights that it promises to manage stretches far beyond the Intellectual Property of the entertainment industry.