Eben Moglen - From the birth of printing to industrial culture; the root of copyright
Duration: 00:11:57; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 17.662; Saturation: 0.090; Lightness: 0.473; Volume: 0.076; Cuts per Minute: 0.418; Words per Minute: 117.166
Even before the birth of copyright laws in the strict sense, there already existed systems for the control over information reproduction which gave the owners of copying equipment a stake in cultural production. Moglen sketches the history of copyright law as a form of industrial regulation, and analyses how the changes in technology have thrown the roles created by those laws into crisis. Where once control resided in the physical artefact itself, digitalization has forced the law to step in and control access rather than just copying.
This interview was recorded for Steal This Film II
. The project tries to bring new people into the leagues of those now prepared to think 'after intellectual property', and think creatively about the future of distribution, production and creativity. This is a film that has no single author. It makers encourage its 'theft', downloading, distribution and screening, and have made the entire film and its footage available for download in HDV format, on their website and on Pirate Bay.
Interview with Eben Moglen
Well I think I would begin
by putting it this way
The book, which is the first
mass-produced article in western culture,
is really the beginning of
the process of industrialization of information
the medieval artisan producing or consuming information, travelling long distances ,
confronted with the difficulty of searching out
people possessing specialised knowledge,
becomes in the space of two generations only
the western european world of books,
of printed mass produced artefacts,
that spread knowledge widely,
and made the process of accumulating
specialised knowledge about the world
a process of memory
rather than a process of travel.
From that world we move,
over the course of the edisonian revolution,
from the third quarter of the 19th Century
to the end of the Twentieth.
Into a world in which memory becomes instead
the omnipresent analogue articles of culture.
So the book an article present in a library,
consultable by a skilled audience,
is largely replaced by the moving picture,
the sound recording,
the available vernacular culture
which puts an immense amount of information
not at the disposal of the skilled
but at the doorstep of everyone.
Now this was intended for a purpose, it was intended, or at any rate it grew up right alongside
Henry Ford's conscription of the workers of the world into the new army consumers.
people who saved capitalism from its rough spots by consuming its production
who ended its crisis of overproduction
by becoming a disciplined army of consumers.
and to become a disciplined army of consumers
the world's workers had to be provided a culture which explained consumption,
made them want,
told them what to want,
gave them aspirations and concerns
that were not the authentic product
of their experience
but were the transferred product
of vicarious experience.
And as analogue forms this culture
which required industrial processes to make,
to produce records,
to produce celluloid,
with the little holes cut in it,
I was watching an old Mel Brookes interview, conducted by Dick Cavitt,
now being presented by the New York Times as an act of museum conservateurship in film,
in which Cavitt asks Mel Brookes:
"What's the hardest part
of making a motion picture?"
And he says "oh...punching the little holes
in the edges of celluloid."
Well if you think about it in a way that's correct,
that is the hardest part
of making a motion picture
which is why in the world of digital computers
it is so easy to make films,
because you don't need to punch
all the little holes in the celluloid any more.
In other words culture
contained in analogue artefacts,
was culture whose control resulted from the difficulty of making it, moving it and selling it.
Control came naturally as part of the process
of the existence of the medium itself.
What happened when we moved, at the end of the twentieth century, to digital media
was that the process by which memory became experience
over the long history from the book
to the edison motion picture
memory is now immediacy, it's the things we make ourselves, instead of remembering.
We're sitting in a bar with our friends
and we have a camera in every cell phone
a movie camera in every cell phone
and everything we take
goes straight to flickr and youtube
and in fact memory is becoming
the attribute of the network now
and experience is becoming
an attribute of the network now.
And the control, that used to reside in the very making of the artefact, is up for grabs.
and that's what I think moves us
from a world of the catholic church's
control over ideas,
threatened by the protestant artefact of the book
to a world in which the Edisonian companies benefited from control,
not over the book but over celluloid and how to punch the little holes,
to a world in which the network made control, like production,
as easy as consumption and disciplined behaviour
and that's the enormous threat, promise and wisdom of the technology for our time,
that it challenges the very bases of control.
Well both the copyright and patent laws,
these principles of government
that control over information flow
they are - as law often is -
pieces of technology
made in a period of material stratum A
surviving into material Stratum B
So they mix a peculiar set of
incentives and phenomena
The patent laws and copyright laws are
basically about 17th and 18th century conditions,
implemented in 19th Century ways
and then redeployed in 20th Century
to meet 21st Century problems.
The basic difficulty that presents itself,
that the law of copyright is meant to deal with,
is that, as you say,
it's expensive to make a printing press
but once you've made it,
you have to find a way to decide what to use it on
and the real question is what should the printer spend his time printing.
So you have to give the printer an incentive
to print the particular thing.
It isn't, as has sometimes been suggested by the owners of culture in the late twentieth century,
that if there weren't incentives
they wouldn't print anything at all
they are of course going to run the press
and the man builds a press
because he can make money printing something
the question is whether what he ought to print
is somebody's business cards,
somebody's wedding invitations,
or somebody's novel.
In other words the question is
how to determine what it is that gets made.
with the scarce industrial processes of making.
Culture is profitable,
if you can buy it cheap, and sell it dear.
and it is to that extent profitable because
it's special, different or unique.
What floods into France,
as Robert Darnton showed in thinking about eighteenth century french culture,
What flows into france from the presses of Amsterdam
is what the french aren't allowed to make for themselves
which is why pornography and politics are the stuff of printing for export in the 18th century.
But what that does,
that process of making for the market by making what is least obtainable does,
is to threaten that you'll wind up
with a press consisting entirely
of government periodicals and pornography
What are you going to do to prevent that?
You're going to try and give printers
a stake in the progress of literature.
- which is what the copyright law really is,
it's a grand jeffersonian sort of idea
That we will turn democracy into a way
for encouraging virtue among printers
And we'll get everything to work
in such a way as to speed
the diffusion of knowledge and the useful arts.
So in that sense,
copyright law takes a rise
from a noble experiment
intended to meet
an appropriate 18th or
early 19th century problem
and it by the edisonian period has evolved
what is the necessary concomitant for its time,
which is the work for hire doctrine.
it has to become possible to use that
system for encouraging virtue amongst printers
actually to encourage the success of
larger commercial publishing enterprises.
Where Manhattan is thought of as the centre of printing in the 19th century,
it will be thought of as the centre of publishing in the twentieth century,
and that's a very different meaning,
it's not about the light industrial process
of printing something on pieces of paper
it's about the control of a large vertically
integrated system of cultural production
and for that you need the work for hire doctrine.
As 18th century booksellers in London
needed Grub Street.
that is some content producer
to meet the demand
of the wide pipe of printing
that their concentration of the machinery
of printing and binding has set up.
The Edisonian institutions
needed content behind them,
And they needed content
they could claim to own.
So in that sense copyright law comes, through the work for hire doctrine,
and its relationship to the law of employment,
copyright becomes the organizational
for these immense media enterprises.
Once media enterprises
have come into existence,
once New York city is a
centre of publishing rather than printing,
Then any medium that comes along
has to be co-opted in the same way.
The principle of vertical integration
has to be maintained.
And as you move from publishing on paper
to radio broadcasting,
television broadcasting, news dissemination,
financial information dissemination,
you apply the same model to it:
somebody makes it,
that creates a property interest,
that property interest is transferred
through an employment contract,
and becomes a disposable piece of property
in a market economy.
That seems to meet the needs
of the industrial organizations of the time.
Now if the technology makes another change,
and control no longer inherently resides
in the object of information itself,
Then copyright has to become
a law about control
Not a law about these organizational dispositions
and you begin to get, as in the DMCA,
or the European Union copyright directive,
you begin to get para-copyright law,
law which is about control over use
not control over production
because that jointure between the user,
the consumer, the producer and the distributor,
has become too tight.
And the law has to get in there
and force a differentiation of roles again.
But that's nothing to do with
where copyright started,
it's nothing to do with
what made copyright law effective
in the organization media in the first place.