/Giap/digest#11b - Stories Belong to Everyone - October 21st, 2001

Extract from the speech made by Wu Ming 1 at the "Collective Intelligence" panel of the WIZARDS OF OS#2 conference, Berlin, October 13th 2001

Stories Belong to Everyone: Tale-tellers, Multitudes and the Refusal of Intellectual Property

[...] Nearly two decades have passed since "plagiarism" ceased being a synonim for "theft" and took its first steps as the name of a loose-knit cultural movement. Certainly some of you remember the Festival of Plagiarism which took place in London and Glasgow (1988 and 1989). Since then it  has become trivial to state that all legislation on intellectual property is obsolete and inadequate, that culture and creation are always collective products and processes. Every minute numberless examples turn up befo re our very eyes, the gift  economy and sense of community implied in the advancement of open systems and free software provide the most striking ones.

And yet copyright laws have never been so fierce, repressive and dumb. Patents are continually taken out for virtually everything, from commonplace actions like using a torch-light to play with your cat (US patent #5443036: "A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus ont o the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct." ) to living species that have existed on the planet since the dawn of times. This is nothing other than a war, capitalism vs. collective intelligence, the empire vs. the multitudes, we the third planet from the sun vs. the parasites devastating our life and environment.

I think that every brainworker should challenge the state-of-things on intellectual property, starting from their own job. I am speaking from the point of view of a tale-teller, I work with other people, we write fiction by using words, images, colors and sounds that we pick up from everyday life, history and the media landscape. A whole, open community writes along with us, albeit unconsciously or semi-consciously. This has always been true for every author and cultural artefact, not only nowadays. Homer's epic poems were actually co-written by anonymous members of ancient Mediterranean societies. Elizabethan theatre was entirely based on remakes, variations, collective improvisation and feedback from the public. Eighteenth and Nineteenth century serial novels ("feuilletons") were constantly re-shaped by the newspapers' readers.

Nowadays, the "Star Trek" series and cultural universe provide us with the best example of social co-operation aimed at telling stories: the fans (the so-called "Trekkies") keep adding fresh elements to a world made of gadgets, novels, websites, fan conventions, Klingon-English dictionaries and so on. Fan clubs even revise the screenplays, vote their approval to changes in the series etc.

Tale-tellers (novelists, playwrights, screenwriters and film-makers etc.) re-elaborate myths, sets of symbolic references that some kind of community is aware of and may accept or put into question.
Tales are necessary to any kind of community. Everybody tells tales, without tales we wouldn't be aware of our past and relationships with other people. There would be no quality of life. However, a tale-teller makes telling tales his or her main activity, a "specialization" which is utterly complementary to DIY. Many people can plant nails into woods, and yet not everyone is a carpenter.

Instead of posing as great artists or burying themselves in hack jobs, insted of writing self-referential crap or trivial commercial junk, instead of making fools of themselves as talk show guests or wasting their lives writing lines for talk show hosts, tale-tellers should play such a key role in society as that of *griots* (oral historians) in African villages, bards in celtic culture or poets in the classic Greek world.

Certainly to tell tales is a peculiar job, which can bring benefits and advantage to th ose who make it, none the less it is a job, it is no less integrated in community life than putting out fires, ploughing fields or helping people suffering handicaps. In other words, to tell tales should belong to "art & crafts", not Art. It should be a social thing, nor a completely narcissistic one, and I am not talking about contents, I am talking about mindsets. tale-tellers must be aware of the places, people and processes their "art" originates from. No matter how "radical", "experimental" or even "incomprehensible" their works may be: as soon as tale-tellers realize that many other people are co-authoring their works, they stop being solipsists and become useful to someone else, then they can help other brainworkers to challenge intellectual property [...]


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