/Giap/digest #21 - On The Fight Against Copyright - 26 July 2003

The following text was written on July 1st, 2003 and appeared on Giap #8, 4th Series, 07/15/2003. In the following weeks, the RIAA and a clique of Republican motherfuckers have prompted a further crackdown against file sharing and "piracy", perhaps the fiercest bombing blitz so far.
Nevertheless, we believe that the record industry's "Shock & Awe" strategy is doomed to failure, no matter the casualties they inflict in the short term. Guerrilla warfare is the perpetual spanner in the works of the corporate war machine, and collective intelligence is already at work on more secure swap platforms. "Piracy" is a social thing, and it's already deeply rooted in contemporary behavior patterns. The bosses of corporate entertainment don't understand. Of course they don't: their brains no longer work; the more they get close to the trashcan of history, the more they get intoxicated by the stench.


Lawrence of Arabia: On the Fight Against Copyright

by Wu Ming 1, 01/07/2003

A few months ago Stampa Alternativa released a new booklet of their collection "Gli Euro" [The Euros: each booklet costs exactly 1 euro, t.n.]. It is a simple and agile text on guerrilla warfare which Sir Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888-1935, better known as "Lawrence of Arabia) wrote for the 14th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (first published in 1929).
Lawrence's explanation is both accurate and picturesque, and goes to the heart of the matter by reflecting on the Arab Revolt against the Turks (1916-1918), which Lawrence himself took part in instigating and directing on behalf of the British Empire.
T.E. Lawrence allegedly was an adventurer, a hero, and a mythomaniac. He gave a full account of that war in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a monumental autobiographic work in which he allowed himself some poetic license.
This thin booklet is a theoretical synthesis of that work, explaining the key principles and making them perfectly understandable.
There is an element I want to emphasize above all else: Science of Guerrilla Warfare casts new light upon the present-day "Copyright wars", which the Wu Ming collective has been covering for many months on Giap and L'Unità daily paper (all the articles are available here in several languages)
A real guerrilla warfare is being fought against parasitic capitalism and its obsolete laws. It is guerrilla warfare because it meets all the requirements expounded by Lawrence. That is why the entertainment corporations, in spite of all the repression, have not been able to take measures. Police raids, fiercer laws, legal charges, psychological terrorism, complaints... Nothing's really working.
What the powers-that-be describe as "piracy" is in fact an endemic and unquenchable practice. "Piracy" is both the community's reappropriation of some segments of production which were far away and unaccessible until a few years ago (e.g. the burning of CDs), and a consumers' revolt againts inflated prices, immoderate profits, the quality decrease of mainstream music, and all legal/technological obstacles to making private and safety copies of CDs.
Both regarding the strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare, Lawrence singles out three factors: one algebraical, one biological, a third psychological.
The first factor does not take accounf of "humanity", for it deals with the exact measurement of the space to be occupied and defended, with the ratio between geographical features, the number of fighters, and the quantity and quality of available weapons.
It was while analyzing this factor that Lawrence allegedly had his most famous intuition: "But suppose the Arabs [instead of being an army attacking with banners displayed] were an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile as a whole, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. The Arabs might be a vapour, blowing where they listed.."
The second factor deals with both intuition and imagination ("Nine-tenths of tactics are certain, and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool and that is the test of generals"), and survival: direct clash with the enemy is to be avoided, the troops must confine themselves to sabotage infrastructures (bridges, rails, cannons) and the lines of supply.
That is because every life is precious: "[the men] being irregulars were not units, but individuals, and an individual casualty is like a pebble dropped in water: each may make only a brief hole, but rings of sorrow widen out from them."
The third factor deals with the morale of the troops, the moods and feelings of sympathizing population, and psychological war on the enemy. Lawrence uses a very imaginative and suggestive sentence: "the Arab army was so weak physically that it could not let the metaphysical weapon rust unused".
Going deeper into the details, Lawrence explains that "range is more to strategy than force". It is much better being scattered all over and launching many little attacks, than gathering and launching a big one. The "tip and run" tactics are more important than trying to further an advance into enemy territory.
Moreover, diversity and invidual action are to be encouraged, rather than forbidden: diversity hampers the enemy's intelligence activities, and individual action turns the troops into "a happy alliance of commanders-in-chief."
All things considered, Lawrence states that in order to succeed guerrilla warfare must have a secure base, an alien enemy that, albeit powerful, is unable to cover the whole territory, a friendly or simply not hostile population (it is enough to have 2% of actively friendly people and 98% of non-hostile people), and the rebels must have speed, ubiquity and independence of arteries of supply.
The public enemy who is being fought by the corporations and the lobby groups of intellectual property meets all the abovementioned requirements.
1- The algebric factor: "piracy" is an elusive foe, and it gathers wherever is fit: napster users moved to newer and more sophisticated P2P platforms, which are less assailable because they are out of US jurisdiction.
The "pirate" knows how to move through an ever-changing territory (i.e. the Net), s/he knows how to *read* the territory the way Touareg and Bedouin warriors do. The "pirate" knows all the signs nested where foreigners see nothing but an empty, wind-beaten stretch of sand.
The contradiction between a maritime metaphor ("piracy") and a desert one is only apparent: Lawrence himself compares desert operations with naval warfare, "in their mobility, their ubiquity, their independence of bases and communications".
In the "desert of pirates", range is more important than force: the practice of ubiquity bewilders the cultural industry. Thanks to the specific features of P2P platforms (decentralization, customization of supply and demand, unpredictability of an economy based on sharing and swap) "pirates" are not units, but individuals.
The fact that they can strike together even if they "fight" separately, each one in his or her room (an articulated army, a "happy alliance of commanders-in-chief") makes repression much more difficult.
[...and quite unpopular too].
2- The human/biological factor: it is precisely because "pirates" move on a landscape marked by ongoing innovation that they must trust their own intuition and imagination. Besides that, this is a strange war, direct clash with the enemy is actually impossible. Sabotage is more than enough.
3- The psychological factor: by now "piracy" is clearly a mass phenomenon, with millions of swappers and billions of shared files. While "pirates" are like fish in the sea, the postal police, government agencies and the likes are generally perceived as rough poachers.
A great cultural change is taking place: in comparison with the minimum ratio expounded by Lawrence (2% - 98%), today's gap between the rebels and the non-hostile population is much smaller. Moreover, the enemy is described as an occupying force that invades and fences in the common lands of culture, and an alien force it is, for it is strange to the logics of the Net.
This makes psychological warfare easier: even the officials of the Guardia di Finanza that directed last May's raids looked skeptical and almost sad in their interviews.
As to indipendence of arteries of supply, the thing that the rebel needs more is information. "Pirates" are autonomous because they receive information from the very media they use for their "boardings", i.e. the Net.
There are many attempts at cutting these lines of supply: technological innovation is being hijacked in order to cypher or conceal important data, and the whole media system is being used as a loudspeaker for the record industry's edicts. In the former case, quite soon the Net's collective intelligence will provide the keys to re-access the concealed data (e.g. how to rip anti-copy CDs). In the latter case, the Net will spread counter-information and ridicule the invaders' claims.
Eventually, Lawrence states that "the contest [is] not physical, but moral." As a matter of fact, a good portion of "pirates" give the contest an unequivocal ethical value. They think that the Net's horizontal nature and gift economy must be defended, and that private property of popular culture is a contradiction in terms.
Lawrence ends the text with an admonition that ought to cause a loud buzzing in all those corporate ears, and persuade the bosses that repression is not the solution. The whole legislation on copyright is to be radically reformed. "Copyleft" open licenses are to be adopted on all levels. Prices are to be cut. The rivers of money are to be diverted, so they no longer flow into some superstar's pockets and are invested in quality increases and better platforms for on-line sales.
There are already many experiments going on: think of Creative Commons, IP Justice etc. The bosses should contact these groups before it's too late.
Here is Lawrence's final admonition:
"Granted mobility, security (in the form of denying targets to the enemy), time, and doctrine (the idea to convert every subject to friendliness), victory will rest with the insurgents, for the algebrical factors are in the end decisive, and against them perfections of meand and spirit struggle quite in vain."

(translated by Wu Ming 1 himself)


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