Lars Gustafsson is probably Sweden’s most profilic living writer. Since the late 1950’s he has produced a steady flow of poetry, novels and literary criticism. At the same time, he has until recently been active as professor of philosophy at the University of Texas. Now he’s back in Sweden and just started publishing himself on a blog. He has also received a long list of literary awards, most recently – only two days ago – the Selma Lagerlöf award.
Therefore, it is making quite an excitement in Sweden as Lars Gustafsson, in today’s issue of Expressen, explains why copyright must be left behind and declares that he is voting for the Pirate Party in the ongoing European elections.
As this text could probably be of interest for a few people also outside of Sweden, I made a very fast translation. It is certainly not perfect, but please do not complain on translation wrongs in the comments – make an updated version instead, and post the link to it!
I could also add that I do not personally share every detail in Lars Gustafsson’s analysis. Especially, the dichotomy between “material” and “immaterial” is problematic, as digital technologies indeed lead to re-materializations everywhere – something we are right now exploring in the project Embassy of Piracy, culminating next week on the Venice Biennale. There are also good reasons to questions the status of Walter Benjamin’s concept of “reproducibility”. However, Lars Gustafsson – like Walter Benjamin – is powerfully formulating the ongoing conflicts in materialist terms and putting them in a very relevant historical perspective. Let this be a starting point for discussions. And once again, apologized for any translation wrongs…
According to an ancient source, the Emperor of Persia gave orders that the waves of the sea must be punished by beating, as the storm hindered him from transporting his troups by ship.
That was quite stupid of him. Today, would he maybe have tried with Stockholm district court? Or a consultative conversation with the judge?
It is odd, how strongly the situation spring 2009 – on the area of civil rights – reminds about the struggles over freedom of press in France, during the decades preceding the French revolution.
A new world of ideas is emerging and would not have been able to, were it not for an accelerating technology.
Raids against secret printing houses, confiscated pamphlets and – even more – confiscated printing equipment. Orders of arrest and adventurous nightly transports between Prussian enclave Neuchâtel – where not only large parts of the Encyclopedia was produced, but also lots of daring pornography, between the atheist pamphlets – and Paris.
Between the 1730’s and 1780’s, the number of state censors in France was doubled by four. The raids against illegal printing houses was rising at about the same pace. In retrospect, we know it did not help. Rather, the increase of censorship and printing house raids had a stimulating effect on the new ideas and made them spread even faster.
Now the conflict rage over the net’s continued existence as a forum of ideas and as an institution of civil rights, protected from privacy-threatening interventions and against powerful private interests.
That a mad French-German proposal just fell in the European parliament does certainly not mean that the freeedom of the net and the privacy is now safeguarded.
Hur real are then these threats? Let us think about the Dalälven river in spring flood times. A really critical year, the water may trespass 100 meters, maybe 200 meters, into house lots and meadows. Does it help to call the Ludvika police?
So for – this is shown by most historical experience – legislation has never been able to stop technological development.
Walter Benjamin wrote an influential essay, whose title usually is translated as “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction“, where he draws a series of interesting conclusions about what the radical changes that must follow on his time’s relatively modest degree of reproducibility. The digital revolution has brought about a reproducibility which Walter Benjamin could hardly ever have dreamt about. One could talk about maximal reproducibility. Google is about to build a library that, if is is allowed to grow, will make most material libraries obsolete or at least outmoded.
Cinema and paper newspapers are since long drawn into this new immateriality. Films, novels, magazines let themselves be reproduced. Further on; also three-dimensional objects, like products of programmable lathes let themselves be reproduced. Wirelessy and rapidly.
This immaterialisation naturally threatens the material copyright. And then were are not only talking about run-of-the-mill writers like Mr. Jan Guillou, whose social problems of acquiring new country estates I am honestly ignoring.
Material copyright has much more serious aspects: What has the large pharmaceutical firms patents on aids medicin meant for the third world? Or what about Monsanto‘s claim of holding rights on crops and pigs?
Every society must make its balance between differing interests and every hypocritic attempt to ignore that is nonsense. A functioning military defence is more important than ice hockey rinks and bicycle lanes. Probably the net implies a threat against the copyright of the material. And so what?
Intellectual and personal integrity for the citizens, briefly speaking an internet that has not been transformed into a government channel by lobby-marinated courts and EU politicians in leashes, is arguably more important than the needs of a primarily industrial scene of literarature and music, which is rapidly crumbling away already within the lifetime of the authors. The need of being read, of influenceing, to formulate one’s times, may but does not need to get in conflict with the wish to sell many copies. When the both needs are getting in conflict, the industrial interest must be put aside and the great intellectual sphere of the arts must be defended against threats.
The essential interest of artists and authors, given that they are intellectually and morally serious in hat they are doing, must certainly be to get read, to let their voice become heard in their generation. How that goal is attained, that is, how to reach the readers, is in this perspective of secondary importance.
The growing defence of the internet’s expanded freedom of speech, of the immaterial civil rights, that we are now witnessing in country after country, is the start of an – just as the last time in the early 18th century – liberalism that is carried by technology and therefore emancipated.
Therefore, my vote goes to the Pirate Party.