August 15, 2002

John Perry Barlow: Slouching towards Hollywood

Anonymous Reader writes: "I asked JPB and Bruce Perens Wednesday morning to contribute an article to my new eBlogazine, Stoned Out Loud. Yesterday afternoon's (Electronic Frontier Foundation) John Perry Barlow sent me "Slouching Towards Hollywood - Creative Livelihood in an Economy of Verbs".

Here is a digest version (I added bolding and italics for this submission...they are not in the original -dcm):


Slouching Towards Hollywood - John Perry Barlow on Stoned Out Loud

submitted byD.Manchester for Stoned Out Loud


Slouching Towards Hollywood
Creative Livelihood in an Economy of Verbs

"By" John Perry Barlow

An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has
- Victor Hugo

The great cultural war has broken out at last.

Long-awaited by some and a nasty surprise to others, the conflict between the Industrial Period and the Virtual Age is now engaged in earnest, thanks to the modestly conceived but paradigm-shattering thing called Napster.

What Napster's first realization of global peer-to-peer networking made inevitable is not so different from what happened when the American colonists realized that the conditions of their New World were sufficiently different from those of ancient England that they would be obliged to cast off the Crown before they could develop an economy natural to their environment. For the settlers of cyberspace, the "shot heard 'round the world" was fired on July 26 by Judge Marilyn Patel when she enjoined Napster and thereby sought to silence the cacophonous free market of expression already teeming with over 20 million directly-wired music lovers...

...Even though they are exceptionally slow learners, entertainment executives will eventually realize what they should have learned long ago: The free proliferation of expression does not decrease its commercial value. It increases it. It would serve them far better to encourage it.

The war is on, all right, but to my mind, it's over. The future will win.
There will be no property in cyberspace. Behold DotCommunism.
(And dig it, ye talented, since it will enrich you.)

It's a pity that the entertainment industry is too wedged in the past to recognize this, as they will thereby require us to fight this war anyway. So we will all enrich lawyers with a fortune that could be spent fostering and distributing creativity. And we will be forced to watch a few pointless public executions - Shawn Fanning's cross awaits - when we could be employing such condemned genius in the service of a greater good.

As the inevitable unfolds, the real challenge arises: It's one thing to win a revolution and quite another to govern its consequences...

...Even during the zenith of copyright, we got some pretty useful stuff out of Benoit Mandelbrot, Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, Marc Andresson, and Linus Torvalds, none of whom did their world-morphing work with royalties in mind. And then there are all those great musicians of the last 50 years who went on making music even after they discovered that the record companies got to keep all the money...

...after giving up on copy protection, the software industry expected that widespread piracy would surely occur. And it did. I often ask audiences how many of them can honestly say they have no unauthorized software on their hard drives. Most people don't raise their hands. And yet, the software industry is booming. Why? Because the more a program is pirated, the more likely it is to become a standard. Once it becomes a standard, it is a great deal more convenient to enter into a long-term service relationship with the vendor.

All these examples point to the same conclusion: non-commercial distribution of information increases the sale of commercial information. Abundance breeds abundance.

This is precisely contrary to what happens in a physical economy.
When you're selling nouns, there is an undeniable relationship
between scarcity and value. Adam Smith figured that out a long time ago. But in an economy of verbs, the inverse applies. There is a relationship between familiarity and value. For ideas, fame is fortune. And nothing makes you famous faster than an audience willing to distribute your work for free...

...Following the death of copyright, I believe our interests will be assured instead by the following practical values: relationship, convenience, interactivity, service, and ethics.

Before I go further in explaining what I mean, let me state a creed:

Art is a service, not a product. Created beauty is a relationship,
and a relationship with the Holy at that. To reduce such work to "content" is like praying in swear words.
End of sermon.
Back to business.

The economic model that supported most of the ancient masters...was patronage, whether endowed by a wealthy individual, a religious institution, a university, a corporation, or, by the instrument of governmental support, society as a whole.

Patronage is both a relationship and a service...

...I could go on, but I can already hear you saying, "Surely this fool doesn't expect the return of patronage."

But patronage never went away. It just changed its appearance. Marc Andresson was a beneficiary of the "patronage" of the National Center for Supercomputer Applications when he created Mosaic; CERN was a patron to Tim Berners-Lee while he created the World Wide Web. DARPA was Vint Cerf's benefactor; IBM was Mandelbrot's.

"Aha!" you say, "but IBM is a corporation. They profited from the intellectual property Mandelbrot created." Maybe, but so did the rest of us. While IBM would patent air and water if it could, I don't believe it ever attempted to file a patent on fractal geometry....

...Even copyright lawyers wouldn't find it advantageous to copyright their briefs, since they rip one another off so flagrantly. Copy and paste is second only to paranoia in being is the best thing that ever happened to the legal profession.

In general, if you substitute "relationship" for "property," you begin to
understand why a digitized information economy can work fine in the absence of enforceable property law. Cyberspace is unreal estate. Relationships are its geology...

...Think of how the emerging digital conveniences will empower musicians, photographers, filmmakers, and writers when you can click on an icon, upload a cyber-dime into their accounts, and download their latest songs, images, films, or chapters, all without the barbaric inconvenience currently imposed by the entertainment industry....

...I'm reasonably well-paid to write, despite the fact that I put most of my work on the Net before it can be printed, but I'm paid a lot more to speak, and more still to consult, since my real value lies in something that can't be stolen from me - my point of view. A unique and passionate viewpoint is more valuable in a conversation than the one-way broadcast of words. And the more my words self-replicate on the Net, the more I can charge for symmetrical interaction.

Finally, there is the role of ethics.... As ove/ in new window"/> Courtney Love said recently in a brilliant blast at the music industry: "I'm a waitress. I work for tips." She's right. People want to pay her because they like her work. Indeed, actual waitpeople get by even though the people they serve are under no legal obligation to tip them... because it's the right thing to do. the practical absence of law, ethics are going to make a major comeback in cyberspace. In an environment of dense connection where much of what we do and say is recorded, preserved, and easily discovered, ethical behavior becomes less a matter of self- imposed virtue and more a matter of horizontal social enforcement. (Think of how much better you tip when everyone at the table can watch you total the credit card slip.)

Besides, the more connected we become, the more obvious it is that we're all in this thing together. If I don't pay for the light of your creation, it goes out and the place gets dimmer. If no one pays, we're all in the dark. In cyberspace, it becomes increasingly obvious that what goes around comes around. What has been an ideal become a sensible business practice...

...think of how much more money there will be for the truly creative when the truly cynical have been dealt out of the game. Once we have all given up regarding our ideas as a form of property, the entertainment industry will no longer have anything to steal from us. Meet the new boss: no boss....

...We've won the revolution. It's all over but the litigation. While that drags on, let us think about our real mission: ancestry....

...What we do now will likely determine the productivity and freedom of artists 20 generations yet un-born. What we do now will determine whether the great works of the last century rot embedded in the corpses of the their former distributors, forever lost to our descendents....

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