On the transformation of everyday culture in an era of liquid modernity

Archive for the ‘media ecology’ Category

New article: Piracy as activism

In cultural industries, everyday life, file-sharing, media ecology, p2p, politics, post-piratical, Sweden on February 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I have a couple of new academic articles in the pipeline.

The first one to be published in 2011 is found in the bilingual online Greek journal Re-Public, which has a current theme issue on the topic of “piracy as activism”. The aim of this issue is to explore “pirate practices and subjectivities in terms of their resistance to the dominant organisations of everyday life” (quoting the editors’ own introduction), and it’s out now, available in both Greek and English.

“It takes (at least) two to tango” is a short article about the activist subject and the pirate subject – and how it seems impossible to maintain agential “purity” in an era that is characterised by an even more complex tangle of agency, in which we as subjects are embedded. My argument, in short, is that the forms of activism found online, connected to what is commonly called the “pirate” movement, are hard to separate from consumerism and entrepreneurialism, given that what is traded remains to be products from the cultural industry, and that all forms of establishment of hubs, sites and the likes are akin to (real or potential) commercial ventures, albeit of an “outlaw” or “rogue” kind.

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The one-sided assumptions in the Pirate Bay ruling

In BitTorrent, copyright, cultural industries, economy, file-sharing, law, media ecology, p2p, politics, Sweden on November 30, 2010 at 8:03 pm

This is a translation of an article that I wrote in Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Nov 27th, following the verdict from the Swedish Court of Appeal in the famous Pirate Bay copyright infringement case.

According to the current ruling in the Pirate Bay trial, the Court of Appeal makes a very interesting comparison between The Pirate Bay and services like Google and YouTube, which also distribute copyrighted material:

“If the nature of a search service is such that it primarily is a valuable tool in lawful activities, and of general benefit to society, if this legitimate use predominates, but the distribution or transmission of illegal material in spite of precautions cannot be ruled out, the operation of such a service should be considered as legitimate.” [emphasis added]

In fact, the ruling depends on whether one sees file-sharing as a fundamentally good thing for society, or as a public hazard. Once again, the saga of The Pirate Bay shows that the law is eminently political.

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Summary of my thesis

In BitTorrent, file-sharing, media ecology, media history, p2p, politics, Sweden on October 26, 2010 at 6:35 pm

As I have now had my Ph.D. recently registered with University of London, I want to take the opportunity to present a brief summary of it here.

Obviously, in 346 pages, there is a LOT more to draw on from it. The subject of p2p-based file-sharing is a complex one, and one challenge was to concentrate all this complexity into a comprehensive – yet not overly simplifying – account.

Please email me if you want a copy of the thesis. See my personal webpage or this blog for contact details.

My thesis is about Swedish file-sharers’ own arguments and motives. I analyze how they justify their habits, and what they refer to. I interviewed Swedish file sharers and analyzed blogs, newspapers, debates and web comments. I placed great emphasis on connecting the arguments to various sociological theories of representation, agency, justification and morality, as well as to the actual technical, economic, historical, demographic and geographical conditions. As the actual p2p protocols (especially BitTorrent protocol) are so central to the drama, the sociologist’s role is to determine: What is BitTorrent? How shall we understand the “nature” of a network, and the way the users themselves constantly invoke this “nature”? Ontology – how reality is described and defined – becomes the crux of the debate.

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“Efter The Pirate Bay”

In file-sharing, media ecology, media history, net neutrality, p2p, post-piratical, Sweden on October 18, 2010 at 9:08 am

In September 2010, me and Pelle Snickars (Head of Research at Sweden’s Royal Library) released an anthology called Efter The Pirate Bay, a reader aimed at the Swedish general reading public, featuring a range of interesting authors on the subject of file-sharing, digitization, copyright reform and the “pirate” movement in Sweden.

See this link for more info. Unfortunately, Efter The Pirate Bay is only available in Swedish, and no English translation is planned. However, the national public interest in Sweden has been considerable, and I believe that many of the insights that I draw on in my currently finalized Ph.D. thesis and in the book are of interest to the English-language reading public as well.

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A new, yet formalised way forward

In copyright, cultural industries, economy, file-sharing, media ecology, music, p2p, politics on March 19, 2010 at 10:47 am

Bennett Lincoff, former Director of Legal Affairs for New Media at ASCAP, was in Sweden recently. Although he is not an outright opponent of the current copyright system, he has a radical proposal of how copyright law should work online. The recording industry still bases their entire business model on selling copies; a retrograde strategy, he argues. Instead, he proposes a digital transmission right for the Internet. He argues that the Net is fundamentally incompatible with the old business model of selling individual copies of popular culture.

This is a new type of license, a digital transmission license to replace all other rights on the Internet. In his proposal, anyone who wants to transfer copyrighted material digitally would have to buy such a transmission license: websites that broadcast music, namely Internet radio or other types of streaming media, but also individual file sharers who know that they share large amounts of copyrighted music. Read the rest of this entry »

Much better, the Economist!

In cultural industries, marketing, media ecology on December 6, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Last week’s Economist featured one of the best articles on the new media landscape in a good while. Backed by solid statistics, for once, this article observed a tendency that I and many others have suspected for a long while now: Digitization benefits niche content and blockbusters, rather than the middle category of “near-hits” or “mid-list” titles. What is booming in an Internet-driven marketplace are the two extreme ends of “the long tail”, not the middle bit.
There has been an established term for this floating around on the Net for a while, actually. “The Death Valley problem” refers to how big actors are flourishing and small actors are flourishing while the ones in-between struggle:

Big companies have marketing muscle. They survive by bending the world to their will. Small companies are nimble. They survive by adapting to the world’s dynamism. In between we see a “Death Valley” filled with mid-size companies too small to bend the world, too big to adapt to it.

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Orchestral manoeuvres in the dark

In art, cultural industries, everyday life, marketing, media ecology, music on October 28, 2009 at 4:53 pm

If you are a fantastic cultural producer, what good is it if no-one hears, sees or gets to know about your work? The problem of structural support to the cultural industries is as much to do with supporting new forms of distribution and recommendation systems as it is to do with direct economic support to producers, or leveraging employment rules and state subsidies in useful ways, or due appreciation also to distinctly amateur forms of production.

That last note, about the importance of appreciating amateur forms of production, is essentially there as an inital reservation: Of course I’m in favour of an amateur-led wave of cultural production, better enabled by digital technology. Who isn’t? And of course it is great that tools and knowledge are more horizontally distributed now, favouring bazaar-like modes of organization over cathedral-like ones.

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I fought a loudness war

In aesthetics, art, everyday life, media ecology, music, philosophy on October 5, 2009 at 9:17 pm

One of the most striking features of popular music in the last decade has been the “loudness war”. The music we listen to has become increasingly louder in the last 20 years, as it is now music industry standard to try and make the soundwaves contained within a sound file as maximised as possible, in terms of loudness.

By a combination of extreme compression of the dynamic range and make-up gain, the sound range is boosted to a more uniform level, removing the peaks and troughs that would normally separate a quieter verse from a pumping chorus. (Read more about it here and here.)

As this is the normative aesthetic nowadays – “it has to sound like this” – the sociology of music should really sharpen its ears and point them in this direction. It is extremely interesting in terms its philosophical implications. So, let us delve deeper into the aesthetic implications of loudness below!

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Pitchfork’s social history of the mp3

In history, media ecology, mp3, music on September 3, 2009 at 9:39 am

Glad to see that in the midst of the current journalistic torrent of end-of-decade lists, Pitchfork is publishing two great, rather long analyses. One on the decade in pop, and the other one – of interest for my own research project – a social history of the mp3.

Were the past 10 years in fact the first decade of pop music to be remembered for its musical technology rather than the actual music itself? asks Eric Harvey, in his balanced and very well-considered article. He touches on many of the interesting tendencies that we can spot in today’s technocultural landscape: The historical parallels between for example 7″ records and mp3s (not only did they renew the focus on individual songs, they radically challenged the major labels’ cosy position in the marketplace); Evan Eisenberg and the reification of music; the exponential proliferation of tastemakers flooding the Internet in the form of mp3 blogs; the transparency of the whole music-making, hype-spinning machinery where everyone is supposed to be her own publicist and stylist; and not least Henry Jenkins’s “convergence” thesis, where there is a dire need for fans to play a new role and for the value of music to be re-appropriated.
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The Pirate Bay: Two important speculations

In file-sharing, marketing, media ecology, p2p, politics, post-piratical, Sweden on July 1, 2009 at 9:51 am

Following the announcement that The Pirate Bay will be sold to a Swedish software company, there has been a lot of turmoil and dissent in online communities.

With his typical, holier-than-thou, straight faced idealism, the Pirate Bay spokesman Peter Sunde says in his Twitter feed: ‘People hate me now for wanting to pause the 6 year free work we’ve been doing. Feels unfair.’

Why? Because the move to sell the website appears to be part of a greater manoeuvre, that the men behind The Pirate Bay have hinted about in various forms over the last year. Although a situation like this can give rise to a lot of speculation, it is therefore important to note two things…

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