Gavin Mueller — Digital Proudhonism


In a passage from his 2014 book Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free author and copyright reformer Cory Doctorow sounds a familiar note against strict copyright. “Creators and investors lose control of their business—they become commodity suppliers for a distribution channel that calls all the shots. Anti-circumvention [laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits subverting controls on the intended use of digital objects] isn’t copyright protection, it’s middleman protection” (50).

This is the specter haunting the digital cultural economy, according to many of the most influential voices arguing to reform or disrupt it: the specter of the middleman, the monopolist, the distortionist of markets. Rather than an insurgency, this specter emanates from economic incumbency: these middlemen are the culture industries themselves. With the dual revolutions of personal computer and internet connection, record labels, book publishers, and movie studios could maintain their control and their profits only by asserting and strengthening intellectual property protections and squelching the new technologies that subverted them. Thus, these “monopolies” of cultural production threatened to prevent individual creators from using technology to reach their audiences independently.