First Monday

Copyleft vs. Copyright: A Marxist critique by Johan Soderberg

Copyright was invented by and for early capitalism, and its importance to that system has grown ever since. To oppose copyright is to oppose capitalism. Thus, Marxism is a natural starting point when challenging copyright. Marx's concept of a 'general intellect', suggesting that at some point a collective learning process will surpass physical labour as a productive force, offers a promising backdrop to understand the accomplishments of the free software community. Furthermore, the chief concerns of hacker philosophy, creativity and technological empowerment, closely correspond to key Marxist concepts of alienation, the division of labour, deskilling, and commodification. At the end of my inquiry, I will suggest that the development of free software provides an early model of the contradictions inherent to information capitalism, and that free software development has a wider relevance to all future production of information.


Method and Literature
Historical Materialism
History of Copyright
Marxists on Information
Information as a Resource
Information Microeconomics
The Commodification of Information
Technology Tailored
History of the Free Software Movement
Strengths of Free Software
The Ideology of Hacking
Capital and Community
The Fettering of the General Intellect
From Property to Licenses - Change in the Relations of Production?




In the 90's computer programs developed by hobbyists grew into serious competitors to commercial software. Today the only challenger to Microsoft's monopoly in operative systems, Windows, is one of these community projects - Linux. As the free software community and computer industry confront each other, the political colour of the hacker movement is actualised. According to some, free software equals communism [1]. Some within the community vehemently reject such political linkages while others embrace free software as a radical force. I will make a case for that free software is not just another business model, as the advocates of the Californian Ideology would like us to believe, but a political project for social change. Though Marxist phrases often circulate in writings by hackers, there have been few attempts at a comprehensive Marxist analysis of free software. Likewise, radical theory has largely overlooked the phenomenon of hacking, despite recent interest in issues of information, surveillance, Internet and intellectual property regimes.

My ambition is to overcome the divide and show that both groups can gain from cross-fertilisation. The article address readers sympathetic to the Marxist project and it presumes a basic knowledge of Marxist terminology. I have drawn from disparate Marxist traditions, as well as post-Marxists and non-Marxist sources, without giving much attention to their internal differences. This is not a comprehensive account of Marxist positions on the subject; I have incorporated them as they intersect with my investigation into the intellectual property regime. The first part of the article is theoretical, so I ask my readers to please endure it, and hopefully it will prove worthwhile once applied to the reality of free software.




How can Marxist theory be applied to understand the development of free software?



Method and Literature

This article is a literature study. The literature on intellectual property is marked by a lack of cross-references between the two opposing views of the issue. Mainstream writings and official commissions treat intellectual property as exclusively a financial and legal technicality; they operate within the consensus that intellectual property is an undisputable entity. Those writers that do recognise intellectual property as a contested terrain also write to campaign against it. Approaches in the latter camp originate either from the experiences of hackers or from academic Marxist analysis, and the two branches are equally detached from each other.

My analysis draws from the theoretical framework of historical materialism. The use of this theory demands some comment since it has fallen into disarray and been abandoned by many Marxists. The theory lost credibility when its prediction that capitalism inevitable would evolve into socialism was seemingly proved wrong. Theoretically it has been challenged for its tendencies of evolutionism, technological determinism, functionalism and economic reductionism (Giddens, 1981). By partly coinciding with and incorporating this criticism, some Marxists have responded to Giddens' comments stating that a reconstructed historical materialism holds true and is a valuable analytic tool (Wright, Levine, and Sober, 1992). A weak version of the model is sound, they say, to help structure our understanding of past and current history, provided that the theory does not pretend to prophesy the future. In accord with them I find it relevant to evoke historical materialism here because

"the idea that class struggle is crucial to understanding social change is grounded in historical materialist claims. If historical materialism where rejected altogether, these concepts and ideas would lack adequate foundations" [2].

I will not, though, give a full account of the controversy surrounding the theory, but merely highlight parts where it relates to my inquiry into free software development.



Historical Materialism

Historical materialism [3] starts with the assumption that human consciousness is conditioned by its physical environment, and therefore that primacy in society flows from its material base to its organisation of social life. At the core lie the 'forces of production' (predominately machinery, raw materials, labour power, and knowledge), that influence the 'relations of production', i.e. the composition of ownership in society. The class that dominates the relations of production favour a certain legal, political and ideological constitution of society (superstructure) that will support their social order. But because the forces of production develop continuously, while the established order tends to conserve its position, the organisation of society will increasingly become at odds with its material production. A point is reached when the old establishment fetters the emerging productive forces. The struggle between the ruling class and those classes it submerged (which has been ongoing) now burst into revolutionary change. A new social order emerges that better corresponds to the material basis of production (Cohen, 2000).

The prime example of this transition is that from feudalism to early capitalism. Privileges and tradition prevented free social and geographical mobility and fuelled the resistance to factory discipline, while Christian values despised capitalist virtues. In order to flourish, the bourgeois class had to tear down these barriers to the free flow of capital, wage labour, and market exchange. In the same way, the theory claims, will capitalism be fettering the future forces of production [4].

There are numerous difficulties with this theory. A common objection from post-Marxists (and Marxists too) is that the 'chain of direction' breaks down because the superstructure becomes productive in itself in

"... the information age, marked by the autonomy of culture vis-a-vis the material bases of our existence" [5].

This argument, however, also implies that historical materialism up till now has been working. If so, the theory should not be discarded hastily, but its failure ought to be closely examined in order to unravel the precise changes. I have no such ambition here. Nevertheless, in this article I maintain that though historical materialism is difficult to defend theoretically, in practice certain features of the Information Age, far from rendering historical materialism obsolete, reflect and strengthen some of its features.

Still, even if the basic assumption is true, Wright, Levine, and Sober point out that "in order to conclude that there will be an overall epochal trajectory of social changes of the kind historical materialism postulates, a case must be made that, in general, the tendency for the forces of production to develop is a more potent cause of the destabilization of production relations than the superstructure is of their stabilization" [6]. Cohen has difficulties in assuring that fettering could fuel a successful revolution against capitalism. He says, reluctantly, that restriction to the pace of development in productivity is not a sufficient cause of destabilization. Instead he leans towards Use Fettering, the irrational deployment of productive powers, such as the bias in capitalism towards consumption at the expense of leisure. Use Fettering is more promising: "... since the discrepancy between capacity and use is more perceptible than, and is, therefore, a more potent stimulant of unrest, protest, and change than, the shortfall in rate of development ..." [7]. I will return to his distinction between Development and Use Fettering later in this paper and argue that they both accord with the intellectual property regime.



History of Copyright

Intellectual property rights were invented in the Italian merchant states and accompanied the spread of early capitalism to Netherlands and Britain [8]. Early forms of what has become copyright can be traced further back into history, as is sometimes done by copyright champions. In Talmud tradition, for example, sources of information were thoroughly documented, but for the purpose of ensuring the authenticity of information. Copyright in a non-trivial sense can only be realized within the context of a capitalist society, since its function is meaningless without a developed market economy (Bettig, 1996).

For most of human existence oral tradition has dominated. Narratives were in constant flux. Performance was regarded more highly than authorship, which seldom could be credited since most culture was built on religious myths or common folklore, and did not originate from an individual creator.

With the emergence of a bourgeoisie consciousness of individuals and property, the spread of market relations, and technological breakthroughs, especially the printing press, the need of copyright was created. Consequently, Great Britain developed the first advanced copyright law. In the sixteenth century religious conflicts spurred the circulation of pamphlets, closely followed by legislation that banned writings of heresy, sedition, and treason. Brendan Scott (2000) argues that this censorship bears the legacy of copyright. For example, the custom of printers and authors to have their name listed with their creations began as a law demanding this practice, not to ensure the originator due credit, but in order for the king to keep track of disobedient writers.

In 1556 a royal charter established the Stationers' Company and granted it exclusive control of all printing in the United Kingdom. Limiting the number of publishers was a key strategy in the government's arsenal to regulate writings (Bettig, 1996). The two strategies to consolidate control by eradicating anonymity and restricting the number of sources of reproduction are themes that echo into the present day.

The expansion of patents and copyright has grown since. It entered a new stage with the signing of the TRIPs Agreement, a global treaty on intellectual property, in 1994 (May, 2000). The tightening of the intellectual property regime coincides with the increasing exchange value of information and what is held to be the coming of an information age.



Marxists on Information

Marxists have been dismissive of literature giving priority to information over labour and capital in production. The notion of a post-industrial age has become associated with apolitical futurists. Claims that information would replace labour as prime source of value helped to raise suspicion among Marxists, and (not without cause) the post-industrial hype was often written off as a hegemonic smokescreen. Marxists rightly criticize the post-industrialist advocates for failing to take account of power relationships, to forget that information is the result of human labour, to ignore that a staff of 'symbol-analysts' require a labour force that satisfy society's material needs, and to downplay the continuity of capitalist industrialism in the new era (Dyer-Witheford, 1999). Technological utopias have been touted before to justify the destructiveness and smoothen the acceptance of new technologies (Stallabrass, 1995).

However, the importance of information in production can no longer be ignored, and the vulgar Marxist position discarding information as a mere surplus-eater of the industrial production [9] is no longer tenable.

Dan Shiller represents a tradition of Marxism that recognizes the emerging importance of information but disputes the unique value credited to information by post-industrial thinkers. Shiller criticises those theories for failing to distinguish between information as a resource, something of actual or potential use, and information as a commodity.

Implicit to this view is that information as a resource has remained constant; it takes information to make a flint axe too. The change lies in that information has been commodified. Like other resources before, information is claimed by capitalist expansion to be produced by wage labour for and within a market. Shiller rejects the claims that information commodities have an immaterial element inherent to them. One of the points I will advance is that this stance hinders Marxists like Shiller from recognising the growing contradiction in information capitalism that is inherent to the intellectual property regime.

Another Marxist approach to information technology, pioneered by Harry Braverman, is to study how technology is deployed to aid capital against labour, partly through surveillance, partly by transferring knowledge from labour to machinery. However, since humanity is divided, and nowhere more divided than in the labour process:

"... machinery comes into the world not as the servant of 'humanity', but as the instrument of those to whom the accumulation of capital gives the ownership of the machines. The capacity of humans to control the labor process through machinery is seized upon by management from the beginning of capitalism as the prime means whereby production may be controlled not by the direct producers but by the owners and representatives of capital" [10]

From this perspective, the Information Age is refining a process that started with the Industrial Revolution, when skilled craftsmen were forced into unqualified and fragmented factory work, now expanding capital's influence through mechanisation into society at large and to ever-higher tiers of intellectual labour [11]. Robins and Webster describe this new era as 'Social Taylorism':

"Our argument is that this gathering of skill/knowledge/information, hitherto most apparent in the capitalist labour process, is now entering a new and more pervasive stage ... We are talking about a process of social deskilling, the depredation of knowledge and skills, which are then sold back in the form of commodities [...]" [12].

Technology is designed into 'black boxes', so that the labourer/user is left without influence over the functions that the machinery imposes on her. A classic illustration of how technology is used in this way to control labour activity is the speed set by the assembly line in a factory (Edwards, 1979). Recent studies shows that user-friendly but impregnable automation has escalated a defeating sense of helplessness among the deskilled, blue-collar workforce operating the machinery (Sennett, 1999). Furthermore, computers make even highly intellectual and artistic professions vulnerable to the deskilling process (Rifkin, 1995). Concerns are raising that multimedia and recording technology may mechanise education, turning it into a 'digitalised diploma mill' (Noble, 1998).

The pessimistic view on information technology as a tool of capitalist control, shared by many Marxists, has lately been matched with an interest in counter-use of those technologies.

"[...] The malleability of the new technologies means that their design and application becomes a site of conflict and holds unprecedented potential for recapture" [13].

The keyword is malleability, which grants the subject autonomy over her use of the technology. In particular the general-purpose personal computer with its network capabilities has empowered a small section of the population with technological skills [14]. Thanks to falling production costs, this technological power is disseminated to ever-wider circles of the (western) population. Stallabrass correctly points out that falling costs is met with more computer capacity for a sustained price, and therefore that new computers never will reach the poor majority (Stallabrass, 1995). However, the objection fails to acknowledge the mounting pile of perfectly operational but out-fashioned, second-hand computers that will 'trickle down'.

Marxist tradition thus strongly emphasises the social construction of (information) technology. In Dyer-Witheford's words, technologies are: "[...] often constituted by contending pressure that implant in them contradictory potentialities: which of these are realized is something that will be determined only in further struggle and conflict" [15]. I will focus on this struggle later, and argue that the hacker community plays an important part in it. But first I wish to give my case why I believe, counter to some Marxists, that information has become inherently valuable.



Information as a Resource

Though I stress the importance of recognising the social construction of information into a commodity, I believe that the post-industrial advocates are right in that information as a resource has qualitively changed. The shift can be extrapolated from capital's ambition to replace the workforce with machinery and science, primarily to suppress labour militancy. A consequence of the replacement of labour with robots is that the cost of labour in production falls while the expenses for fixed capital, high-tech machinery and cutting edge science, sharply rises. Thus comes a rapid shift of relative costs (exchange value) from labour to fixed capital - i.e. information. Furthermore, the productivity of industries depends now more on the development of fixed capital than the human labour:

"But to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose powerful effectiveness is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production" [16].

This marks the emergence of what Marx called the 'general intellect' as a productive source in itself.

More clues are offered in a marginal (non-Marxist) theory within political economy known as Kondratiev waves [17]. Writing in this tradition, Perez and Freeman introduce the idea of 'Techno-Economical Paradigms' [18], building on the classic work of Thomas Kuhn about scientific evolution (Kuhn, 1996). A Techno-Economic Paradigm stretches for 50-60 years and centres on a major technological breakthrough in one sector that affects the economy, industry, and organisational forms of that whole period. Different scholars have suggested coal, iron, railway, steel, electricity, oil, and combustion engines as key technologies of previous Techno-Economic Paradigms. The common denominator of these key technologies is that they are located in the areas of materials, energy and transportation. However, inspecting the latest Techno-Economic Paradigm, a near consensus exists among scholars that its key technologies are manifested in microelectronics and possibly microbiology (Volland, 1987; Grubler and Nowotny, 1990).

The broken continuity can be explained in terms of Marxist value theory. During the industrial period, materials and energy were essential to the creation of exchange value, and the transportation of this value depended on infrastructure. However, when the highest exchange value is extracted from information, (while the exchange value of material goods is becoming peripheral relative to information) those sectors lose in importance.

"At the pinnacle of contemporary production, information and communication are the very commodities produced; the network itself is the site of both production and circulation" [19].

Computer networks become both the factory and distribution channel of exchange value.

The characteristics of the information sector will gradually encompass most of the economy. This tendency was essential in Marx's analysis. "In all forms of society there is one specific kind of production which predominates over the rest, whose relations thus assign rank and influence to the others. It is a general illumination which bathes all the other colours and modifies their particularity" [20]. Or, to be more specific: "Just as the processes of industrialization transformed agriculture and made it more productive, so too the informational revolution will transform industry by redefining and rejuvenating manufacturing processes" [21].

The increase in costs/exchange value of information (fixed capital) in relation to direct labour is the cause for capitalism to commodify information, not the other way around. But because of the intangible nature of information, contradictions emerges out of attempts to enclose it.



Information Microeconomics

"If nature has made anything less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusive possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it" [22].

The words of Thomas Jefferson sum up the unique features of information. Digital information can be duplicated infinitely in perfect copies at a marginal cost approaching zero.

Bradford De Long and Michael Froomkin, clearly non-Marxist economists, considered the consequences in their paper "Speculative Microeconomics for Tomorrows Economy". Information, they argue, challenges the three pillars that market economy rests on: excludability, rivalry and transparency. Excludability is the power to prevent usage of a desirable utility, and is required for the property holder to force payment of the user (extract exchange-value). Though De Long and Froomkin recognise that excludability of material property always was "less a matter of nature and more a matter of culture" that had to be enforced by police action, the immaterial nature of information has undermined the capacity of policing. This is intimately linked with the abolition of rivalry, which assumes that cost rises linearly with increased production, i.e. two goods are made at twice the price of one. Without rivalry two users can consume the same information product without compromising each other's consumption. Thirdly the concept of transparency, a presumption in economist theory that buyers and sellers have perfect information on what they want and what is for sale, is failing because of the complexity of the high-tech market. Their conclusion is that "The ongoing revolution in data processing and data communications technology may well be starting to undermine those basic features of property and exchange that make the invisible hand a powerful social mechanism for organizing production and distribution."



The Commodification of Information

"The contradiction that lies at the heart of the political economy of intellectual property is between the low to non-existent marginal cost of reproduction of knowledge and its treatment as scarce property" [23].

This contradiction [24], May demonstrates, is concealed by information capitalists whose interests are best served if ideas are treated as analogous to scarce, material property [25]. The privatisation of cultural expressions corresponds to the enclosure of public land in the fifteenth to eighteenth century.

As then, the new enclosure is concerned with creating conditions for excludability. Lawrence Lessig lists four methods to direct the behaviour of the individual to comply with property regulation: social norms, markets, architecture (including technology and code), and law. "Constraints work together, though they function differently and the effect of each is distinct. Norms constrain through the stigma that a community imposes; markets constrain through the price that they extract; architectures constrain through the physical burdens they impose; and law constrains through the punishment it threatens" [26].

Several new national laws have been passed in recent years on intellectual property rights. In the U.S. the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed in 1998 and has been imitated by legislation in Europe. The European Patent Office circumvented scheduled political decisions to be taken by European governments, and decreed a regulation that authorises patent claims to computer programmes [27]. These national laws were implemented under the direction of what is known as the Uruguay Round agreements [28], established by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). As a part of the bargain came the treaty of Trade Related Intellectual Property (TRIP), and its importance lies in two respects: "as an extension of the rights accorded to the owners of intellectual property and as part of the extension of a property-based market liberalism into new areas of social interaction, previously outside market relations" [29]. Simply by coordinating national regulations on a global level the net of intellectual property is tightened. TRIP was backed by American and European pharmacy companies and entertainment industries, and unsuccessfully opposed by the developing nations and northern civil society.

Despite the rigged debate on intellectual property in the mainstream media [30], the rhetoric of 'piracy' has not transformed social norms to any greater extent. The failure to curb copying is linked with the low costs and low risks for individuals to copy, i.e. the non-existent constriction of the market. However, Bettig remarks "The initial period following the introduction of a new communications medium often involves a temporary loss of control by copyright owners over the use of their property" [31].

Similarly, Lessig warns against the false reliance, common among hackers, that information technology is inherently anarchistic. The industry is determined to re-design hardware and software to command compliance with the intellectual property regime. "Code can, and will, displace law as the primary defence of intellectual property in cyberspace" [32]. It is predominantly this struggle that I now will attend to.



Technology Tailored

In the history of factory production, examples abound on how machinery was tailored to direct the behaviour of workers. This form of regulation, 'technological control', was of particular importance to domesticate the workforce in the first half of the twentieth century (Edwards, 1979). We can expect the same strategy to be deployed as consumer technology is now disseminating throughout society.

Capitalists need to utilize the Internet, as it is believed to be the major production centre and distribution channel of exchange value in the future. But to accomplish their vision of the Internet as an ethereal market place, the architecture of the Internet has to fulfill five requirements:

"(1) authenticitation, to ensure the identity of the person you are dealing with; (2) authorization, to ensure that the person is sanctioned for a particular function; (3) privacy: to ensure that others can not see what exchanges there are, (4) integrity: to ensure the transmission is not altered en route; and (5) nonrepudiation, to ensure that the sender of a message cannot deny that he send it" [33].

In short, surveillance has to replace the anonymity and anarchy of the Internet.

A number of technologies are being used to realise this agenda. A committee appointed by the U.S. government lists five different methods: security/integrity features in operating systems (file access), rights management languages (some on machine language level), encryption (scramble and then de-scramble file information), persistent encryption (allows consumer to use information while it is encrypted), and watermarking (helps tracking down copying and distribution). The problem for designers of secure systems is that encrypted information has to be accessed at some point. This leaves a potential gap that is possible for hackers to explore, and so far hackers have kept up with encryption (National Research Council, 2000).

A technology supporting the property regime must build a black box not comprehensible to the smartest user, and convenient to operate for users with the lowest possible skill. Users must be deprived of their technological knowledge that grants them control over the product, or else they will bypass the security systems [34].

One suggested strategy to prevent circumvention is to bind software in hardware devices and thereby introduce a material component to the immaterial goods. Such devices would have to be designed for special purposes (one machine for playing games, one for reading books and so on) to oppose the generality and flexibility of the personal computer that provides the user with autonomy over her actions.

The future outcome of security systems will be resolved in present conflict. When Napster was closed down by legal action from the recoding industry, and then turned into a commercial outlet, two new file-sharing programs, Freenet and Gnutella, immediately replaced it [35]. Unlike Napster, these programmes are not dependent on any central server, and thus there are no central administration to put pressure on (Markoff, 2000). May doubts that security systems will be viable because of the rapid pace of technological development and interest among stray capitalists not depending on copyright but profiting from selling devices that enable copying [36]. Oz Shy remarks that: "It is interestingly to note that these devices generally produce side effects that reduce the quality of originals and copies and therefore their value for consumers" [37]. However, with state coordination backing the common interest of the property regime, law will urge stray capitalists to fall back in line [38]. Pressure by the record industry convinced the manufacturers of digital audio tape (DAT) to install a chip that restricted copying (Samuelson, 1996a).

It appears as if capital increasingly will rely on technology to regulate social behaviour in general. In this power struggle resistance must increasingly be fought with technological skills. It is in this context that the hacker community and the Free Software Movement are critical. It is time to examine the other side of the conflict.



History of the Free Software Movement

One could argue, like Bruce Sterling, that cyberspace emerged 1876 with the telephone. The heritage of the hacker community could then be traced back to boys employed as phone operators, but soon replaced with more reliable, female employees because of frequent mischief. The hacker community grew directly out of the American anarchist movement of the 60's that practised ripping off the system as a strategy of civil disobedience. In the following decade some evolved into phone phreaks, a subculture specialised in tapping phone lines and other high-tech petty theft. Ripping off the system was so convenient that it out-lived the anarchist ideology; increasingly the drive of phone phreaks was the empowering rush of mastering technology (Sterling, 1994).

It was in the 60's when the U.S. military funded research that eventually led to the invention of the Internet. The Internet initially resided in military and academic circles and eventually spread to phone phreaks through students and dropouts. University campuses became a main breeding ground for developments in the functionality of the Internet. Operating software was developed in academic settings, primarily at Berkeley and MIT, and in major corporate research facilities like the Bell Labs where the researchers had considerable autonomy. These early computer users largely created programs for their own needs and for the needs of their colleagues; consulting each other was an essential part of the learning process. When Usenet was developed in 1979, programmers were linked together in a network, which further encouraged sharing (Lerner and Tirole, 2000). Essential to file sharing was softwares secondary status relative to the computer. Software was a by-product; it was the machines that encapsulated the real costs. When software became more valued than hardware, the institutions demanded control over its distribution.

In response to this efforts toward control, Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation in 1985. The Foundation was based on a software toolbox, GNU, which is now the backbone of the free programming community. Maybe of even greater importance was the invention of the General Public License, also known as copyleft [39]. GPL is applicable everywhere where copyright is used; books, images, and music are released under this license [40].

The diffusion of the Internet in the early 90s spurred the movement and realized its greatest accomplishment, Linux. The program is the biggest and most widely recognised free software project and is of particular significance. Being an operating system, Linux is of relevance to a wide range of computer applications. And of major symbolical importance, Linux is challenging Microsoft's key product, Windows. Linux is based on the efforts of at least 3,000 major contributors of code, scattered over 90 countries and five continents. Even in the highly organised and hierarchical corporate sector, it is hard to find engineering developments comparable in size and geographical reach to that undertaken by the Linux project (Moon and Sproull, 2000).

Today free source programs dominate several computer applications. For example, a program for Web servers, Apache, holds 50% of the web serving market while the largest commercial operator, Microsoft, has merely 20% [41]. Another proof of its success is that highly demanding users prefer free source code. Fermilab, the high-energy physics laboratory, that chose Linux to run their computers, partly to reduce costs, and partly because free software allowed them more control [42]. To some developing countries, free software offers an affordable alternative in the course of developing an information infrastructure (Bezroukov, 1999a).

The current trend is a growing engagement with the computer underground by corporations. Sections of the hacker community seem interested in including business in the community. They believe that capital investments and the respectability of corporations could benefit free software and help diffuse it into the mainstream. In 1998, Open Source was launched, a more business-friendly licensing scheme. The Open Source offensive has been successful in attracting large multinational corporations. IBM and Oracle support Open Source projects financially, and Netscape supplies its Web browser with the source code (DiBona et al., 1999).



Strengths of Free Software

In "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", Eric Raymond compares two opposed styles of software development, the cathedral model of commercial programming and the bazaar model of free/open software programming. In the bazaar model, anyone with Internet access and programming skills can be engaged in the process. Thus, a zero-budget free software project often involves more working hours from skilled programmers than a big corporation could afford. The large number of beta-testers and co-developers is a major advantage because it critically speeds up the time of identifying and fixing bugs. To fully utilise the feedback from the users, bazaar-model versions are released frequently, in extreme cases with one new version every day, and improvements are made continuously. In contrast, upgrades of cathedral-style software cannot be released before long periods of testing to ensure that all bugs are removed. In the end free/open software will triumph, Raymond attests; "[...] because the commercial world cannot win an evolutionary arms race with open-source communities that can put orders of magnitude more skilled time into a problem" The high innovation rate of free software has been stressed by many others and is one reason for recent interest by companies in the movement (DiBona et al., 1999).

However, Raymonds paper has been criticised by some as being simplistic. The free software community is not as pluralistic as it appears. First mover advantage is strong, maybe even stronger than in commercial developments, because a successful project tends to cannibalise similar projects. One such case is the BSD Unix that effectively was absorbed by the success of Linux. Neither does the egalitarian outlook withstand facts; ego is an important motivation and status hierarchies within the community the organising principle. Power relations based on reputation, contacts, shrewdness and technical skill play an important role in directing any free software development. The anarchic ideal is further compromised by the dependency of free software developments on a core group of chieftains and/or a charismatic leader heading the project (Bezroukov, 1999b). One survey found that the top 10% producers of free software programs contribute 72.3% of the total code base, with a further disproportion at the top (Ghosh and Prakash, 2000). Relevant as these objections are, they leave us with explaining how Linux and other free software projects have come to outperform commercial million-dollar equivalents.

A reasonable expectation of an anarchic mode of software production is that it eventually must balkanise. Not at all, Young insists, it is the other way around. In property developments innovations are kept enclosed, and as commercial projects develop they diverge from each other. "In Linux the pressure is reverse. If one Linux supplier adopts an innovation that becomes popular in the market, the other Linux vendors will immediately adopt that innovation. This is because they have access to the source code of that innovation and it comes under a license that allows them to use it ... This is part of the power of Open Source: it creates this kind of unifying pressure to conform to a common reference point - in effect, an open standard - and removes the intellectual property barriers that would otherwise inhibit this convergence" [43].

Oz Shy also touches upon comparability although from a completely different angle. His argument is that the market will force the software industry itself to decommission copyright on their products. According to what is known as the 'network externalities assumption', networks gets more valuable the more nodes it includes. The ideal model of this logic is the language; it becomes more useful the greater the number that speaks it. Users desire compability and not excludability. "Producing unprotected software increases the total number of users, since all consumers who were excluded from the market by not wanting to pay for the software now becomes users, thereby increasing the value of the software" [44]. The firm can thus charge a higher price for the software than it otherwise could. No doubt the increased payment that is charged is traded off from the number of customers that will stop paying. But institutions, companies and universities will always be paying customers. Therefore Oz concludes that "in a software industry in which all firms protect their software, a software firm can increase its profit by removing the copy protection from its software" [45].

Oz's expectation that the market in its own right will adjust to consumer demand of comparability is naive. The common interest of corporations to maintain intellectual property rights extends narrow market analysis. However, Oz's reasoning applies neatly to the non-market existence of free software, which in turn puts pressure on the commercial products on the market. Free software has an immense advantage over property software in not having any economic barriers to entry, and in the low technological threshold that allows amateurs to engage in it actively.



The Ideology of Hacking

Earlier I have stressed that as command increasingly is executed through technology, resistance must become technological too. The hacker community is positioned at the forefront of this contested field. Unfortunately, radical theory often overlooks the potential of free software and hacking, the Internet is credited solely as a mobilising tool for traditional protest movements.

The hacker movement is a political project. Like the activity of many 'alternative' subcultures that are not directly defined by their political engagement, "the struggles are at once economic, political, and cultural - and hence they are biopolitical struggles, struggles over the form of life. They are constituent struggles, creating new public spaces and new forms of community" [46]. The chief uniting and mobilising force for the hacker underground is the common enemy of Microsoft (Bezroukov, 1999a). Opposition to Microsoft draws both from socialist anarchistic principles, and from high-tech libertarianism. The rightwing drift, dubbed as the Californian Ideology, is a recent transition, and not surprising given the hegemonic dominance of the corporate sector in the United States and the greater stakes in free software for business. However, it runs counter to the roots of hacking, which essentially is a reaction against Taylorism (Hannemyr, 1999). Basic motivations to engage in free programming are the rush of technological empowerment (Sterling, 1994), the joy of un-alienated creativity (Moglen, 1999), and the sense of belonging to a community (commonly recognised by hackers themselves as 'ego', but reputation only viable within a group of peers, i.e. a community). Those values may not seem political at first sight, but they are on collision course with the commercial agenda of turning the Internet into a marketplace. The rising tension within the hacker community are illuminated by the words of Manuel Castells: "The struggle between diverse capitalists and miscellaneous working class is subsumed into the more fundamental opposition between the bare logic of capital flows and the cultural values of human experience" [47].

A prerequisite of free programming is that those involved are sustained outside of market relations. Hackers are generally supported financially in diverse ways - by their parents, as students living on grants, as dropouts getting by on social benefits, or even employees within computer companies - and their existence is linked to the burgeoning material surplus of informational capitalism [48].

The interest in a 'gift economy' and abundance in hacker philosophy parallels the concept of 'social surplus' that is a cornerstone of classic Marxist thought. Social surplus is defined as the material wealth produced in society above the level required by the direct producers of that wealth [49]. However, the surplus wealth is appropriated by non-producers, and therein lays the origin of the class society [50]. Post-scarcity champions tend to neglect the power relations in society that act upon material abundance.

A recent study shows that the most frequent contributors to Open Source, in relation to their population, are social democratic north European countries, while the activity in the United States in relative numbers are surprisingly low [51]. Paradoxically, Britain and the Commonwealth are less involved in free programming than countries on the European continent, despite that the operative language is English (Lancashire, 2001). Lancashire alleges that the low engagement in free software in the U.S. (in relative, not absolute, numbers) disproves notions on post-scarcity gift-economies, because the U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world. His conclusion is flawed because he too fails to take into account the distribution of the wealth. Quite to the contrary, the study supports a connection between general welfare systems and commitment to non-commercial projects. Therefore the hacker movement is political in a second sense. The thriving of the free software community is embedded in a wider political context of redistribution, even when hackers do not take direct part in that struggle.



Capital and Community

The antagonism between free software and property software can be questioned when recalling that big corporations are now backing Open Source. There are even companies, Cygnus and Red Hat being the most prominent, whose business models are founded entirely on free software. Is this just another example of what Schumpeter labelled capitalism's 'creative destruction', where young new enterprises challenge and replace old business practices? That is the view of many reformist critics of copyright. Pamela Samuelson discounts the copyright industries as "dinosaurs of the Second Wave" [52], suggesting that their lobbying for copyright protection is isolated and ultimately doomed.

To confront this position, we have to examine how companies exploit free software. Robert F. Young, Chairman of Red Hat, explains that his company persuades customers to buy software that they can have for free, through branding. Users prefer to pay Red Hat as it provides them with a sense of reliability. This irrational but non-coercive source of income, Young adds in a critical comment, generates only a fraction of the profit of property software. Corporations established in a property software regime would be stupid to decommission copyright, unless forced to (Young in DiBona et al., 1999).

Supporting Oz's prediction, major companies utilise Open Source if a market leader, usually Microsoft, monopolises the market. Other companies have little to lose; instead they can enlarge profits in other ways, such as distributing software to promote sales of hardware or sell supportive services. But since the profits are inferior, I propose this to be a secondary choice to the preferred one, having property monopoly themselves; and therefore that corporate engagement in free software prerequisites an existing monopoly.

Companies like Netscape are attracted to free software, Open Source proponents exclaim, for the innovative capacity of the community. Another way to put it, lost to would-be Open Source revolutionaries, is that companies seek to slash labour costs [53]. If companies are allowed to tap the unpaid, innovative labour of the community, inhouse and waged labour will be pushed out by the market imperative to cut down on personnel expenses. Inevitably, the employment and wage situation for software programmers, the livelihood of many in the free software community, will be dumped [54]. The dangers of not making a critical analysis could not be demonstrated more clearly.

Certainly then, there are contradictory interests between the two sides, not originating so much from the formal activity (free or closed software), but from its agents (communal or commercial). If communities become direct producers of value for capital, an antagonist relationship similar to the one between capital and labour should be expected to emerge [55]. Though this is not the place to develop this thought further, I suggest one central point of struggle. Conflicts are likely to evolve around the control, accessibility, and flow of profit allowed by the license especially as companies try to maximise the distance between the free labour pools engaged in any project while narrowing the conditions of use of the result [56].

What reformist critics of copyright like Pamela Samuelson miss is that the sectors troubled by unauthorised copying are not entrenched, 'Second Wave' dinosaurs. On the contrary, the contradiction of intellectual property strikes at the heart of the 'Third Wave' industries, the core of the future economy, whether it is multimedia entertainment, software producers, biomedical conglomerates or other industries based on cutting-edge science. To put it in a catchphrase, we are not witnessing a death struggle, but preparations for birth. It is not a last stand of singular, entrenched capitalists, but the coordinated will of the universal capitalist class, backed by the capitalist state. Intellectual property seeks to establish the necessary conditions for sustaining a market exchange economy of the future, as opposed to an economy based on free gifts. It is daft to believe that multinational corporations would broadly support counter-strategies against this agenda, other than incidentally when they stand to profit from 'crossing the line'. In the last section I will bring in historical materialism to outline the likely conflict.



The Fettering of the General Intellect

Marx's brief notes on 'general intellect' are explored by a contemporary school of radical thinkers known as Autonomist Marxist [57]. The free software community provides the first and most complete example of how a collective learning process, communication, or the general intellect, becomes a producing entity in itself. Code is essentially a language, and thus offers a pure model of the network externalities assumption. That assumption, stating that comparability rules over excludability, is a consequence of non-rival goods, because "everyone takes far more out of the Internet than they can ever give away as an individual", so enforcing equal exchange would hurt everyone (Barbrook, 1998). Self-interest ensures an 'economy of gifts' [58] as opposed to exchange.

The strengths of gift economies in organising immaterial social labour is suggested by academic research, which for most part has been structured on a reward system independent of market demands (Shavell and Ypersele, 1999). In the last three decades scientific research has rapidly become privatised [59] through patents and the transition of funding from governments to the corporate sector (Nelkin, 1984). Robinson summed up the paradoxical existence of property-based research: "The justification for the patent system is that by slowing down diffusion of technological progress it ensures that there will be more progress to diffuse... Since it is rooted in a contradiction, there can be no such thing as an ideally beneficial patent system [...]" [60]. In the case of the computer industries, a MIT study suggests that after it became common practice in the sector to enforce patents, innovation in the industry slowed down [61]. Of course, capitalism has never worked optimally even when measured with its own narrow benchmark. For example, companies have occasionally suppressed new technologies to ensure resource dependency (Dunford, 1987). But if the prediction is correct that "[...] specific to the informational mode of development is the action of knowledge upon knowledge itself as the main source of productivity" [62], - that is, research and innovation becomes the heart of the economy - then we are justified to ask; "[...] what happens when the friction becomes the machine?" (DeLong and Froomkin, 2000).

It is now plausible to claim, that the intellectual property regime has become a Development Fetter to the emerging forces of production. It is also a Use Fetter, as in the case when poor people in the Third World are denied life-saving drugs, which could be supplied for a negligible cost (Bailey, 2001), but are withhold in order to preserve the exchange value and commodity form of the medicine.

Social labour is making inroads within capitalist production itself, which needs to utilize the cooperative and communicative capacity of the workforce in order to stay competitive [63]. Without the coordinating function, capital loses dominance over labour, which leads Lyon to muse: "The question is, what will happen when workers, with all their new responsibilities for quality, ask why management is needed at all? Holding on to the means of surveillance is the only remaining basis of power that managers have over their workers" [64].

However, the distinguishing and most promising feature of free software is that it has mushroomed spontaneously and entirely outside of previous capital structures of production. It has built a parallel economy that outperforms the market economy. This can be taken as an indication of how the productive forces are undermining established relations of production.



From Property to Licenses - Change in the Relations of Production?

Now when historical materialism has proved to be functional in describing the evolving forces of production and the fettering of those forces, we are required to examine the accuracy of its prediction that the relations of production are affected too [65]. Since the rise of capitalism, ownership assigned to private property has been the primary vehicle to enforce 'effective power'. Arguably, there is a shift today from property to leases, as the dominant form of control over the means of production. The ascendancy of leasing is evident not only in the information sector, but is equally potent in agriculture and manufacturing. Take the fast food industry for example. Small units of self-owning producers run most of the supply chain, from the farmer to the franchised outlet. Capital does not own the installations per se, but still reap the lion's share by commanding the license, whether it is a brand, patent, or a copyright - different incarnations of the intellectual property regime. There are some real advantages on the production side to capital in transcending the property regime: "In a world of increasing competition, more diversified products and services, and shorter product life-cycles, companies stay on top by controlling finance and distribution channels while pushing off onto smaller entities the burden of ownership and management of physical assets" [66].

Similarly, incentives exist on the consumption side to replace ownership with licenses: "This is the main disadvantage for knowledge producers in relying on a form of property regime. By allowing that the product can be sold, and thus owned, the owner becomes a rights holder (even if these rights are secondary and circumscribed in relation to the intellectual property's reproduction) and has legally legitimate rights regarding the use of such property to their private ends" [67]. This leads Christopher May to a drastic proposal. The knowledge that capital claims as intellectual property is often appropriated from communities in the first place, whether it is software made by hackers or crops that has been cultivated by generations of farmers. A strategy to fight corporate piracy would be to acknowledge the property rights status of specific communities. This strategy is essentially the route taken by the Free Software Foundation and copyleft. The line is not drawn between property and licenses, but between opposing forms of licenses, one supporting a proprietary regime and the other a communal. Who will prevail? Recalling historical materialism, one of its foundation states that "the class which rules through a period, or emerges triumphant after epochal conflict, is the class best suited, most able, and disposed, to preside over the development of the productive forces at the given time" [68].




Marxism offers a theoretical framework to analyse the contradictions inherent in the current intellectual property regime. The success of free software in out-performing commercial software is a showcase of the productive force of the general intellect, foreseen by Marx 150 years ago. It underpins the claim by Autonomist Marxists that production is becoming intensively social, and supports their case of a rising mismatch between collective labour power and an economy based on private property.

The productivity of social labour power impels corporations to subjugate the activity of communities. But here rouses a contradiction to capital, on one hand it prospers from the technologically skilled, unpaid, social labour of users; on the other hand it must suppress the knowledge power of those users to protect the intellectual property regime. To have it both ways, capital can only rely on its hegemonic force. It is to this cause that the cheerleaders of the Californian Ideology so readily line up to serve. Initially, ideological confusion is caused by capital's experimentations to exploit the labour power and idealism of collectives (Open Source licenses being a case in point), which makes the demarcation line between friend and foe harder to draw. But for every successful 'management' of social cooperation to boost profits, other parts of the community will be radicalised and pitched into the conflict. Inevitable, communities will turn into hotbeds of counter-hegemonic resistance.

It is here that Marxism has its role to play as a toolbox of critical analysis and ideological awareness. Ultimately, the direction of history is not reducible to emerging productive forces, conveniently mapped out by historical materialism, but is contested and resolved in struggles between social actors. In this struggle the hacker movement is important, I stress, because they can challenge capital's domination over technological development. End of article


About the Author

Johan Söderberg is currently finishing his second degree in Illustration at the Falmouth College of Arts, England. The material for this article draws from several years of research and will eventually be part of a book on the subject.


Recommended Reading

I would like to recommend four books for further reading.

To get a comprehensive, well-researched overview on contemporary Marxist's response to the Information Age, Nick Dyer-Witheford's book Cyber-Marx, Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High-Technology Capitalism (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1999) is what you are looking for. It is available on the Internet at

Lawrence Lessig in his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (New York: Basic Books, 1999) offers a convincing argument of why and how information technology can be transformed from its present, anarchistic state into a mechanism for regulation and surveillance.

The most informed writer I have come across who directly addresses hacking issues from a radical perspective, is Richard Barbrook. His texts are easy to find on the Internet.

In addition, I would like to promote Lewis Mumford, whose works from the 30s are still stunning in their actuality and perceptiveness.



1. Attributed to Bill Gates, according to James Wallace, Overdrive: Bill Gates and the Race to Control Cyberspace, (New York: Wiley, 1997), p. 266; quoted by Barbook (1998); see also J.S. Kelly, 2000. "Opinion: Is free software communist?" at, accessed 4 March 2002, which notes that "That infamous assertion is often attributed to Bill Gates, although to be fair he claims he never made it."

2. Wright, Levine, and Sober, 1992, p. 11.

3. Marx's writings on the subject are sketchy, and opinions among contemporary Marxists differ on what he really meant. I will follow the authoritative, orthodox interpretation of historical materialism as G. Cohen defined it in his book Karl Marxs Theory of History: a Defence.

4. "Beyond a certain point, the development of the powers of production becomes a barrier for capital; hence the capital relation a barrier for the development of the productive powers of labour. When it has reached this point, capital, i.e. wage labour, enters into the same relation towards the development of social wealth and of the forces of production as the guild system, serfdom, slavery, and is necessarily stripped off as a fetter." Marx, 1993, p. 749.

5. Castells, 1996, volume I, p. 478.

6. Wright, Levine, and Sober, 1992, p. 37.

7. Cohen, 2000, p. 331.

8. The origin of the word 'patent' is equally intriguing It derives from 'letters patent', open letters granted by European sovereigns to conquer foreign lands or to obtain import monopolies; see Shiva, 2000.

9. Advocated by Baran and Sweezy as criticized by Shiller in Mosco and Wasko, 1988.

10. Braverman, 1998, p. 133, italics in original.

11. Expansionism (imperialism) is driven by capital's simultaneous need to push back labour costs (wages) while refining the production capacity. Consumer markets in the capitalist nations, consisting of workers, are thus unable to absorb the increased output of goods and a market outside the capitalist area is required to solve the crisis of overproduction. But as soon as the outside is engaged it becomes internalised into the capitalist economy and the search starts for a new 'outside'. For a comprehensive overview of capitalist expansionism, see Hardt and Negri, 2000, p. 221 ff. Rosa Luxemburg predicted that capitals infinite expansion would collapse when confronted with the finite boundaries of earth (Ibid., p. 228). Hardt and Negri propose that globalisation is this point where the whole outside has been internalised, but instead of collapsing "capital no longer looks outside but rather inside its domain, and this expansion is thus intensive rather than extensive" (Ibid., p. 272). The intensive expansion is the colonisation of culture.

12. Robins and Webster in Mosco and Wasko, 1988, pp. 65 and 66.

13. Dyer-Witheford, 1999, p. 180.

14. Arguably, Ivan Illich might have considered the personal computer to be a potential tool of conviviality; Illich, 1973, p. 22:

"Tools foster conviviality to the extent to which they can be easily used, by anybody, as often or as seldom as desired, for the accomplishment of a purpose chosen by the user. The use of such tools by one person does not restrain another from using them equally. They do not require previous certification of the user. Their existence does not impose any obligation to use them. They allow the user to express his meaning in action."

As an example of a convivial tool, Illich mentions the telephone.

15. Dyer-Witheford, 1999, p. 72.

16. Marx, 1993, pp. 704-705.

17. Bo Göransson and I have further explored this approach in a paper yet to be published.

18. In Dosi et al., 1988.

19. Hardt and Negri, 2001, p. 298.

20. Marx, 1990, pp. 106-107.

21. Hardt and Negri, 2001, p. 285.

22. Jefferson quoted in Barlow, 1994, at, accessed 4 March 2002.

23. May, 2000, p. 42.

24. The privatising of information will have wide-ranging consequences. Science is dependent on commercial interests (Nelkin, 1984), as well as the education system (Noble, 1998). Cultural expressions are expropriated and branded (Klein, 1999). New inequalities will be created in the accessibility to information (Rifkin, 2000). And surveillance becomes necessary to guard immaterial property, the means made available by the computer revolution (Lyon, 1994).

25. Anarchists in the midst of the consumer society foresaw this contradiction already in the purely material sphere. "A century ago, scarcity had to be endured; today, it has to be enforced - hence the importance of the state in the present era"; Bookchin, 1977, p. 37.

26. Lessig, 1999, p. 88.

27. See the EuroLinux Alliance, at, accessed 4 March 2002.

28. See accessed 4 March 2002.

29. May, 2000, p. 72.

30. The efforts made by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to 'educate' the public, borders at times on the absurd. For example 26 April, according to WIPO, is the World Intellectual Property Day, "an opportunity to highlight the significance of creativity and innovation in people's daily lives and in the betterment of society"; see, accessed 4 March 2002.

31. Bettig, 1997, p. 140, my emphasis.

32. Lessig, 1999, p. 126.

33. Gail L. Grant, quoted in Lessig, 1999, p. 40.

34. Operation Sundevil, a nationwide law enforcement campaign in U.S., directed against the hacker community (Sterling, 1994), should be seen in this light. However, direct repression against highly skilled users plays only a minor though complementary part in the agenda of securing the system from independent subjects. Its real momentum lies in lessening the skill level demanded of the average user, as is expressed in the deceitful phrase 'user-friendly technology'.

35. One crucial difficulty to the I.P. agenda was identified by Scott in "Copyright in a Frictionless World": "[...] [A] large part of infringement is being shifted from profit making activities to cost reducing activities. Where before a copyright holder may have had a distributor who was selling tens of thousands of copies of a work, nowadays that distributor has been replaced by tens of thousands of individuals all acquiring a single copy of that work from perhaps disparate information sources. ... There are simply too many targets, no one which is worth pursuing." This reflection is only reassuring if we assume that regulating tens of thousands of individuals is an impossible feat. If we fear that computers provide such capabilities, this is precisely the reason why strong incentives exist to create a fine-grated, full-scale panopticon.

36. May, 2000, p. 147.

37. In Kahin et al., 2000, p. 97.

38. "In the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Congress made it a felony to write and sell software that circumvents copyright management schemes"; Lessig, 1999, p. 49.

39. "Copyleft uses copyright law, but flips it over to serve the opposite purpose: instead of a means of privatising software, it becomes a means of keeping software free"; Richard Stallman, in DiBona, Ockman and Stone, 1999, p. 59.

40. The latest experiment involving copyleft is Open-Cola, a soft drink supplied with its recipe. Another novel initiative is the encyclopaedia Wikipedia, which is written and edited in an Open Source manner (Lawton, 2002). Moglen stated that news reporting is the next area where anarchy will triumph, because the media conglomerates "[...] with their overpaid pretty people and their massive technical infrastructure, are about the only organizations in the world that cant afford to be everywhere all the time:quot;; Moglen, 1999, p. 17. The start-up of independent media centres, global networks where everyone is able to report local news, confirms this prediction; see, accessed 4 March 2002.

41. DiBona et al., 1999, p. 9.

42. See, accessed 4 March 2002, and Young in DiBona et al., 1999, p. 119.

43. Young in DiBona et al., 1999, p. 124.

44. Shy in Kahin and Varian, 2000, p. 105.

45. Op. cit., p. 108.

46. Hardt and Negri, 2000, p. 56.

47. Castells, 1996, volume I, p. 476. The fact that parts of the Open Source community do profit from their (or others) efforts does not disclaim the existence of a 'conflict of interests', any more than blacklegs and informants prove that capital and labour live in harmonious marriage. Just as there always will be some that abandon their convictions for personal rewards, the antagonistic relationship guarantees that others are radicalised and will 'join ranks'.

48. Mumford wrote in 1934 that widows, orphans and 'prudent sedentary people' constituted a rentier class independent of the wage labour relation, and this class contributed for a disproportionate part of the societies' cultural production; "[...] indeed, the small incomes of the rentier classes have been an obvious help in the arts and sciences to their recipients: a Milton, a Shelley, a Darwin, a Ruskin existed by such grace [...]" and "the extension of this system to the community as a whole is what I mean by basic communism"; Mumford, 1986, p. 151.

49. Cohen distinguishes four historical stages based on the quantity of surplus that the society generates. "At the first stage, productive power is too meagre to enable a class of non-producers to live off the labour of producers." This epoch of history is sometimes thought of as 'primitive communism'. "In the second stage of material development, a surplus appears, of a size sufficient to support an exploiting class, but not large enough to sustain a capitalist accumulation process." This stage comprises slave and feudal societies. "At stage 3 the surplus has become generous enough to make capitalism possible. It then grows still further until it becomes so massive that capitalism becomes untenable, and the fourth and final social form, which is non-primitive communism, the modern classless society, emerges"; Cohen, 2000, pp. 364-365.

50. "The course of social development is by no means that because one individual has satisfied his need he then proceeds to create a superfluity for himself; but rather because one individual or class of individuals is forced to work more than required for the satisfaction of its need - because surplus labour is on one side, therefore not-labour and surplus wealth are posited on the other. In reality the development of wealth exists only in these opposites: in potentiality, its development is the possibility of the suspension of these opposites"; Marx, 1993, p. 401, italics in original.

51. Part of the explanation to this paradox, offered by David Lancashire and to which I concede, is that the software industry is bigger in the U.S. and more likely to requite Open Source programmers.

52. Samuelson, 1996b, p. 191. In this case 'the Second Wave' refers to the futurist Alvin Toffler's (1980) three waves of agriculture, manufacture and information.

53. "And yet there is no denying that the very communities so quick to celebrate the Open Source movement have in the past been those quickest to "cash-in" on the phenomenon. Slashdot is part of the Open Source Developers Network (OSDN), and it is hardly coincidental that the site cheerleads for sister company Sourceforge when the stock price of the parent company VA Linux swings with the productivity of unpaid developers"; Lancashire, 2001.

54. Lancashire's observation that geography matters in terms of where Open Source programming takes place, and that in the United States with its cutting-edge computer industry, code writers tend to be absorbed into the commercial sector, actualises a different concern. If predominantly American firms, and to a secondary degree European, embark on a model of tapping the free labour power of global communities, while to some extent paying in-house labour back home, it could add another pipeline of resources from the poor nations to the powerful ones.

55. Indeed, many Marxists would repel this claim, but it is a central concept in Autonomist Marxist thinking. "The organization of the cycle of production of immaterial labor [...] is not defined by the four walls of a factory. The location in which it operates is outside in the society at large [...]"; Lazzarato in Virno and Hardt, 1996, p. 136. Thus, all activities in society become " [...] subject to capitalist discipline and capitalist relations of production. This fact of being within capital and sustaining capital is what defines the proletariat as a class"; Hardt and Negri, 2000, p. 53.

56. The split between GPL and Open Source licensing is a case in point of business demands rewriting the conditions of community activity to better fit with their requirements. Joe Barr writes that GPL is the prime target of whispering campaigns because it is not corruptible. "Why does Microsoft care about these differences in open source Licenses? Well, they have made good use of code from the various BSD projects. Because the BSD licenses are not "copyleft" licenses, anyone is welcome to use their code and "lock it up" behind their own closed, proprietary licenses"; Barr, 2001, "Live and let license,", accessed 4 March 2002.

57. "Today productivity, wealth, and the creation of social surpluses take the form of cooperative interactivity through linguistic, communicational, and affective networks"; Hardt and Negri, 1999, p. 294.

58. The phrase 'gift economy' was first used by Marsel Mauss (1988) to describe the economical organisation of pre-capitalist societies. Later situationists adopted the term in their criticism of the alienation in capitalist society (Debord, 1992). The gift economy has been actualised anew by the hacker community as captured in the phrase 'information wants to be free'. The term 'gift economy' is not entirely applicable since the central function of a gift is the personal obligation it imposes. It would therefore be more appropriate to speak of a 'library model' (Frow, 1996), however I will use the term 'gift economy' since it has become customary.

59. Marx anticipated this development, and wrote "[...] It is, firstly, the analysis and application of mechanical and chemical laws, arising directly out of science, which enables the machine to perform the same labour as that previously performed by the worker ... Innovation then becomes a business, and the application of science to direct production itself becomes a prospect which determines and solicits it"; Marx, 1993, p. 704.

60. Robinson, quoted in Nelkin, 1984, p. 15.

61. Bessen and Maskin, 2000, pp. 2-3.

62. Castells, 1996, volume I, p. 17.

63. "[...] the cycle of immaterial labor takes as its starting point a social labor power that is independent and able to organize both its own work and its relation with business entities"; Lazzarato in Virno and Hardt, 1996, p. 137.

64. Lyon, 1994, p. 133.

65. Relations of production is "[...] relations of effective power over persons and productive forces [...]"; Cohen, 2000, p. 63.

66. Rifkin, 2000, p. 27.

67. May, 2000 p. 139.

68. Cohen, 2000, p. 149.



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Editorial history

Paper received 14 February 2002; accepted 26 February 2002.

Copyright ©2002, First Monday

Copyleft vs. Copyright: A Marxist critique by Johan Söderberg
First Monday, Volume 7 Number 3 - 4 March 2002