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Ten theses in favor of free download of cultural goods on the Internet (by Enrique G. Gallegos)

This is one of the days where reading my everyday newspaper was worth more than just getting bitter at the news. I found this text in La Jornada, my usual newspaper. I liked it very much, and decided to translate it for a wider audience. Of course, if you can read Spanish, do yourself a favor and go to the original. It is not that the text is so easy to translate. And, after all, I’m not a native English writer.

I’m trying to do a literal translation, even when disagreeing with the author.

Ten theses in favor of free download of cultural goods on the Internet

Enrique G. Gallegos — Poet and philosopher. Currently a researcher in Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-C

  1. Historical legacy. Criticists who promote the persecution of piracy and free downloads of cultural works from the Internet argue that the patrimonial rights have been wronged; they start off suposing that a cultural work is formed from a historical void, as if there was a "nothing" to begin with, and then a "something" appeared. Nothing more fallacious: All cultural products has its precedents, and thanks to these it generates part of its best forces.
  2. Opening towards the future. Human beings are projected into the future. As the main philosophies of the 20th century have explored, one of the singular characteristics of mankind is the ability to think and imagine the future. Products of culture are the best ways to think and project society, politics, love, hope, needs, failures… A song, a poem, an essay, can trigger imaginary worlds with a transformative potential. To deny this to humanity with "patrimonial damage" as an argument is to mutilate man's temporal nature.
  3. Recognition of the present. Cultural works generate moments of reflection, criticism and pleasure; they can trigger actions demanding commitment, solidarity and strong indignation against injustice. If every cultural work is adscribed in some way to a historic tradition, and if cultural products anre necessary to imagine other possible worlds and open our future, it's not less true that they also allow us to recognize our present by making us more sensitive to others' ideas, sensations and emotions. Without culture, there is no present nor others' presence.
  4. Divulgation of the cultural heritage. If culture is "heritage of mankind", it should be also spread by any possible way. But not just spread, but actively sought for the biggest number of people to be able to effectively have access to it. In a potentially interconnected world, Internet is the most adequate world for it (despite its limitations). Therefore, penalizing free downloads means avoiding spreading it and restricting access to those groups who don't have enough economic resources.
  5. Preserving cultural heritage. If we agree that cultural works are heritage of mankind, we need to take every action needed to preserve them. But preserving culture does not only mean keeping the products in museums, galleries or never-polluted drawers; it rather means to keep them in the collective memory and in the flow of constant interpretations and appropiations. Said in other words, the genuine way to preserve culture is to allow universal access to cultural goods. That's why, holding that free copies and downloads of books, music, videos, etc. over the Internet are harmful, is an incompatible argument with the obligation to preserve cultural heritage.
  6. They are not goods. Cultural works are material and spiritual manifestations of mankind, concretions of its historicity; they are, also, expressions of emotions, ideas and projections of other lives and other worlds. That's why they cannot be equated to goods or inserted in patrimonialist logic. The market might want to cheat by giving a certain price to a painting by Orozco or auctioning a Baudelaire manuscript, but it will never be able to aprehend their true meaning as cultural works. And it's not that culture is not faluable, but taht its estimation criteria do not follow the rules of market, but those of the imponderable and unlimited.
  7. Price disproportion. Assuming we accept the possibility that intermediaries charge for the services they perform, the value of a book, record or movie should never exceed the daily wage of a worker or employee. But this ellection would only be one more option within the effective possibility that people opt to download or freely copy the cultural work. The final decision as to which media to go to should be a sovereign resolution of the culture-interested person.
  8. The principle of the most benefit. Even when copies and free downloads over Internet could generate a patrimonial "wrong" to third parties, the cultural benefit obtained by it will always be greater in as much that it carries out intensely the principle to foster, spread and access the cultural heritage of mankind. To think otherwise is to privilege the few over the many.
  9. The real evil is elsewhere. Murder, women- and children-trade, poverty and misery are the real evils that ache mankind. According to the United Nations, in 2010 there were 468 thousand murders in the world; the estimation is that 3500 million people live in poverty; in their 2009 inform, the UN found over 2400 victims of "people trade", kidnapped as sex slaves; in some regions in Africa, close to 30% of children suffer acute malnutrition and six people (between children and adults) die every day from hunger. That's why pretending that free download of cultural works is an evil is clearly a tricky and deceptive speech
  10. Against the intermediary-salesman. Culture does not need intermedieries that reduce cultural works to goods. Culture is too important to leavie it in the hands of salespeople that simplistly equate cultural goods with cakes. An intermediary of this kind will never understand the difference between a work of art and a disposable razor blade. What the world needs is more support from the government from every country to artists, creators and poets, as well as ensuring the conditions for the absolute mobility freedom for cultural works.


andreas 2012-08-02 23:17:00

A distinction between free and non-free culture has to be made

1.,2.,3. The author first looks both ways in time, into the past and the future, claiming due to historic cultural heritage intellectual property is non-existent and forbidding using other people’s intellectual property will limit their ability to make up a bright future for themselves. Then he tries to apply the same idea to the present, claiming, we need culture to enjoy our present lives and live them in sensitive ways. It is rubbish to claim stolen illusions would add real value to people’s lives. 4.There is the distinction missing here between free cultural goods, that can be downloaded legally. And cultural goods that can not be downloaded freely without committing intellectual Theft. People who do not have enough economical resources to be able to afford the cultural goods, they would like to consume, in most cases do not even have a computer and internet-access.

  1. Not true either. It is simply not necessery to spread non-free contents over the internet in order to preserve them. Public libraries can do this job very well, no digitalisation is mandatory, no mass-distribution either.
  2. It is true that the real essential meaning of a cultural work can not always be adequately expressed in a value of money, but it is the right of the author to preserve the right of use of his product for himself or herself and sell it to interested parties.
  3. It may take the author much more time than one day of work in order to produce a cultural good. Not every product is so mass-compatible, it can be given away at the price of the wage of one day’s work of the consumer, economical inequalities around the globe do play a role in this context.
  4. It is a reality in todays world, that few are priviledged over many, it does not make sens to think otherwise. And to argue that cultural goods are mostly stolen from third parties and not from the autors or producers themselves is not correct. And correct projection of the emotions connected to the work on the author or producer of the work may sometimes involve paying for the content.
  5. This is an invalid arguement. There is simply no causal connection, between the author, watching a Hollywood movie he downloaded illegally and people dying of hunger in other parts of the world. It is true that there is a multi-million dollar industry involved in making products such as movies. The existance of poverty elsewhere does not give one the right to steal from that seemingly very wealthy industry. By consuming those products illegaly, one does not feed starving people.
  6. It is not OK, if artists have to live on state-wellfare because, other people refuse to pay for the artists product. One could argue that the author also chose to use the intermediary medium ‘printed newspaper’ instead of uploading his product, the text or essay, directly to the internet for free. So the author himself clearly does not practice what he preaches.

gwolf 2012-08-04 15:35:36

Comment forwarded

Thanks for your long comment, Andreas. I understand you sent it here as the obvious contact point - But I am not the author, and cannot answer in his name. I have sent him (the link to) your comment, and expect to have his answer to you here.

Just as a short answer to your last point: The author published this manifesto on a national printed newspaper, but it is available for free over the Internet — That’s the way I came accross it.