[ox-en] Copyfarleft: Response to Stefan Meretz
- From: Dmytri Kleiner <dk telekommunisten.net>
- Date: Sun, 6 Jan 2008 22:55:26 +0100
Thank you to Stefan Meretz for taking the time to engage at length
with my essay, "Copyfarleft, Copyjustright and the Iron Law of
The main argument advanced in the essay is that artists can not
earn a living from exclusivity of "intellectual property" and that
that neither copyleft licenses like the GPL, nor "copyjustright"
frameworks such as the creative commons, can help.
The only thing, I believe can help, is workers' self
organisation, an approach that is popular among socialists
from anarchist, especially syndicalist, tendencies, and is also
supported by those who promote "Market Socialism" and
Unfortunately, Stefan doesn't really engage in any of the
arguments made in my essay directly, he is not for instance
arguing that either copyleft, copyright or copyjustright does
create the possibility for artists to make a living, therefore
from my point of view we seem to be in agreement on the main
claims of the essay. In fact, I could not find a single argument
in the entire "critique" that disputes my contention that only
a minute elite group of artists can make a living from
intellectual property, which is the point of the essay.
Instead of disputing my claims regarding the economic relations of
creative production, Stefan's "critique" seems bizarrely directed at
me personally, at proving that I don't "understand" or "am not
interested in" certain aspects of theory, claims which are repeated
throughout the entire critique, and often extraneous to the point
Unsurprisingly by "understand" he means agree with certain
self-congratulating and dogmatic tendencies that have long
attempted to refute anarchist beliefs, and when he says my use of
certain terminology is "wrong", what he means is that I am using
a heterodox economic language, instead of some orthodox language
he appears to normatively regard as "correct."
Oddly, some of his claims of my "lack of understanding" include
such common knowledge such as the distinction between use-value
and exchange-value ("value" and "price"), a distinction I actually
employ clearly in the essay, and also the basic distinction of
labour from labour-power ("work" and "work-force"), which he
raises without any reference to where my text is ambiguous that would make
his claim applicable to something I actually argue. In other words,
both these aspects of his critique are non sequiturs.
And finally, Stefan's main issue is my endorsement of workers' self
organization as a form of workers' struggle, as is typical of many
orthodox marxists, he claims that his views are categorically
correct, and the views of libertarian socialism are categorically
wrong, confused, "bourgeois" or "pre-Marxian."
In establishing my "not understanding", Stefan argues:
There is no »natural price of labour«. The author has to
allege such a construct as Ricardo does, in order to explain,
why there is a part, which can be hold by the »property
Of course this is explained in my essay, Stefan just choses to
ignore it. The fact is, as I claim, that "whatever wage increases
they [workers] retain are swept away by price inflation."
So long as workers sell their labour, either, by time
or based on output or "piece work," and do not actually own the
final product of their labour, then whatever wages they have will
simply be captured by prices charged by those that do appropriate
the products of labour and thus control the circulation of these
products. That is, whatever portion of their wages are not already
captured by location-rents on their dwellings, which would also
increase in response to any general increase of wages.
This is the Iron Law.
Stefan claims that:
The workers did not get the value of their work, but the
value of their work force (the wage).
The exchange of wage against work force is thoroughly just.
Economically viewed it is an exchange of equivalents.
Here Stefan appears to have lost his command of the distinction
between "value" (use-value) and "price" (exchange-value). Does
he mean that workers can capture the "use-value" of their
labour-power ("work-force")? This would mean his claim was
self-contradictory as with equal access to productive assets
this by definition would be the final product of their
labour ("value of their work")?
Or is Stefan rather claiming, then, that the price of
labour-power is equal to its wage? Isn't that self-evident?
"Wage" and "price of labour-power" are synonmys.
Isn't the question rather that is any wage less than the
final product's exchange value just?
Stefan has not explained why the worker would accept anything
less than the entire exchange-value of the product of their
labour as a wage.
The answer, of course, is that the worker and employer
do not exchange as equals, as Stefan ludicrously claims, but
rather that the exchange is asymmetrical, the worker
does not have access to productive assets without being
granted access by an owner, and thus can not
independently produce at all, and that this asymmetry
is based on State granted and enforced privilege.
Marx himself understood this very well, Capitalism and
wage labour could not exist before the process of
"primitive accumulation," a revolution from above that
enclosed common lands with State-violence and created a
landless proletariat with no means of subsistence except
to sell their labour and that this history was written in
"letters of blood and fire", in other words, expropriation
by violent force.
The idea that labour and capital exchange as equals is
In any case, this dispute is far from relevant to my article,
but rather a common dispute among heterodox libertarian
socialists and those that espouse authoritarian dogmas,
a dispute that has gone on for well over a century,
therefore I do not feel any need to further refute this
in the context of Copyfarleft, rather for those interested,
I recemond Kevin Carson's critique of Anti-Dühring by Freddy
Engels in his excellent Studies in Mutualist Political Economy.
Later on Stefan argues:
To solve the mystery of worldwide unequal distribution
of wealth: the unequal distribution is not an result of
the exchange circumstances aka »terms of trade«, it is
also not a question of formation of prices, no question
of in/justice, not a question of global regulation, no
question of politics and also no question of property
it is a question of different productivity.
This is what Kevin Carson calls a "sort of variation on the
fable of the ant and the grasshopper", Carson quotes Marx in
rejecting this edifying myth, I will quote the same passage.
In times long gone by there were two sorts of people:
one, the diligent, intelligent, and, above all, frugal
élite; the other, lazy rascals, spending their substance,
and more, in riotous living.... Thus it came to pass that
the former sort accumulated wealth, and the latter sort
had at last nothing to sell except their own skins. And
from this original sin dates the poverty of the great
majority that, despite all its labour, has up to now
nothing to sell but itself, and the wealth of the few that
increases constantly although they have long ceased to work.
Such insipid childishness is every day preached to us in
the defence of property.... In actual history it is
notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder,
briefly, force, play the great part. -- Capital vol. 1
Perhaps I misunderstand Stefan, and he is not making an argument
that richer economic polities are richer as a result of greater
productivity, and not, as Marx puts it, as a result of "conquest,
enslavement, robbery, murder," etc, but if this is not his
point, then it is not clear to me what is.
Presumably he would deny, that in average working time is justly
payed. And he does not know the term surplus value being the value
part of those products, which are produced by work force extending
the value of this work force.
Here Stefan seems to again conflate price (exchange-value) and value
(use-value), and labour and labour-power. For "average working time"
(labour-power) to be "justly" paid (pay=price) it would need to
capture the price of its product, it is the difference between the
exchange value of the product and the wage that is surplus value,
which refers to "exchange value", therefore price.
What Marx considered "just" was a lack of exploitation, which means
that the workers should retain the full product of their labour.
Therefore, claiming that "traditional Marxism" considers wages just is
If the surplus value is related to the invested capital, then this
is called profit. Instead of the term surplus value or profit,
appropriated by the property owner from surplus value as income,
the author is using the term »rent« (here I was quite uncertain of
the translation of »rent«, which literally means »lease« of a flat
In my opinion, Rent is the correct term, see "Economic Rent,"
"Rentier Class," "Rent-seeking behaviour," etc.
"Surplus Value" simply describes that a surplus exists in production,
it does not explain who's income that surplus becomes, incomes are
divided into Wages, Interest and Rent.
"Profit" is an accounting term.
"Lease of a flat" is a colloquial, not economic, usage of the term
rent, in actual economic fact the proceeds of the "lease of a flat"
also represent wages (i.e. paying the hausmeister), interest (the
building itself), and economic rent (the location), the last obviously
being the most significant as any real-estate agent will tell you:
"location, location, location."
While misunderstanding at first, Stefan appears to come around:
Using this result »rent« can be determined more
precisely: It is the payment of an effort from value created
elsewhere. Because in the case of land the land itself does
not create [exchange] value, but the land owner has to be payed
from »elsewhere« produced value, namely from the exploitation of
work force in production.
What can I say, I agree 100% with what Stefan says here.
Well, despite Stefan's strange desire to attack my knowledge of basic
theory, while agreeing (or at least not disputing) the basic arguments I
present, we get into the core of the dispute when it comes to my
Copyfarleft proposal, which most directly highlights our different points
Before starting my critique below, this have to be noted: This is
simply empirically wrong. The oversized number say of artists get in no
way their »subsistence«, but they earn so few, that it is even
not enough for pure physical survival.
Here Stefan proves I am empirically "wrong" by repeating my exact argument,
Which is that artists //can not// earn even their subsistence from
He goes on:
On the other hand there is a small artist group
generating extremely high amounts of money despite assigning their
exploitation rights to the mediating industry.
"small group of artists" being the operative words, a group so small that
you have to take the percentage to many decimal places to avoid rounding
And even still their total earnings represent a tiny portion of the overall
exchange value captured by the mediating industry.
And even still the total earnings of the media industry represent a tiny
portion of the overall value of the "audience power" delivered to buyers
of behavioural control, i.e, the "Consciousness Industry" that is the real
basis of economic value in media. But that is for another essay.
Stefan then claims:
There is simply no logical reference between income and reproduction
costs as in case of selling work force.
Here, no work force is sold, but contracts are concluded
between legal entities
My argument is that artists as a group can capture no _more_ than
their reproduction costs.
Are the numbers in "contracts between legal entities" pulled from thin air
or are they also influenced by economic considerations regarding incomes
and derived from wages, interest and rent?
Stefan seems confused by a limited interpretation of labour-power
("work force"), and misses the fact that when the media industry own
the media product, meaning that they exclusively control the circulation,
they capture all the surplus value, regardless of the formal terms of the
contract, whether it is based on time, output, whatever, since they capture
all the surplus value, this leaves nothing more than reproduction costs
left for the artist to capture, and no guarantee they can even capture
That is what I call "The Iron Law of Copyright Earnings," and this iron law
is worse than the Iron Law of Wages exactly because it does not even
Stefan now goes deeper into his critique of copyfarleft.
He claims that my complaint is:
since copyleft is only regulating
usage, »property owners« can use the products.
However, the issue is not that property owners can use the products,
for instance in the case of software I explain how free software
production can exist within both capitalist and socialist modes, however
because in the case of media properties, such as movies, music, etc,
using means not simply "employing in production" as is often the case of
software, but "controlling the circulation of" which means capturing
the surplus value.
If commons-based artistic producers allow media institutions free access
to commons media assets, then these capital financed institutions can
take advantage of the great inequality in access to productive assets and
crowd out commons-based producers. What's more, these media institutions
neither want nor expect free access, so why should we grant it? Why not
reserve the possibility to negotiate non-free access or to deny access
at all depending on the interests of the commons-based producers?
Why insist that we grant free access to commons assets to groups who
don't themselves engage in peer production in each and every case,
even in cases, such as artistic media, where economic relationships
are demonstrably different?
Now, after flirting with various trifles, trying to find technical
"errors" in my position, we approach the crux of our dispute, Stefan's
denouncement of heterodox views as categorically wrong simply because
they vary from his chosen orthodoxy.
Since the reason of this »unjustness« is already
determined—the »property«—the solution suggests itself:
changing of ownership structure. The workers have to own
the companies themselves and rule over
the means of production and exploitation.
Exactly, only mutual property can defeat private property. Or as I often
do, let me quote from the preamble to the constition from the Industrial
Workers of World:
It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with
capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only
for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on
production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By
organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the
new society within the shell of the old.
Organizing industrially to build the new society in the shell of the
old requires that we recognize that there are two different types of
circulation. The endogenic circulation among peer producers, and the
exogenic circulation between the p2p mesoeconomy and the mixed
macroeconomy, dominated by captialist production. And that each of
these circulation paths have different economic relationships that can
not be collapsed into one set of terms, such as copyleft or
So here is why Stefan disputes this reasoning:
The main fault of Dmytri Kleiner is not to distinguish between
work force and work.
One, I misunderstand labour and labour power, which is false, Stefan
misunderstands the implications of labor power supposing that if
labour-time is not specifically the term of the employment contract that
surplus value is somehow not extracted despite the fact that the
employer appopriates the product and therfore controls its
circulation, thus capturing whatever surplus value is available.
I am not very familiar with the history
of workers movement, butas far as I remember, it
was Ferdinand Lassalle who similarily as the
author demands an »undiminished proceeds of labor«.
This was—again as far as I know—deconstructed by Karl Marx
in his »Critique of the Gotha.
Two, something I said reminds him of something Lassalle may have said
which may have been refuted by Marx.
Umm, except for the nice combination of both the guilt by
association and appeal to authority fallacies, I see nothing
complelling in this point either.
All in all despite using some »left« rhetorics the
author merely seems to be geared to pre-marxian and
bourgois theory of economics.
Third, "merely" implies that my "bourgeois" heterdox economics is
categorically inferior, and somehow out-of-date, "pre-marxian."
This is not a logical argument, but rather simply a categorical
I refer Stefan to the many post-Marx theorists who continue to
refer to the same model of income (rent, wages, interest), and
factors of production (land, labour, capital) that I employ, such
as Piero Sraffa and Joan Robinson to illustrate that while he is
welcome to disagree with any argument presented, there is
nothing "pre" anything about it.
Now, having named a troika of fallacies a "critique," he
presents his orothodox beliefs as victorious arguments:
Traditionally there were two ways reaching the goal of
disposition of the means of production and thus of the
labour results: revolution or reform.
All hail the false dilemma! Ever the favourite of dogmatic
arguments. There is only revolution or reform! You are either
with us or against us!
Other options such as Trotskyist "entryism", DeLeonian "dual power,"
and Anarchist "Syndicalism" are simply not included, and thus
categorically "reformist," which is especially odd as syndicalism
is exactly the strategy endorced, therefore why not avoid discussing
it by simply leaving it off the "possible ways" list.
Having established only two possible ways. Stefan continues:
For me it is less interesting, whether a concept of changing of
the ownership structure via a license could be named
Stefan builds a strawman here, the point of my argument is exactly
that as a result of the Iron Law of Copyright Earnings,
"intellectual property" of any kind can not change the ownership
structure, only peer production can.
I do not and have never presented "copyfarleft" as an ultimate goal
or sole solution to anything, I have argued that to the degree that
a license can be useful at all it must take into account mode of
production as its basis.
It is not the license that will change the ownership
structure, but workers' self-organisation, in other words
the ownership structure will change when people produce and
share in new ways.
The license is merely an instrument of trade
that is required only due to the nature of the external economic
environment. As the capitalist economy of the media industry neither
wants nor expects free access to a commons of media assets, I hardly
expect them to object to such a license.
After attempting to replace my argument with a strawman,
It is more important to see clearly, that the author
does not differ from other critics of property: He
wants to change property disposition, but in no
case the logic of producing goods in form of commodities
operating on top of any property regime.
Here Stefan attempts to portray the objective facts of actually
existing reality as simply something I "want". This is simply
an irrational desire, and not logically argued choice.
Today, peer producers must engage in exchange relations to
acquire material subsistance and to fund any mutual accumulation.
Both venture communism and copyfarleft employ the same logic of
proposing ways that operate within the existing reality, thus
making it possible to "create a new society in the shell of the old."
I want to change property relations so that economic actors can employ
whatever modes of producing and sharing work for them, rather than
having owners of property appropriate the product and thus control
Personally, I favour more communal modes, but that only matters to the
degree that I have a choice over the kinds of circulation and sharing
I engage in. Building the possibility of choice requires the formation
of mutual property, which we can only currently accomplish by engaging
I wonder what, besides waiting for the pseudo-messionic "revolution,"
Also a workers owned company has look for the marketing of
their products being commodities, has to keep up in competition,
has to invest, has to cooperate with partners, has to outpace
competitors—and can only pay the value of the work force.
Having considered the issues faced by any enterprise, his conclusion is,
curiously, that profit does not exist at all!
Aparently, once a workers-owned company pays for its costs of doing
business, all that is left is the reproduction costs of the workers,
regardless of what the costs are or what the exchange value of the
If that is the case, how do owners accumulate wealth? Why exactly do
the rich, in actually existing reality, get richer?
Why does Stefan believe that owners are able to accumulate wealth by
privately owning productive assets, while workers can not accumulate
wealth with mutual ownership?
Having played a strange shell game and attempting to hide profit under
the table, Stefan now descends into abject banality.
Such »workers owned« high tech companies as the »Telekommunisten«
The "it hasn't happened yet, therefore it can never happen" fallacy.
Many flying machines existed before any took flight. And yes,
demutualization is one
of many problems faced by mutual organisation, but that doesn't mean that
a solution will never be found.
He goes on:
This was the goal of many people, a lot of people tried
to realize this goal, and despite of so many defeats many
people already want it: They will not
In other words, give up, that has been tried. A funny argument coming from
somebody promoting a version of orthodox marxism, so I guess Stefan
that people who share his wants and goals have never faced any defeats.
Now, Stefan, seems to imagine that Free Software somehow embodies
It is about a new way of producing our lives. What a production
beyond the logics of exploitation can mean, is shown by the free
Free software, being almost entirely created by wage labour, and capturing
exchange value only for owners of capital, now shows us what production
can be beyond the logic of exploitation.
Stefan has now completely lost the plot of both his own arguments and mine.
The bulk of Free Software is created by employees whose wages are directly
indirecly paid by Capitalist organisation, they fund it because, like the
metric system and standardized nuts and bolts, it is a common input to
production, and thus having this free-stock of information assets does not
prevent them from controlling physical productive assets and the
of actual goods.
What is it about this Stefan thinks challanges exploitation?
Stefan closes with:
Copyleft exactly in the current form keeps free software legally
grounded—nothing more, but also nothing less.
I quote this only because this statement was apparently enough for Michel
Bauwens to conclude that "Stefan Meretz gives us a renewed insight into
the genius of the existing copyleft/free software license"
I don't see it. Do you? Perhaps if I repeat it as a mantra often the
genius and insight will one day enlighten me.
But so far, as a free software developer, I know that most of us are still
punching the clock and working for the man.
editing text files since 1981
Contact: projekt oekonux.de