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[ox-en] Copyfarleft: Response to Stefan Meretz

Thank you to Stefan Meretz for taking the time to engage at length
with my essay, "Copyfarleft, Copyjustright and the Iron Law of
Copyright Earnings."

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
"Economic Democracy."

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
being addressed.

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
simply false.

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.

Marx writes:

    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.

Stefan claims:

    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
simply absurd.

    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
of view.

Stefan argues:

    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 
intellectual property.

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
to zero.

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 
guarantee subsistance.

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.

Stefan states:

    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 
copyjustright attempts.

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.

He continues:

    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, 
Stefan continues:

    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 
the circulation.

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 
in exchange.

I wonder what, besides waiting for the pseudo-messionic "revolution," 
Stefan proposes?

Stefan continues: 

    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 
product is!

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«
    always existed.

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.

Dmytri Kleiner
editing text files since 1981

Contact: projekt

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