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Lawrence Liang - Piracy and Production
Berlin, June 2007 
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Piracy is a term used to stigmatize but Liang contextualizes the term as an instance in the long history of 'commoning', where people organze themselves outside of hierarchy and property. He identifies the real threat to industry in the chance they may lose control of production as well as reproduction, as users become aware of their own potential. Finally, he underlines how in previous areas prohibited works were surpressed and destroyed, but argues that nowadays these works can survive in private digital so the past of loss and erosion need not repeat itself.

Play from beginning
00:00:00 Interview with Lawrence Liang
00:00:05 There's a very beautiful story narrated by the social historian of piracy,
00:00:10 Peter Linebaugh, in which he speaks of a custom
00:00:13 if it was imminent that a ship was going to sink because of very bad weather,
00:00:17 everyone on the ship would get together and break the locks that were there on the barrels
00:00:23 off the caskets of wine or of rum and drink together,
00:00:30 temporarily suspending relationships of master, owner,
00:00:37 captain, slave etc because it was imminent that they were all going to die,
00:00:43 but what they were suspending really, was the logic of private property
00:00:47 right, in this moment where all of a sudden
00:00:50 there's this carnivalesque celebration just before death
00:00:56 or what the... decide to be inevitable death
00:00:59 and he, Peter Linebaugh narrates interesting stories
00:01:03 of a number of communities who were formed
00:01:05 by an act of divine intervention where after the celebration
00:01:11 of this temporary autonomous zone of property,
00:01:15 the ships actually didn't actually sink. And they ended up in islands
00:01:21 or in places where all of a sudden, you know once you'd already suspended,
00:01:26 even for a brief moment, the logic of private property,
00:01:30 what is the term or what are the terms, through which you will then create a new community.
00:01:34 And this is a very interesting metaphor for our contemporary
00:01:38 because this is the time where all of a sudden after having survived,
00:01:42 they clearly couldn't go back to an older logic
00:01:45 where property determined social relations and they created for themselves
00:01:49 temporary communes which celebrated the idea of commoning,
00:01:54 or returned themselves to a memory of the commons.
00:01:59 All of which were brutally crushed, and piracy has its roots in this particular history.
00:02:09 In the same that if you look in the contemporary
00:02:12 where the emergence of piracy as a mode of circulation and distribution of knowledge etc
00:02:21 it is not so much the fact that the "Phantom Menace" is downloaded 500 times,
00:02:25 or 600 times etc, yes of course there's an imaginary specter of economic loss
00:02:31 that informs that. But the real battle or the real threat lies in a shift in the ways that we think
00:02:39 of the possibilities, we think of the shift of possibilities, of ourselves as creators,
00:02:45 and not merely as consumers, as writers filmmakers, photographers etc,
00:02:50 and i think that is really where the danger lies
00:02:54 Because if the imagination of global mass media
00:02:57 is dependent of a particular kind of relationship between production,
00:03:02 circulation and consumption, now this is where the rules are being changed altogether.
00:03:06 The fact that the DVD writer is the new weapon of mass destruction in the world,
00:03:13 is primarily for the fact that a 50 billion dollar film
00:03:16 can be reproduced at the cost of virtually 10 or 15 cents on a DVD.
00:03:23 Now you have a strange paradox,
00:03:25 you have a situation, you know, where in some senses
00:03:29 the ability to even think of ourselves
00:03:33 sitting on our computers with a DVD writer, as competition
00:03:38 to a 535 billion dollar industry is not science fiction anymore.
00:03:44 And it's really the ability to think of the possibilities
00:03:48 you know that have happened. Earlier people were happy with reproducing the DVD,
00:03:52 then people started looking for their favourite scenes and archiving it,
00:03:57 then people who were not happy with the scenes decided they would make parodies.
00:04:02 and remix some scenes, and then people realized they had a better film in their head
00:04:07 they could make and they could of course use some bits of the existing film,
00:04:12 so that the possibilities really became endless.
00:04:14 I think the example that highlights the gap between the possible and the proscribed
00:04:21 is really in terms of let's see filmmakers who are
00:04:27 suddenly making films outside of the logic of the studio,
00:04:32 outside of the logic of industrial mode of production,
00:04:35 which demands that a film is a particular kind of cultural commodity that
00:04:40 is manufactured in a particular kind of manner.
00:04:43 And an example of this is a filmmaker called Jonathan Caouette
00:04:47 who made a film called Tarnation which used home video, clips from other sources, etc
00:04:54 and all of this for $280, when the film was sought to be distributed because it made a splash
00:05:00 in independent film festivals, and when they tried to distribute the film and tried to get copyright
00:05:08 permissions from the different owners of copyright,
00:05:11 the budget of the film suddenly shot to $800,000.
00:05:15 And again one cannot speak about the gap between the possible and proscribed
00:05:21 with looking at what actually exists between the two.
00:05:24 And what exists between the two are legal fictions
00:05:28 backed by extreme capabilities of violence.
00:05:32 So it's a terrorism of the mind that actually sustains concepts like intellectual property,
00:05:39 it's a terrorism that's grounded on an idea of brutal repression,
00:05:46 of that which was actually possible.
00:05:50 What actually lies therefore between the two,
00:05:53 is in some senses the bare naked idea of sovereignty and
00:05:59 authority and power, linked to the service of property.
00:06:07 I think that what we need to start imagining for the 21st century
00:06:11 is to create a museum of all the lost objects, cultures, thoughts, poetry music,
00:06:20 lost cultures in the sense that the kind of cultural commodities that could have been created,
00:06:27 the kind of practices that could have been initiated had it not been for the law.
00:06:31 I think it's time to create a similar museum of this sort,
00:06:34 which memorialises the loss of culture created by the enforcement of property,
00:06:39 the loss of cultures created by the boundaries of the law.
00:06:43 And this museum would look very interesting because it would be partly Marquez,
00:06:50 part Kafka, a bit Borges and a lot of very very grey murky Proust in between.
00:07:01 So let's start thinking of ways in which we have lost.
00:07:04 But the time is not to lament because the 21st century is marked by the possibility that
00:07:11 in some senses these museums are also being archived.
00:07:16 there are these museums that people have secretly created in their personal space
00:07:23 and it's just the ability now of these museums to speak to each other
00:07:27 and come together in sense in a way that we can retrieve
00:07:30 these lost cultural commodities or objects,
00:07:34 where they no longer lost then, but are actually found.
00:07:38 So I think it's time to find our place of culture in the 21st century
00:07:42 and forget our lament for the loss that took place in the 19th and the 20th century.