The following is a copy of an email by Nicholas Bentley on Intellectual Contributions and how it relates to the P2P Meme. A presentation of his ideas, which entails a reform of Intellectual Property legislation, is here, but I have yet to read it in detail.
Here below is the excerpt from Nicholas, in bold, with interspersed, some of my reactions:
The Political Economy of Peer Production
I have a strong affinity for many of your arguments and ideas. Thank you for making contact and pointing me to this. I had to read your essay a few times to try and get it all clear in my mind. I don’t have a strong theoretical background in some of the areas of your study so forgive me if any of my comments are based on unsound principles. I have also tended to relate my work on Intellectual Contributions to your arguments so as a start to see how we might move forward together.
I think I agree with your three P2P processes however I tend to feel that there is another important ingredient missing that links the whole process to the tangible world; that is the work, the effort, the time, contributed by the producers. You recognise this fact of course when you say, “At present, peer production offers no solution to the material survival of its participants. Therefore, many people inspired by the egalitarian ethos will resort to cooperative production, the social economy, and other schemes from which they can derive an income, while at the same time honoring their values. In this sense, these schemes are complementary.”
In my work I still see the individual effort as a very important aspect in the social process and I attempt to find a way of recognising and rewarding this individual effort while still keeping the ‘product’ in the common domain. I propose we do this by clearly allocating and regulating rights to the production effort and not to the product (use-value). ‘Intellectual Contributions’ describes a distributed system for achieving this but we can come back to this later.
MB’s response: This is a complex issue. On the one hand, pure ‘peer production’, as I define it, concerns freely given input and freely used output, which takes the form of digital commons based on ‘peer property modes’ (of which your IC is one facet). One of the key aspects to support the ‘autonomy in free cooperation’ (that is what P2P is) while not destroying both aspects (input and output). Now the input side needs resources from the market economy, patronage, etc… But if the relation is too direct, it becomes either an exchange or a gift economy, and various kinds of dependence on the income. So I’m a strong supporter of the universal wage concept, which is one way for the market economy to refund the enormous usage of the social and cultural externalities it is currently predicated on (cognitive capitalism could not function without this free usage of the cooperating minds). In the meantime however, as this proposal is not currently politically realistic, contributions such as yours may well support the material base for more peer production.
By the way, ‘Intellectual Contributions’ would at the same time satisfy the fourth infrastructure requirement â€“ “a legal infrastructure that enables the creation of use-value and protects it from private appropriation.”
This brings me to a major concern I have about the General Public License (GPL). While it may well protect the product from private appropriation and thus keep it in the commons it imposes a very heavy burden on all future producers. To dictate that your use-value should never be privatised is one thing but to dictate that others should follow this doctrine, no matter the circumstances, is a very non-anarchistic stance in my view. The GPL rules are as bad as restricting use of the product in the first place.
MB: I am not informed enough to have a considered opinion on this, but I would welcome any more specific input on this issue. But intuitively I’m rather in favour of it, as it has been what has supported the enormous expansion of peer property modes, or ‘universal common access regimes’.
I had not come across Fiske’s four basic types of inter-subjective dynamics before. As part of the Intellectual Contributions model I had used the theory of reciprocal altruism (Dawkins, Trivers, Axelrod, Hamilton) from social biology and it appears to me that this theory employs two out of the four dynamics mentioned by Fiske – namely Communal Sharing and Equality Matching but I may be on shaky ground here. I see Market Pricing as a secondary effect, a proxy for CS and EM, and Authority Ranking as a distortion of CS and EM although widespread in most societies.
You say that ‘true’ P2P is not a gift economy and “peer to peer is not a form of equality matching; it is not based on reciprocity” but I would argue that this only because “At present, peer production offers no solution to the material survival of its participants” as you say. Hence, my view is that P2P has to transition into the ‘real’ world where CS / EM are the primary forces but there is no reason that Market Pricing of the use-value has to be the proxy for the exchange. I propose that Contribution-value of the producers can be the trading commodity while still keeping the product in the commons.
MB: I believe I have to disagree with you. It is true that Peer Production is still relatively problematic as an emergent form, but it is developing very fast as it, and any argument that it is dependent on the market, has to take into account the opposite argument, that the market is increasingly dependent on the free cooperation of minds as well. So there are now many indirect means through which the market and various patrons are supporting its emergence. So in my mind we will have to basic forms, the pure form, as in free software and the knowledge production we are doing; and we’ll have reciprocity-based schemes. The key to distinguish them is whether they are tit for tat obligations (gift economy) and exchanges (market funding), whether or not they create dependence and dependence on outside authority, or not. On the other hand, there is a lot of hybridity and interpenetration with the market, I agree, and it has to be so in current circumstances. But I think it is conceptually useful to retain the distinction.
In a ‘imaginary’ future political economy, we could have an important Peer Production sphere, entirely free self-unfolding autonomous cooperation, which can operate in the immaterial economy, and wherever the immaterial can be split from the material phase of production, or where capital can be sufficiently distributed. At its side, we’ll have a perhaps larger sphere of reciprocal schemes and markets, but that will be deeply informed and re-formed by P2P principles. This is how I see their complemenarity.