In our blog and wiki, we are monitoring various attempts to ‘radicalize’ the existing free software/copyleft and Creative Commons type of licenses. For example, the IANG License and the User-Ownership approach. See our page on Equity-based licenses for access to debate about these licenses.
One of the better known ideas comes from Dmitry Kleiner, and advocate of direct worker ownership, and his Copyfarleft proposal was featured in Metamute. His aim is to have a form of property which specifically forbids commercial use by the non-workers, but allows worker-producers to commercialize their work, something the commercial or non-commercial usage clauses of existing licenses are not capable to distinguish.
There is now a cogent critique of that proposal, by Stefan Meretz of Oekonux, published on the excellent Keimform.de website and worth reading in full, especially as the following excerpts may be hard to understand without that more extensive context. I have also summarized the main points of both authors in our entry on the copyfarleft in the P2P Foundation wiki. In passing, we should note how productive German authors have been in thinking through peer production and building peer-inspired alternatives, see here.
Please note that Meretz has a version, where a paragraph-per-paragraph comments and critique can be added:
Without further ado, here are the excerpts from Stefan Meretz:
A. Summary of the Kleiner position
His essay starts by summarizing what Meretz says are a series of critical errors in Kleiner’s original essay, in essence being that he uses early 19th economic categories that have been superseded by the critique of Marx. He then gives his own summary of Kleiner’s position, before giving a more specific critique of that position.
“Since the copyleft does not bother the Â»propertyÂ«, it canâ€™t change the allegedly existing Â»iron lawÂ« of Â»unjustÂ« participation in wealth such as copyright or Â»copyjustrightÂ« (like creative commons licenses) arenâ€™t able to do that. On the contrary: since copyleft is only regulating usage, Â»property ownersÂ« can use the products.
”Since the reason of this Â»unjustnessÂ« is already determinedâ€”the Â»propertyÂ«â€”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. Only this way a more just distribution could be reached, because the workers as owners could determine for themselves about the distribution of wealth. This has also to be the measure for licenses, and because all existing licenses donâ€™t touch Â»propertyÂ« and distribution of wealth, a new license has to be created”.
A Â»leftÂ« copyleft license has to distinguish between two types of Â»propertyÂ«: workers property and Â»property ownersÂ« property. Or reworded: Between those, who work and those, who use wage labour. Kleiner: Â»it must be possible for workers to make money by applying their own labour to mutual property, but impossible for owners of private property to make money using wage labourÂ«.
”The workers-owner should be allowed to use the commons, because they are part of the commons. The workers-owner maintain a common pool of information goods, which has to be forbidden to access for Â»property ownersÂ« using wage labour. Thus workers-owner are allowed to be Â»insideÂ« (Â»endogenicÂ«), while Â»property ownersÂ« have to remain outside (Â»exogenicÂ«)”.
Kleiner explains: Â»”’A copyfarleft license must allow commons based commercial use while denying the ability to profit by exploiting wage labourÂ«. This goal is not achieved by any other license, because: Â»â€Non Commercialâ€ is not a suitable way to describe the required endogenic/exogenic boundary”’. Yet, no other commons license exists that provides a suitable legal framework for commons based producers to use.Â«
”’Thus copyfarleft is the attempt to build two economies by law: A commons based economy and a wage labour based economy”’.
B. Key critical points
“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.
Producing goods in form of commodities describes the Â»mechanismÂ«, that separated private producersâ€”individual or collective onesâ€”have to bring their products to market, in order to realize their value. As traditionally usual Â»productionÂ« is viewed as something neutral, while solely the distribution of the surplus value (wrongly named Â»rentÂ«) is contendious. Below the line this changesâ€”nothing.
The same applies for the so called Â»iron law of wages. The fact, that the wage corresponds with the necessary means of reproduction, does not change. 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 competitorsâ€”and can only pay the value of the work force. Such workers owned high tech companies as the Telekommunisten have always existed.
A prominent example is the Berlin company PSI, one of the really big consulting companies in germany in the meantime. Now, they no longer workers-owned, where they started from: The collective determination was stepwise reduced to employee participation and finally abolished resulting in an ordinary company. This has to come this way, the reasons given like Â»effective leading of the companyÂ« were not simply pushed forward, but resulted directly from the logics of exploitation (Â»making more money from moneyÂ«) in competition.”
the author is not only far away from criticising the basic principlesâ€”necessarily including exchange, market, money, stateâ€”but he rejects such considerations explicitly. When I asked him whether he wants to Â»rescue the exchange valueÂ« he answered: Â»I do not want to eliminate exchange, I want to eliminate property privilege.Â« This corresponds to the paper discussed here.
Despite all radical rhetorics Dmytri Kleiner donâ€™t want to touch the basic principles of commodity production, but he want have are slightly more equal distribution of wealth based on commodity production. 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 succeed. It is simply not sufficient to achieve the disposition over the means of production, if they are used in the same operational mode. The production is not a neutral issue being seemingly usable for arbitrary purposes, but the production of separated private works is necessarily commodity production, where the societal mediation is only occuring ex post by the comparison of valuesâ€”with all consequences (from market to climate disaster).
Conclusion: A critique of property combined with a bare critique of surplus value is definitive short-sighted, only a critique of value can take the basics of our societal mediation in the focus, because this is the point: 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 software. Copyleft exactly in the current form keeps free software legally groundedâ€”nothing more, but also nothing less.”
Some of my own conclusions:
– Stefan Meretz gives us a renewed insight into the genius of the existing copyleft/free software license
– The copyfarleft gives an added differentiation and choice to those wanting to use alternative to private ‘excluding’ property formats
The underlying philosophical difference is more difficult to delineate. Yes, we need a different core logic for the organization of our society and civilization, but the key to that is in my opinion, to infect the old logic with the logic of the new. In this, free software has been very successful. My own intuition is that an open approach, which does not insulate the new logic from the old, has more chances of success than a logic that attempts to create a totally separate economy. As capitalism infects participation, so does participation infect capitalism. I do not see much evidence that an exclusive economy based on the copyfarleft, has any chances to succeed.