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Those wanting to keep institutions in the public domain—or more accurately, in the domain of the commons—are accused of having a left- wing bias and retarding economic development Hughes The specific focus here is the knowledge commons and we can start this journey by concentrating on the community of academics. As academics, we rely on the knowledge commons for our community to func- tion: the free and open sharing of our intellect, research, theorising, reflection and hard work.

This is the process of peer review, conference attendance, engagement, feedback and dis- cussion. But over the last few decades, this process has been under constant threat through the processes of enclosure described by Boyle The enforcement of property rights on what was once considered openly shared intellect can be traced back to the s when the US Supreme Court in the s to set a wide reaching precedent by granting the first patent on a living organism Anderson Such scarcity emerges because those who now own patents can demand payment if others use their intellect — often causing research- CC: Creative Commons License, As noted, despite rhetoric that appropriate private property rights are required to promote research, the opposite often occurs Westphal ; Arvanitakis and Boydell On a community level, it creates sense of scarcity and an undeniable truth that the best way to manage resources is through the enforcement of private property rights.

Whenever power is made visible, however, it provokes counter-power. The battle seems to stand between international commercial interests looking for new resources to commodity and different social movements trying to create commons safe from the mechanisms of capi- talism.


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In the sections that follow, we focus on one such commons movement: the political pirate movement. This movement, we argue, makes visible processes of enclosure by chal- lenging certain property rights through its ideology as well as its acts.. Such acts may poten- tially destabilise the very concept of property at the basis of neoliberalism and create new spaces of commons. Property rights, piracy and disruption The basis of all this enclosure is, as conservative commentators such as Helen Hughes remind us, that property without rights is economically useless.

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Property rights, however, are neither easily defined nor universal. As Boydell et al have argued, when describing the complex nature of property rights as a constellation be- cause they are always connected to an intricate web of both obligations and rights. In this example, you must ensure the car is registered in the Australian case this requires three different steps including compulsory third party insurance , is road worthy, and you must follow a myriad of road rules and regulations includ- ing wearing a seatbelt and following the speed limit or suffer the consequences.

Again, in the context in which we are currently working, you must inform the relevant authorities if you move to a different residential address. In this way, even something as clear-cut as owning a car is enveloped in a constellation of rights and obligations associated with property rights. Further, these rights can be both formal and informal in nature: the legal requirements are also accompanied by social expectations that, in Australia, include waving and acknowledging someone if they make way for you.

As such, property rights are socially and culturally contextualised. They are not some uni- versal truth—despite the denial of the Devil. Property rights, as such, are continuously contested because of this tension: the myth of the universal truth comes into direct conflict with our lived reality and the way that they are constantly grounded within the socio-cultural context in which they operate. This was further highlighted by the Global Financial Crisis, which created a crisis in private property rights that was raised into the public consciousness.

This occurred as the private property ownership that had brought material wealth to small sections of the population had public links: quite simply, the financial crisis was the creation of private investment gone bad but had to be bailed out by public infrastructure Varoufakis The financial crisis then, became deeply linked and centred on contestations over the def- initions of property and commodity—who gains and who bares the costs. The concept of property rights was shown to be neither eternal nor universal: the Devil, after all, did exist and its failure brought misery to the lives of hundreds of millions as the global financial sys- tem sat on the brink of collapse.

Piracy is a disruption highlighting the many myths associated with property including the fiction that you can create clear, universal and uncontested property rights. Acts of piracy, be they the illegal copying of textbooks in India Liang or the emergence of the Pirate Bay in Sweden, highlight the fragility of the global property rights regime. If patents on genes and living organisms extend the boundaries of property, then the pro- liferation of file sharing questions the distinctions of property from the opposite perspective. When media corporations and copyright organisations argue that piracy is an act of theft that deprives the author of her or his lawful property, enclosure is seen to deprive the broader community of wealth commonly owned Bollier And what we found in our research is that many pirates see file sharing as a free exchange of information and ideas that should not be enclosed.

From their perspective, file sharing is an act of communication, and the in- formation shared is a part of the intellectual commons. The file sharing debate is thus a direct conflict over the distinctions of property as it revolves around whether the resources at stake are part of the cultural commons or a market of commodities.

This conflict was fundamental for the politicisation of piracy that caught speed in as a response to the prosecution and trial against the globally in famous file sharing site The Pirate Bay. And it is from this perspective that we must understand why Pirate Parties and their asso- ciated activists rally to protect mechanisms that promote communication such as a free In- ternet.

The value of communication constitutes a cornerstone for the Pirate Parties as they believe that digital technology can enable a new, more open, participatory and democratic public sphere. This public sphere is seen to be threatened by two forces that attempt to con- trol the Internet. The first is the effort of the market to commodify communication as intellec- tual property.

And when you allow them to do that, wonderful things happen. Brunner and Z. Adams Green, interview, April 2, The second threat to this new public sphere is the increasing censorship and mass- surveillance that underpins the unending war on terrorism, where states violate the freedom and integrity of the digital public sphere in the name of protecting people and societies from a vague and undefined terrorist threat Andrejevic Reflecting on the dictatorial history of his own country of birth, Germany, Markus Kesler describes how his work with the Oklahoma Pirate Party was largely motivated by a fear of authoritarianism that grows as the authorities turn to terrorism as the new pretext to increase their control of the citizens M.

Kesler, inter- view, March 10, In an e-mail conversation, Andrew Norton of the United States Pirate Party discusses how the threat of terrorism is used to instil a sense of fear that legitimises stricter surveillance: It's the major method used to restrict any sort of rights over the last ten years.

For Andrew Norton, with a background both in European and American Pirate Parties, this is fundamental in the protection of the demo- cratic values that are seen to be at the very core aspirations of contemporary western cul- ture: In Europe there is still the 'hope of democracy'. In the US, it's only a few idealists that cling to the notion that there is a form of democracy and bother to 'waste our time' getting involved with US politics outside the rigid confines of the 'establishment'.

Interview with Andrew Norton, March 14, Many pirates, both in the USA and Europe, blame this democratic deficit on the influence of money on politics. In a sense, this is an enclosure of the democratic political system—or what Taussing described in as the colonializing of politics Taussing The democratic infrastruc- ture, though far from perfect, is part of the commonwealth inherited from previous genera- tions—and the threat of its enclosure is laid bare by Pirate Parties. This makes the Pirate Party appear more or less as a utopian movement.

Piracy Leakages from Modernity

This is not unique to the Pirate Party, but it may be significant for third parties: There is something unique about all third parties in America. That sense of fatalism because of the two party system and the way that our campaign finance and the way that our campaign laws are set up. Interview with Orion Steel, 5 January 5. New spaces of piracy At the same time the modes of enclosure are always changing, as new kinds of resources are being commodified and exploited.

Although the terms may differ, the concerns raised focus on a new phase in the commodification of information where the dominant business strategy is on the extraction and exploitation of user data. Likewise, the openness industry thrives on the exploitation of resources that are not en- closed as intellectual property Jakobsson ; Jakobsson and Stiernstedt The price that the consumers pay for this abundance of seemingly free culture and information is ex- cessive data mining where private user data becomes a commodity. By giving everything freely to the consumer it hides the basic act of exploitation where the users are made to work for free for those who control the means of exchange in the information society.

Returning to Foucault, the cloud is simply a privatization of digitally enhanced biopower where collective human behaviour is aggregated into statistics and demographic data appropriated by state bureau- cracies, or in this case commercial actors, to predict and manipulate the masses Foucault Though we are discussing a contemporary technology, the historical roots are much deeper and can be linked to the relationship between primitive accumulation and the com- mons Glassman It is here that acts of piracy may not be just reactive but proactive in establishing new commons.

This returns us back to the arguments proposed by Ostrom ; For Ostrom, what is required are governance structures and institutional commons that are contextual.


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Such arrange- ments encourage adaptation to changing circumstances, as well as building in systems that allow communities to address previous errors and new developments. Ostrom argues that under such circumstances, access to resources is not necessarily free, as common-pool resources are not public goods.

International collaboration to drive research into piracy | Western Sydney University

In fact, rather than offering a simple solution, Ostrom herself acknowledges the limitations of a one-size fits all approach such as the imposing of full private property rights Ostrom , Unfortunately, such regimes can both establish new com- mons or create their own artificial systems of scarcity.

Piracy can, as we have argued, also establish alternative exchange mechanisms. Regardless of exactly where an act of piracy falls along this spectrum—be it revolutionary or mundane—it highlights the myth of clearly defined property rights as well their contextual nature. As a revolutionary act to confront property rights that ruptures the neoliberal ideology, piracy presents us with alternative property rights regimes including the re-establishment of the commons.

As a mundane act of the everyday consumer, it confirms that the universal truth claims of property rights are continuously questioned. We see this in the straights of Somalia as the property rights of the shipping lanes are not respected nor can they properly be protected; in every piece of music that exists or movie made, book published, the potential for piracy emerges and, as such, highlights the precari- ous nature of the universal property rights regime. Just how the concept of piracy can be expanded to challenge a wider range of property rights is highlighted by researchers such as Ravi Sundaram who explores the way piracy is intertwined with unauthorized use of urban space in third world cities.

Sundaram, along with Lawrance Liang , identify the prevalence of pirated products in the ungov- ernable slums and shantytowns of Delhi. Their research explores parallels between the dis- tribution of pirated software, films and books and the various practices that provide illegal access to public spaces such as squatting and the creation of new commons. The universal myth, like the Devil, is again exposed. This process represents a complex interplay, however, as neoliberalism uses the break- throughs generated by piracy and the creation of new commons as a way to further enclose and commodify an expanding range of resources.

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Hardt and Negri have discussed the ambiguous and intimate relation between capitalism and the commons, where capitalism is inherently reliant on the commons to produce new commodifiable resources to ensure the constant growth of the market. This creates an irony: acts of piracy break down the very property rights that are meant to promote innovation, but are often at the same time highly creative and then become the subject of enclosure. And it is here we find both the potential and the threat to the new commons movement Arvanitakis Piracy, in this way, emphasises both the contextualised nature of prop- erty rights regimes, as well as the possibilities of alternative systems of rights.

As an alterna- tive to legal services like Spotify and open torrent trackers like The Pirate Bay, infested with data mining or pornography, many consumers turn to various specialised file-sharing com- munities that are often very exclusive in their selection of members. Here we see the diversity of closed and often very specialised file- sharing piracy networks that exist beyond mainstream platforms and concludes that alterna- tive networks can impose their own rules of exchange which can be much more efficient than any formal and universal system of property rights.

Piracy can thus, in some cases, construct and impose its own property regimes and artificial systems of scarcity.