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Wikileaks vs Michael Jackson – And what about copyright?

With the release of diplomatic cables into the public domain one question is never asked. Who owns the rights to these documents? Whether their content is a “threat to the international community” or “truth which needs to be protected” is irrelevant. After all its big show business. Woody Allen’s remark that if show business would not be called show business it would be called show show is not missing the point. On day 20 of the wikileaks saga not only the internet is full of articles dissecting the stream of content for a niche audience. Opinion makers representing governments, non-profits, established professions and digital natives invest a lot of attention and thus money in the hope for a return of investment.

Who has to pay for the information thats filling up newspaper colums and TV prime time. Advertisers? Consumers? Taxpayers? Not so long ago a whole industry was rallying against what they saw as an attack on their very existence – Creative Commons. A legal scheme by which a creator can protect his digital work against exploitation with the same ease an experienced carpenter fixes a broken chair. A furious outcry from industry leaders and authors rights societies alike accomplished nothing in the face of the technological revolution set in motion over half a century ago. Anticopyright laws are drafted and make their way through the parliaments and governments of every western country. But drafting a law is by far easier than having the capacities to enforce it. Awareness raising campaigns sponsored by those who saw their business model beeing bypassed by technological change – notably P2P and MPEG – saw teenagers in classrooms beeing “thought” copyright while adviced to report violations made by there parents to local authorities.

Technology made people who consider themselves as law abiding citizens, criminals. It did not feel like a crime to use a free Torrent programme  to download the latest movie blockbuster. Did it damage Hollywood’s operations? Of course it did. But at the same time the inflationary effect of technological change brought Hollywood’s tools into the houses of everyday man. The same technology that destroyed Hollywood enabled it to make it ever more potent. Just think of digital compositing methods employed to generate everything out of a box.  Almost over night became a multi million dollar infrastructure available to millions of young mid-class boys and girls around the globe. Whith the shift from hardware to software, which was in many ways a shift from analog to digital devices, a new realm opend up and filled the fast growing space with content. And there is no end to it. More! – screams the prince of the air. More for everybody in 2011.

Lets assume we are all criminals on the matter of copyright infringement. Who has not listened to an mp3 track without owning the CD or downloaded it on Itunes? Or watched a divX rip  of a recent blockbuster? How about the wikileaks cables then? After all they are quiet entertaining. The opinion of a diplomat or a secret service agent on current affairs is worth every penny! Just imagine if wikileaks would have released the secret diaries keept by Michael Jackson or Britney Spears. Shocking details of the everyday life of a celebrity and superstar as RSS feed for everybody to see. Would this be of interest for anybody? And what about copyright law of such information? Would Sony or Bertelsmann want the exclusive rights or would they be satisfied with the increasing attention and coverage of their babies by reporters and journalists as wikileaks seems to be? After all, nothing in the cables is really new. And whatever Britney Spears private experiences are, it is unlikely that they differ in kind from others.  Whatever is interesting about the cables, it cannot be its content!

Now, we are all criminals on the matter of privacy infringement – the privacy of governments are its secrets. These secrets are not real secrets but the confidential conversations of the US diplomatic service and reveals much about its internal workings. And no doubt over its validity can be cast after monthly investigations by major news organizations (NYT, guardian, der Spiegel, El pais) and their subsequent evaluation. The consequences are really hard to estimate because most of them would have become public anyway. Historian would have used them to shine lights on events then thirty years old. But in the age of instant information they become an art form ready to be exploited for commercial success. Why not create a business model around it? Because the cables contain a danger for our democracy? No entrepreneur  sees danger, they only have eyes for opportunities.

So far the cables of embassies caused a lot of media attention world wide. Julian Assange is by now as known as Michael Jackson and is the face associated with an ‘distributed organization’.  A distributed organization like Wikileaks is not comparable to ordinary kinds of organization. No walls, no buildings, no organizational chart, no hierachie, no paycheck no work-times, no holiday, no pension scheme, no profit, no contracts. Like the Taliban or any other terrorist organization f.e. the mafia, Wikileaks is the antidote to todays establishment. Such a ‘distributed organization‘ can be viewed as an emerging property of the network. Institutions are structured around the efficiency by which they cease to exist. The substantial cost of communication technology provided the selection pressure necessary to shape an institutional setting aiming to keep them at a minimum. Maximizing profit goes hand in hand with reducing redundancies. With global communication costs at zero, distributed organizations held together by common interest have a competitative advantage. Nothing is wrong with assuming that office space is redundant in the age of instant information at zero cost.

But lets step back and observe. The outcry over the major identity theft of the U.S. state department is far from over. As the extension of military force, diplomacy cannot exist without it. But the difference is that information is as potent to lead to war as misinformation is about the very same wars. And most people in most states don’t trust the information they get from the government. For them Wikileaks is the revelation and the best revenge they can get. For people who trust their government it is also a threat to their own identity which causes them to call for Julians assassination or take side in a battle which is not their own. But the major financial institutions have chosen to be on the battlefield. With Amazon’s decision to take down the Wikileaks website it will suffer the same faith of Bank of America, VISA, Mastercard and Paypal. Money is information. And whoever controls information controls the flow of money. In an information war, everybody becomes a soldier or hostage.

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