In a move that roughly parallels global capitalism’s quest for domain over the heavens since the late 1950s, Pirate Parties are now suggesting taking to the sky via balloon or satellite as a means of ensuring access to culture without the hindrances of territorial law. Basically a hi-tech, sci-fi redux of the British pirate radio pioneers of the 1960s. Here, here, here, and here.
Capital is driven to expand as it seeks ever more opportunities to intensify surplus value. In the last 200 years we have seen it expand from regional mercantilism, through colonialism, the expansion of the factory, and recently into globalised trade and manufacturing. It also took to the sky in the late 1950s as the “space race” was cast in terms of the cold war between “free” markets and state socialism. In a palpable sense, it was surmised that whoever got into space first would thus prove the superiority of their economic system. The Soviets got there first, followed soon after by the Americans. It is of no small significance that the purpose to which space was put was principally that of communication. And for years we have taken for granted that a) space is no longer contested, reinforced by international scientific cooperation aboard MIR and the ISS and (b) that it is there solely to be put to use by the ever expanding needs of capital, reinforced by the now current fascination with private citizens funding their own space exploration, by renewed dreams of space tourism, and tellingly by continued threats to the public funding of NASA.
It is within this scenario that those who are concerned with cultural freedom and intensified legal restrictions on the reuse of cultural work are now speculating on the use of space for goals that resist those of capital, at least at the level of IP. I think it’s also of some significance that resistance to intellectual property law – to be sure a law of the abstract and ethereal – is in this case literally taken to the ether. It’s also suggestive of the long history of space as the domain of the imagination, “out there” where anything is possible. Space is the place of dreams. In this way, it is refreshing to see discussion that takes place in the realm of speculation and the imagination rather than in the often dry and procedural arena of copyright law and international trade negotiations.