Intellectual Property is an unusually socialised property system, because its standard justification - that society gives a temporary monopoly to a creative person in return for the benefits of their work - is based upon society's rights not an individual's rights. That its standard justification is socialised is a contingent truth - it is conceivable that if could be defended, and constituted, in terms of an individual's rights and the state's duty to protect these rights. Indeed recent arguments from corporations who trade in IP take this approach. So if a property system already framed in terms of society's rights can be further communalised, and can provide increases in innovation and productivity as well as new benefits to the creative persons themselves, then it is surely a worthy candidate for the left to study?
According to Andre Gorz in Capitalism, Socialism and Ecology, rather than mounting a frontal attack on unacceptable social systems, or accepting them ,we must create "broader and broader spaes in which a 'logic of life' can unfold freely, and by making the system compatible by its orientations, its techniques, the limits of the space it occupies and the restrictions and rules to which its functioning its subject, with the free unfolding of life". That is to say that political projects like Real Socialism, which have failed to overthrow unacceptable social systems entirely, and which are now focussing on defending what small dents they have made under the guide of revolution or pragmatism, should focus on broadening these spaces where life can unfold freely.
"Socialism", according to Gorz, "involves the creation, as an effect of ever shorter and increasingly flexible working hours, of a growing sphere of sharing within the community of voluntary and self-organised co-operation, of increasingly self-determined activities". Aside from working hours, these features of a progressive society map precisely onto Hackers.
Aha! So if communities and individuals are finding that their life can unfold freely in communities based upon IP, and that they can also make a living in these communities, then the left should focus upon broadening the spaces in which IP operates. Or rather, the left should focus on broadening the spaces in which particular applications of IP are allowing life to unfold freely.
Question: if ones life "unfolds freely", does that mean one is free of alienation? It seems so, but I should check.
So the study of Hacker communities, according to Gorz' schema, would cover:
- orientation - the creation of socially useful software, and other personal motivations
- techniques - licensing (GPL), the Internet (inc. work distribution and storage technologies (CVS, etc.), communication technologies (mailing lists, IRC, web sites, real meetings))
- limits of space - decided by autonomous participants, but participants limited by ability and inclination to learn & practice necessary skills
- rules - Lessig's "stupid network", Brand's analysis of KDE's social norms, Rawls' veil of ignorance thanks to Internet