Prof. Bullock’s response to Hybrid Assignment 03

Last week we reflected on Taylor’s (2014) discussion of the “value” of creativity in the digital era. As many of you asked, both in class and on our website, does the Internet lower the value of creative work? I noted in response that we should consider as well a value for creativity that is not mediated by the labor contract. We find ourselves returning to this topic in chapter five with Taylor’s discussion of copyright.

As many of you note, Taylor notes the fundamental ambiguity of the word “free,” as it refers to what is considered inherently “public” as well as to commodities that are given away. Quoting Richard Stallman, she (144) explains “[t]here’s ‘free’ as in speech and ‘free’ as in beer.” Relative to this ambiguity, Taylor discusses the two sides of the “Copyright Wars.” On one side, we have those who argue that all art and culture should be free and open to the public and, on the other, those who believe culture and art are inherently forms of property that should be vigorously protected.

Relative to this divide Taylor notes a fundamental challenge to cultural ownership presented by the Internet as works of culture and art are “decontextualized, remixed, and mashed up.” She (2015: 145) writes:

“Artists who share their work with the world (or find it leaked) see it repurposed in ways they didn’t anticipate. The minute a film is released or an essay is published, it begins to race around the Internet, passed through peer-to-peer networks, posted on personal Web sites, quoted in social media streams. In one sense, therefore, any ownership claim is essentially fanciful, since, in practice, people’s creations circulate in ways they cannot control.”

On this point, Taylor (144) emphasizes a capacity of the Internet to decrease the value of creativity. She describes the Internet as a kind of copy-making machine, noting how we have moved from a creative economy of scarcity to one of abundance. The point underlined here is that the availability of culture and art online is diminishing our understanding of what these things are worth.

There is another question I would like to raise connected to the value of creativity as voluntary or leisure-based rather than resulting from contractual labor. Keeping in mind that Marx’s theory of value is focused on the social dimension of value production, his theory of value is quite different from Adam Smith’s “paradox of value” wherein diamonds are more valuable than water because they are less abundant. The value of a commodity for Marx is the amount of the socially necessary labor time crystallized in the commodity through the labor process. If value fluctuates, it does so because the social conditions of production change, not because a commodity is scarce or plentiful.

The reason why it is interesting to raise this point is because Taylor seems to be indirectly pointing to a more fundamental change that has come with the emergence of digital media. This is a change in how we conceptualize a commodity that is produced by labor that is not or not always contractual. More still, consumption now comes with forms of adoption and reconfiguration that suggests we, as users, are altered by the process of commodification.

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