Resistance commons : file-sharing litigation and the social system of commoning
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This dissertation is an investigation into the practice of peer-to-peer file-sharing and the litigation campaign targeting individual file-sharers carried out by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) from 2003 to 2008. The competing conceptualizations of social relations which motivate the conflict over peer-to-peer file-sharing are explored using a combination of Autonomist Marxist theory and structuration theory. Peer-to-peer file-sharing is framed as part of the social system of commoning stemming from the recent ascendancy of immaterial labor within that sector of the economy dedicated to the production and distribution of informational and cultural goods. The RIAA litigation campaign is framed as a reaction to the emergence of new forms of social relations which are seen by the content-producing industries as subversive of revenue streams premised on commodity exchange in informational and cultural goods. The history of the RIAA litigation campaign is presented in detail with careful attention given to those instances in which defendants and other interested parties fought back against RIAA legal actions. The acts of resistance within the legal arena affected the ultimate potential of the litigation campaign to control the spread of file-sharing activities. Subsequent legal campaigns which have been based on the RIAA litigation model are also examined. These later file-sharing cases have been met with similar forms of resistance which have likewise mitigated the impact of legal efforts to combat file-sharing. In addition, a survey of file-sharers is included in this research as part of an attempt to understand the relationship between legal actions targeting peer-to-peer systems and individual file-sharers and the technological and social development of peer-to-peer systems. This research argues that file-sharing litigation has proven ineffective in turning back the flood of file-sharing and may have increased the technological sophistication and community ties among file-sharers. In the end, the conflict over peer-to-peer file-sharing is cast as a manifestation of a larger dynamic of capitalist crisis as content-producing industries attempt to come to terms with the contradictory tendencies of immaterial labor and the production of common pools of digital resources.