A contribution to a critique of free culture: From Anti-Copyright to the Creative Anti-Commons

Dymitri Kleiner is a software developer working on projects that investigate the political economy of the internet, and the ideal of workers’ self-organization of production as a form of class struggle. Born in the USSR, Dmytri grew up in Toronto and now lives in Berlin. He is a founder of the Telekommunisten Collective, which provides internet and telephone services, as well as undertakes artistic projects that explore the way communications technologies have social relations embedded within them, such as deadSwap (2009) and Thimbl (2010).

Kleiner’s latest project however was the writing of “The Telekommunist Manifesto”, a book published by the Institute of Network Cultures of Amsterdam and launched in the Economies of Commons 2 conference at De Balie, Amsterdam, on Friday the 12th of November, 2010. Even though, Dmytri Kleiner introduced himself as a hacker or an amateur writer and not as an academic, his work stimulated an interesting and rather intense discussion.

In his talk in the session “Critique of the “Free and Open”, Kleiner follows the track from Anti-Copyright to the Creative Anti-Commons and presented it to the audience as a tragedy in three parts, which are described below.

Kleiner opened his talk claiming that copyright was not created to empower artists. Instead, it was created by the bourgeoisie to embed cultural production in an economic system that encourages the theft of the surplus value. In this context, the notion of “author” was invented just to justify the making of property out of cultural works.

Further on, he presented the three parts of the “tragedy”:

ACT 1: ANTI-COPYRIGHT- A proletarian movement

Anti-copyright is a proletarian or anti- capitalist movement, embraced by labor struggles, that opposes mightily to the existence of the individual author. It is based on the ideal of a common culture with no distinction between producers and consumers. An ideal that makes it incompatible with the needs of dominant Capitalism. Consequently, Anti-copyright could never be seen as nothing more than a threatening, radical fringe.

ACT 2: COPYLEFT – Invasion of the Bourgeoisie

Copyleft on the other hand, an alternative form of dissent to copyright that emerged with the development of Free Software, is fully compatible both to the contemporary economic system and to Bourgeois capitalism. The reason is simple: Software is capital. Producers depend on it so that they can produce and make profit out of the circulation of the generated consumer goods. Free software’s sustainability is based on the fact that it is largely funded by corporations, since it’s cheaper and more flexible compared to software developed from scratch.

ACT 3: THE CREATIVE COMMONS –The author reborn as Useful Idiot

Both Anti-copyright and Copyleft celebrated the death of the author. In the Creative Commons model however, that was boosted by the success of the Free Software Movement “the author is reborn as useful idiot”. He can’t reserve “all rights” as copyright suggested, but only “some rights”, including the options of “Non Derivative” and “Non Commercial”. The paradox of the Creative Commons, as presented by Dmytri Kleiner, is that the consumer is deprived from his right to become a producer and that the “Free Works” are not actually free, but private. Thus, the “Commons” turns into an “Anti-Commons”, where free sharing encounters constantly the barrier of incompatible licenses.


Developing his thought on the Creative Commons, Dmytri Kleiner claims that it is not an example of Anti-copyright or of Copyleft but a case of Copy-just-right: the model is based on content distribution but the “mechanical royalties” are being eliminated. However, he comes up with the antidote: Copy-far-left.


Copy-far-left, acknowledging that neither Anti-Copyright not Copyleft can provide a sustainable solution for economic support of cultural producers, brings a new perspective: the Non-Commercial clause used by some creative commons license can be sustained but with limitations. Copy-far-left suggests that commons based commercial use should be allowed explicitly to Co-operatives, Collectives, Non-profits and independent producers and not to profit seeking organizations. That way, free licensing remains a source of funding, while consumers regain the right to become producers, as long as they don’t become exploiters.

In his epilogue, Dmytri Kleiner points out that in order to have a free culture we have to assert a free society. Cultural workers have to work in solidarity with other workers on that big idea.

By Ilektra Pavlaki