Remix Culture, Piracy and Revoultion

The Occupation of St. James park, an exercise in Remix and Pirate ideology

By: Kevin

In my previous post I set the groundwork explaining remix cultures roots and the ideology behind it. But aside from DJ’ing, remix culture can be seen in many different forms, one prominent one is in cultural changes and revolutions.

Jürgen Habermas talks about a public space for dialogue in his book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. In the 18th and 19th century public parks like St. James, which was ground zero for the Occupy Toronto movement, would have been used as a space for the bourgeoisie to discuss issues of the day. Habermas calls this the “public sphere.” Out of the public sphere came ideas like  political power being centralized, the separation of political authority from the private sector and the separation of the state from the church. Over time however, we’ve lost touch with this idea of public sphere and the Occupy Movement is seeking to bring it back. To take over a public space and to have dialogue with people about changes we’d like to see in our society is in itself is a manifestation of remix ideology. Occupiers took a public park and remixed its purpose to better suit their needs, and arguably the needs of the society. Just like Occupy Toronto remixed the ideas of public space they also took the traditional, and non-functioning, version of democracy and re-mixed it to create a more horizontal structure. The 40 day encampment of St. James park therefore was an exercise in remix ideology, as it applies to the ideas of public space and democracy.

Remix ideology is also closely related to the culture of piracy. In chapter two of “The Pirate’s Dilemma”, the Tao of Pirates, Matt Mason outlines piracy in a way that is applicable to social revolution as well. The ideology of piracy can be summed up in two sentences. “When the trust is gone, the system stops working properly. But this in turn produces new breeds of pirates, pushing back in the name of a fairer society” (61). This is exactly what the Occupy movement, and many other social movements, have set out to do. And many of them have been wildly successful. The Occupy movement has seen injustices and inequalities in our system and have attempted to “push back” to try and fix them.

But this ideology extends well beyond the Northface tents of St. James Park to many other forms of revolution and social change. It can also change the way drug companies operate. AIDS medication is a wonder of modern science, allowing those with AIDS to combat their illness. Drug companies are rewarded handsomely for developing these medications. Patents and intellectual property laws allow them a monopoly on the ‘AIDS market’. The problem is, those countries where AIDS is most prevalent are 3rd world countries, incapable of paying the inflated Western prices associated with AIDS medication. “When regulations and patents are stifling our economies, our environment and even human life itself, individuals and entire nations have responded with the pirate mentality, raising the stakes with world-changing consequences” (61). This is exactly what’s happening in India.

Mason speaks of Dr. Usef Hamied of the pharmaceutical company Cipla. His company creates anti-HIV drugs for about $1 a day. Compared to Western drug companies who charge $27 dollars, it’s clear that Cipla is providing a valuable service for society. “When the market fails and democracy is ignored, pirates should step into the breach” (63). In this case it is Cipla stepping in, becoming a drug pirate for the good of their society. By ignoring international patent laws and making generic drugs that everyone can afford, Cipla is saving and improving millions of lives. This type of piracy is also prevalent in Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Thailand, Egypt and China and is another example of how piracy adds value to society.

The purpose of piracy, Mason argues, is to keep capitalism and democracy accountable to consumers and to push back when things get out of hand. The examples I talked about are just two ways piracy is changing the landscape of society. This piracy model has been applied to farmingfashion and could be applied to any situation where the current system does not adequately serve the average person. It seems like big corporations and governments could learn a lot from the pirate mentality, if only they would listen. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, “the only way to defeat piracy is to compete with it” and I think that’s true. Piracy forces companies to become more efficient and to innovate and helps keep governments honest and working for the people who elected them. And I think remix culture and piracy go hand in hand a lot of times. In order to remix the accepted views of things like public space or democracy, the pirate mentality is often helpful in getting the ball rolling. While our society is advancing at mach 3, our version of capitalism and democracy seem stuck in the past, resulting in structures that do not meet our expectations and needs. Piracy and remix encourages innovation and creates systems that work for the greater good. If remix is the end goal then piracy is the roadmap.

Visit The Pirate’s Dilemma website here

Watch a video about drug piracy in Africa here

Watch a video about drug piracy in India here

Watch a video about Monsanto seed’s monopoly on the seed market here, another industry that desperately needs piracy

Watch a video on fashion piracy here

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7 responses to “Remix Culture, Piracy and Revoultion”

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