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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Organization Theory to be Republished in Mutilated Form

When Organization Theory first came out in print, reactions to the cover image (that virally popular "Head Up Ass" picture you can find hundreds or thousands of on Google Images) were mixed. The negative reactions (some of them pretty pronounced) predominated. But that didn't matter to me. The first time I visualized that picture on the cover of my book, something clicked: perfect! I couldn't imagine it any other way. And I remember how I felt when my proof came in the mail, and holding it in my hand. Even more than with my first book, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of holding a solid object that I had originally envisioned in my mind, at seeing my vision transformed into reality. It was my book.

As you know, I have temporarily removed the book from availability for sale. The cover image, it turns out, is under copyright, and the copyright holder isn't interested in licensing it for my use. So I have to take it down or leave myself open to liability $30,000 in damages. As copyright law stands, there's no requirement to show actual economic harm; the way the courts work, if the copyright holder sues, he'll probably get it.

I'm not interested in naming or linking to the copyright holder and generating a lot of negative publicity. For one thing, suing me for past infringement will remain an option until the statute of limitations expires, if I piss him off--even though he's made clear his lack of desire to do so.

More than that, though, there's just no point to it. Given that the guy believes in "intellectual property"--and most people in this society do--he's been pretty decent about it. He didn't come across as a copyright troll, or anything. His family graphic design firm really did create the original image, and he didn't come on strong or try to blackmail me into coughing up money. I took the images down off my blog and removed the book from sale, and he thanked me, expressing his unwillingness to pursue legal action or seek monetary compensation.

For the past few days, I've toyed with different ideas for a replacement cover image. My first thought was Dilbert's pointy-haired boss--my most likely candidate before I saw the "Head Up Ass" picture--but I imagine it would fall afoul of some exclusive licensing agreement with Scott Adams' syndicate, even if he was interested in the idea. I also thought of a proto-mammal in the dinosaur nest or a T-Rex in a tarpit (William Gillis ought to love those). But the range of images on istockphoto is pretty limited.

And God knows I'll never again use Google Images as a source of free clip art. I've said in the past that the kind of copyright lockdown society Stallman envisioned in "The Right to Read" is impossible, that it would be simply unenforceable. And that's true--except for one case: the use of identifiable copyrighted material in mashups by an identifiable person, for commercial sale via conventional channels. All those billions of images on the web, most of them with no indication of copyright "ownership"--and if you use one of them, and a copyright troll decides to take you to the cleaner's, you've got absolutely no recourse.

I've just about decided to say "fuck it" and forego a cover image altogether, and just replace it with a notice that the original image, the way the book is supposed to look, is under copyright lockdown. Because this thing that will come out will not be my book. It will be my text, which I'll still proudly stand behind. But it won't be my book. My book has the "head up ass" picture on the cover. That's how it's supposed to look. This abomination that's coming out in its place is mutilated. When I hold the new proof in my hand, my feeling will be one of violation rather than pride.

While I'm not angry at the copyright holder, I hate the whole system of copyright and proprietary content more than ever. I'll fight the idea of "intellectual property" and report on the wicked actions of the Copyright Nazis more fervently than ever, and work harder than ever in support of technological developments that render copyright unenforceable.

It's personal now.

ADDENDUM. By the way, how's this for a class act? On Monday, I announced that the book was in process of being made unavailable for sale, and specifically requested as a favor that readers refrain from ordering books in the meantime. I explicitly stated that I was in a delicate position, and ordering books might put me in legal danger. Guess what? Immediately afterward, Any Book ordered seven copies of the book--in direct disregard of my request. And not only that! They ordered it at the retailer's discount, which meant I got paid a whopping $4 per copy, instead of the normal $14. And then they turned around and offered it for sale, marked up to $106. That's right, it's not a misprint: $106! And they're also selling the used copies for $106. So they deliberately put me at risk, in direct disregard of my request not to do so, and took advantage of my personal difficulties as an opportunity for speculation. Monty Burns must be proud. Whoever did this probably had an ancestor working at Auschwitz who sold gold tooth fillings on the black market.

Needless to say, I hope everyone will boycott this company, and shun them in the manner they deserve. I hope those books rot on their shelves.

Gary Chartier is busy creating a new cover that will pass legal muster, and the new version should be for sale before long. So please wait to order, and please don't do business with Any Book under any circumstances in the future.


Anonymous Dave C said...

Hi Kevin, So sorry to hear about your book being temporarily withdrawn. I hope it hasn't come at too much of a financial burdon for you.

Have you thought of having a little competition to find a cover? You never know, one of your readers might be a budding artist.

I can't draw for shit, but heres my two pennies worth - Imagine one of those old diagrams in school textbooks that illustrates how man has evolved; the first image is of an ape bent over, the next image he is slightly more straight and less hairy.. eventualy he is a fully upright homo-sapien.

At this point the illustration could continue onwards with the next image having the man bent over slightly backwards; the one after he is even more bent over backwards. Eventually he is so bent over that he begins to dissapear up his own arse.

Best wishes
Dave C

September 17, 2009 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Tom Ender said...

I like Dave C's idea of a competition.

September 17, 2009 4:48 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

How about "This page intentionally left blank"? Or is that copyright too? Many years ago when I was at university the science fiction society started a magazine before deciding on a title, so the first issue came out as "Title To Be Announced" (TTBA) - under which it continues to this day.

P.S., although I didn't mention it at the time, I am among those who felt that that image was distasteful and unseemly - and it didn't appear apropos either.

September 17, 2009 5:51 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I think it sounds like a very good idea. Maybe I'll be ready to try it when I have time to adjust to all this. Right now, I'm just too angry about the loss of the old cover to really get behind a constructive effort to design a new one. But a community design effort is something I'd probably like.

Dave C.'s suggestion is a good one.

Another idea that occurs to me is an uneasy T. Rex looking over his shoulder as an asteroid streaks across the sky, perhaps with proto-mammals skulking around in a nest full of eggs down below.

September 17, 2009 5:52 PM  
Anonymous Aster said...

What they are here doing to Kevin is not merely immoral but absolutely barbaric.

If contemporary copyright law had existed in past centuries much of our aesthetic legacy would have been impossible or criminal. We could never have Racine, Shelley, Blake, Goethe if the use of common cultural symbols of imagery had been forcibly restricted to certain estates and institutions. It would have been illegal to write about Theseus or Faust without permission of the owners to the copyrights.

Or, more precisely, previous authors did face such cultural establishments, in the form of church, state, and class society, and much of the cultural progress of liberal civilisation had been an agonising and sacrificial struggle of centuries against such coercive spiritual monopolies.

Corporate culture guards the use of their intellectual properties with the same rigid and unforgiving harshness as feudal lords protected their legal rights to display registered coats of arms, for the same reasons, and with a similar effect upon the larger culture. In the past the Church did everything it could to make life miserable for anyone who challenged its monopoly on the human imagination; so today do corporations.

If the precise reasons and methods differ the resulting paralysis of freely flowing self-expression is the same. The difference between Islamic clerics issuing fatwas and American corporations issuing legal notices is that the first deliberately seeks to control the human mind by banning contrary ideas based upon content while the second seeks to control ideas to maintain power while uncaringly banning human thought as a secondary consequence. There is a difference of kind here, but not an impressive one. Religious fanatics will smash statuary in service to an ideology of misery and death-worship, but this is less contemptible, somehow, than those who would smash the same statues just to sell them for scrap. The Church at least cared about the importance of ideas when it threatened to torture anyone who thought freely. The corporate defenders of intellectual feudalism don't care which ideas they permit or destroy, so long as they get to collect the rent.

IP divides up the territory of intellectual communication into private estates. In practice this means that one is not allowed to express ideas unless one is protected by the factions of the powers-that-be which specialise in the control of cultural producion. The copyright holding classes will grant such protection on their terms, terms which grant them proprietary claims to intellectual capital produced by the real creative minds who are forced to deal with the established bastards. The copyright class plays the same game of collecting rent on the means of production as any landlord establishment, closed shop union, or criminal syndicate running a strip club.

Copyright law beyond prohibitions of fraudulent claims of authorship is a menace to spiritual infrastructure of a free society. It could in time completely undo centuries of cultural liberalisation and recreate the informational conditions of feudalism; I look at what it would take for a creative individual to face the conditions IP creates and our appallingly low rates of artistic, intellectual, and technical progress in recent decades begins to make sense. This refeudalising legal structure quietly strangles the human mind in its cradle; the establishment liberals who are supposed to be the intellectual guardians of cultural freedom simply note the lack of content-based censorship and stop looking and thinking there.


September 18, 2009 6:22 AM  
Anonymous Aster said...


In previous times artists and intellectuals had to risk their lives to say anything outside the limits of religious, moral, political, or class- they could use (and were in fact overwhelmingly presured to use) common symbols but courted danger if they said something with those symbols which displeased the powers that be. Today the corporations have recolonised the cultural landscape; they may not ban specific ideas of categories of speech (the class invested in IP doesn't have the depth to understand why these would even matter); instead they capture and privatise the commons of ideas. It’s pay before you’re allowed to begin playing; getting on the grid of creative conversation means getting noticed by the right corporation, plus accepting doing it the company’s way for the company’s profit. It’s not censorship as we've understood it; certainly not prior restraint; one may think or write freely so long as one doesn't use any image, sound, or notion claimed as property by some faction of the establishment; you may walk wherever you wish, but to stand anywhere requires the permission of those who own the streets. With Kevin it's just (just!?) the cover of a book; the IP regime confronts singers and writers with what should in economic terms be technically classified as fascism. The laws create conditions where the seed grain of artistic life must be bought from the company store.

What scares me is that once IP gets to a certain cultural strength, those who do wish to coercively establish specific values are bound to find ways to make use of the IP system. The ability to punish anyone who uses an idea without authorisation would be a treasure trove to religious or ideollogical authoritarians who care about power and morality more than loot (or in addition to caring about loot). IP is run by cynical vultures today, but give it a few decades and we'll have a clerical reestablishment waiting to happen.

If it gets that far, IP could repeal the Renaissance. This is not a minor issue. Stop the free flow of ideas and fragile liberal civilisation dries up and crumbles. IP is a crucial mechanism for the larger solidification of the informal capitalist oligarchy into a true aristocracy; a socially calcified elite will, in a generation or two, be ready to sell control of the human mind to whatever cultural authoritarianism gets in the right partnership position first.

We should probably be very glad that the IP oligarchs and the moral authoritarians currently belong to different establishment factions and hate each other, but if IP laws continue to strengthen eventually the culture of the culture industry will change enough to make church-state political deals fully possible again. In most Western countries freedom of speech is the sole essential constituent element of the open society which illiberal forces have been unable to seriously compromise; IP could change this, and once a moral authoritarianism gains the ability to fine people for using the wrong ideas it will be able to close a culture down for centuries. A media class which currently follows its cynical oligarchic logic to produce a culture of spectacles and sound bites could under different political conditions become the established purveyors of rituals and propaganda. Merchants who trade in idols are natural allies to those who wish to proclaim orthodoxies; capitalists under fear or stress are easily convinced to work for fascists.

Most of the world has never known anything approaching a free society. The more fortunate parts of the world today see nearly every essential of a free society under siege. The rule of law, honest elections, social mobility, a secure middle class, the separation of church and state, freedom of movement, civilian control of the military... all of these are in an endangered state today, certainly in America (and Britain). The philosophical essentials underlying these institutions are in worse shape.


September 18, 2009 6:29 AM  
Anonymous Aster said...


The element which remains largely undamaged (at least in relative historical terms) is the freedom of the press and the flow of ideas. IP is evolving into something which could knock down this last supporting pillar of liberal civilisation, and it only a matter of time before the enemies of the open society pick up this instrument and use it. And if freedom of speech breaks down, a recovery of any liberal social element could take centuries. The resulting social regression and economic stagnation would cause pogroms and democides and undo the entirety of the XX century’s fragile libertarian and egalitarian social progress.

What IP does here to Carson is a microcosm, and a minute foretaste, of the murder of liberal civilisation. Those who write such laws should be lined up against a wall and shot.


P.S. Oh, as a Randian (or whatever I am now) I can’t help but notice that society has pulled a perfect Howard Roark against Carson, and I find it bitterly ironic that few would cheer on this injustice so piously as would Objectivist orthodoxy. Someone left that whitewashed casket open in the sun for far too long, and the corpse reeks.

P.P.S. I like the idea of a competition. One also might consider commissioning a visual artist or photographer to do an original work appropriate to the piece. I suspect that if Kevin needed support here there would exist people willing to contribute to an obviously good cause; making this book Kevin Carson's book again would actually accomplish something of historical importance.

P.P.P.S. That addendum on the speculator is gross beyond words. I'm trying to wrap my mind around the idea of someone who could simultaneously recognise the value of Carson’s still generally undiscovered work and consciously work to harm him in a way made possible solely by that knowledge. It's like studying art history for years so that one may identify which paintings one can threaten to burn for the highest blackmail money. But this is what the real stage directions for a class act looks like. How can one not love human society!

September 18, 2009 6:34 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

That's a brilliant analysis of copyriight, Aster.

The effect you point to of dividing up common cultural symbols into feudal estates, and the historical comparison to earlier aesthetic models (largely a series of mashups of common symbols) is central. Many of Shakespeare's stories were mashups of other people's plotlines. I don't know enough about copyright law to be sure, but I imagine anyone attempting an animated reworking of the Brothers Grimm would be open to being sued nine ways to Sunday by Disney.

Almost all images on the Internet today appear with no copyright information. But in the current state of copyright law, with its presumption of ownership and its placing of the burden on the content user, the "unowned" image is as much an anomaly as Lincoln's unowned horse. In practice, the only stuff known to be safe is the Wikipedia commons, what you buy from istockphoto, etc.--IOW stuff absolutely certified to be in the public domain. Anything else must be assumed to be an "orphan" work. There is absolutely no burden on the "owner" to furnish adequate copyright info, or to assert claims in a reasonable time, lest he suffer some sort of adverse possession.

FWIW, I don't think such copyright lockdown is likely to put an end to liberal civilization. If anything, the whole proprietary culture model is as untenable in the face of technological change as Soviet communism was twenty years ago. IMO The Pirate Bay (or rather whatever new incarnation emerges) is the wave of the future. People like me who use a semi-conventional commercial model under our own names will perhaps be the very last to be liberated, but copyright is already nearly unenforceable for anyone who just wants to read or listen to free content.

September 18, 2009 10:52 AM  
Anonymous Roderick T. Long said...

I assume that the copyright holder claims rights only to that specific image, not to any old head-up-ass image. So if you could find someone with some artistic skills to create a different head-up-ass image, would that leave you legally in the clear?

September 18, 2009 1:40 PM  
Blogger Soviet Onion said...

"What scares me is that once IP gets to a certain cultural strength, those who do wish to coercively establish specific values are bound to find ways to make use of the IP system. The ability to punish anyone who uses an idea without authorisation would be a treasure trove to religious or ideollogical authoritarians who care about power and morality more than loot (or in addition to caring about loot)."

The Church of Scientology certainly fits that description, although I really think you're overstating the strength that IP laws have and will have in the near future. As Kevin noted, developing technologies are eroding the castle walls. The retaliatory information campaign waged against the CoS by Anonymous is a fine example of that.

September 18, 2009 8:18 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Why Roderick, I believe you're a genius. I vaguely recall reading that themes, fictional plots, etc., could be copyrighted. But I seriously doubt this guy is interested in anything but maintaining what he sees as the integrity of an image that a member of his family did, in fact, design. And there are other head-up-ass images out there. If you know someone who'd be interested in doing that, please let me know. Thanks!

September 18, 2009 10:28 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Roderick T. Long, KC, that already occurred to me - and no, it probably wouldn't work because they'll get you on "look and feel", particularly with the track record. You'd probably have to do a significant variation; possibly a daisy chain/ouroboros might do it, or Dave C's suggestion, but those could be too busy and fussy to work as images on a cover. In any case, you should take professional legal advice.

Hint: if you make your own image, work at three times the scale and reduce the final image. That makes almost any unevenness during the drafting unnoticeable at the end stage. Also, either get someone else to look over the stages or put the work away for weeks between stages so you can come back to it all with a fresh eye that won't see what you meant instead of what you did. If you don't, you won't see any fussy or busy stuff etc. that will leap out for others.

September 19, 2009 3:34 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, PML. Since I was hoping for an image of somebody who was clearly a white collar/mgt type, and with predominant gray tones that suited the cover design, I guess I'm screwed.

September 19, 2009 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Joe said...

Hey Kevin, just a note, as much as I value and rely upon your great anaylisis of capitialism and it's alternatives you might take this opertunity to consider a layout and design that maximises the number of folks who your valuable work gets out to.

September 19, 2009 5:54 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, Joe. The thing is, though, my readership is almost entirely network-driven--people who read my previous book, followed my blog, etc. I doubt the cover image has that much effect either way.

September 19, 2009 11:36 PM  
Anonymous Roderick T. long said...

One of the things I like about the original image is that someone might easily see a book on "Organization Theory" and feel their eyes start to glaze over; the image quickly lets them know they're in for something a little edgier than they were expecting.

September 21, 2009 1:56 PM  
Blogger Gary Chartier said...

PML: “I am among those who felt that that image was distasteful and unseemly - and it didn't appear apropos either.”

I confess I don't get the negative visceral reactions to the image Kevin originally selected. I think the image was apropos: it highlighted the absurdity of corporate culture, its own inefficiency, its inability to pass economic muster. The conventional response to moral objections to corporate hierarchies is often, in effect: well, they may not be morally ideal, but they get the job done. Kevin brilliantly emphasizes the degree to which they don't succeed even on economic terms (absent the state's assistance). I think the image makes that point quite nicely.

The world Kevin is describing is "distasteful and unseemly," and worth symbolizing with an image that is, too. But I don't react that way to the image in any case: it's amusing, it seems to me, not offensive.

September 21, 2009 7:52 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

As Gary suggests, I chose the "head up ass" picture precisely BECAUSE it so perfectly symbolizes the book's take on large organizational style. I suspect (indeed, many commenters have made it explicit) that most opposition to the image reflects a fear that it will undermine the serious, academic reputation of the book. But as Roderick points out, the picture is useful for that very reason.

I should add that Gary actually formatted the original cover design for me--and he just finished an excellent job formatting the altered design that will be available for sale in a couple weeks or so.

September 21, 2009 8:00 PM  
Blogger miyamoto-SAN said...


A question: doesn't the mutualist belief in the labor theory of value and property mean that people should own the products of their work? If so, I don't see why someone should not own the images they draw, or the books they wright. If you deny him the ability to decide how the image he drew is used, wouldn't you also have to deny yourself the ability to determine how your book is used?

In other words, I see a contradiction in being upset that someone else bought copies of your book and is reselling those copies and being upset that someone whose image you were using without permission didn't like that you were using it without his permission.

Would you be against, for instance, me taking the text of your book, publishing my own version of it, advertising it and/or using SEO such that most copies sold of that book came from me rather than you? Would you be upset if my version of it became a best-seller, with all the profits going to me? Wouldn't that be me profiting from your labor? But isn't that what copyright is: protecting the labor value of the copies of someone's own labor-created property?

September 21, 2009 9:59 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Miyamoto-san: To answer your last question first, Organization Theory is published under what I call the Woody Guthrie Public License ("Anyone found quoting this work without our permission will be considered mighty good friends of ours"), with specific permission to reproduce in whole or in part, including for commercial use (while I request the courtesy of attribution, of course). The pdf facsimile of my first book is already available on The Pirate Bay, and I will be overjoyed if anyone who has purchased a pdf of OT submits it to any such filesharing service. Anyone who is able to publish and sell it for a lower price is free to do so, with my blessing.

What's more, I think it is possible in most cases for creators to make modest incomes from their work, without IP, so long as they avoid getting greedy and charge a price only modestly over production cost. The reason is that for most works, except enormous blockbusters like books by Stephen King, the quantity of sales has to be huge to justify the transaction costs of setting up a rival edition. Those transaction costs amount to a sort of rent to the original creator. Creators can also sell "freemium," like early access, authenticity, etc., in addition to the content itself (same way Red Hat makes money off customization and customer support, Phish made money off concerts, etc., rather than proprietary content).

My objection to Any Book's behavior was not that they violated my property rights in any way, but that it was an affront and a discourtesy to purchase the book when I had specifically requested no one do so. And it was a slap in the face, specifically, because I had requested it as a favor in view of the legal risk that further purchases might put me in.

As for your first question, I believe I have a right to any tangible product I create with my own labor so long as I do not alienate it through gift or sale. But I do not have a right to reproductions of the same pattern of information in different tangible media. Another person's so-called "copyright," in fact, is a violation of my right to do as I will with my own real, i.e. TANGIBLE, property. For more detailed explanations, see my paper on "Intellectual Property" for C4SS:

September 21, 2009 10:54 PM  

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