"Pass me the David Graeber, bitte!"

Copyright, Expertise, and Book Burning

I’ve been involved with Occupy Wall Street and the NYCGA since before there was an occupation on wall street. I remember going to a General Assembly in Tompkin’s Square Park one Saturday and being very delighted by the gentleman facilitating that meeting. He, along with his co-facilitator, did a really outstanding job.

It wasn’t until months later that I saw the same man on Democracy Now! that I was made aware that he was David Graeber, famed anthropologist and anarchist. Apparently a very big deal. To me he was just another organizer.

So why am I bringing this up on the Tech blog? Well as silliness would have it a video has been passed to me of some activists in Germany burning David Graeber’s book. The “manifesto” of sorts cites Graeber’s celebrity, lack of true involvement in OWS, and the copyright notice printed on (allegedly) every page of his book Inside Occupy.

I have a highly technical term for this kind of activity: Dumb fucking bullshit. I also try to use every instance of DFBS as a learning experience, so lets break it down:

Information wants to be free

The obvious way to go with this activity is to point out that a bunch of German “human rights” activists are burning a book by a Jewish author, though it looks bad on paper, I doubt these people have any concern for Graeber’s background. What worries me is the celebration of the destruction of information.

One of their key arguments against the book was that it wasn’t open source. I think that falls very flat. First of all, the publisher is the one who copyrights the book. Yes they are locking away the content and they would be, arguably, better off with a copy left or Creative Commons license but this is the way publishing works, but why?

Copyright isn’t a naturally evil thing. At it’s most basic level it is there to protect the little guy. If David didn’t copy right his book and it became very popular, what is going to stop Mega Evil Printing inc. from making a copy of his book and using their superior logistics infrastructure (and team of lawyers) to out sell David with his own book? This means David’s profits for his work go to someone else, that doesn’t seem fair does it?

What we need to focus on is not copyright in and of itself, but the copyright of that which should belong to the commons. What if Mega Evil Printing inc. purchased the copyright to a specific book binding technique and began to sue all the little mom and pop book binding stores? We must focus on taking back the technology that allows us to compete with these mega industries, rather than compete with each other (or burn each other’s books).

Celebrity and Expertise

I’ve been told that David is “one of the most celebrated living anthropologists“. One might say he is a rock star of anthropology (those must be fun parties). This get confused in OWS often as celebrity. A celebrity is Paris Hilton, someone who’s only claim to fame is their claim to fame. David is an expert. Think about it, if you want to get an expert opinion on why Occupy Wall Street is happening wouldn’t you ask one of the greatest living anthropologists who has literally been involved since day 1 (and I’m not talking September 17th, I mean the “real” day one). I’ve seen this guy at many meetings and evidence would suggest that he is involved in some manner.

Expertise needs to be celebrated! Here in the U.S. there is a general disdain for educated people, or those with experience greater than our own. This isn’t to say that a college grad is more experienced than a high school drop out (like me). No, this is a matter of respect to people who know their shit. I would be perturbed if an anthropologist was talking about network technology or if a arm chair activist (like me) was talking about what it was like to sleep in Zuccotti Park.

In summation, this movement needs to stop attacking itself and stop pretending it knows everything. This guilty until proven innocent nonsense needs to stop. Most of us don’t have the full story. Be it around copyright law, anthropology, any individuals intentions or commitment, or the level of someone’s expertise. A little humility would go a long way.

I could have looked at David facilitating in that park so many months ago and said “who the hell is they guy, why does HE think HE can be up there leading this meeting? What does he know about people, society, or anarchy?” Wouldn’t I have looked stupid…


  1. Charles Lenchner

    This is hysterical. Watch the movie! I was tickled, then horrified, then tickled again. Just hearing a woman with a heavy German accent saying ‘David Graeber’ a few times was enough to get me over the edge. I’ll be chuckling for days.
    (Written with love for all!)

  2. cari machet

    well drew have you studied art? do you know anything about the nature of my art work as an artist? your expert argument could be used against you regarding your trashing my work without even talking to me about it – as you actually know me – expecting yourself to know somehow everything about the art action and making your assessment here seems premature and odd – why did you post this?

    open source also is a big issue here in europe in a way that the us cannot take – are you in europe? – no

    david graeber is not ‘on the ground’ in the sense that he is an elite – there are elites at ows or havent you noticed? – just because someone goes to meetings they are not to me ‘on the ground’ – has he worked on jail support? has he been arrested? worked in kitchen? taken someone to a clinic appointment in our community? my point is that if the movement cannot be self critical then it wont look at what is wrong and solve the issues – we have to know the problems in order to solve them and if you think the revolution (if that is what you are interested in and not just reform) is just outside of occupy wall street and not needed inside the people of occupy then i will argue that with you full on – please bring your reasons for thinking that

    this whole thing about copyright and the publisher decides i have seen that several places – WTH – so you are not responsible for the contracts you sign? so it is just like saying ‘oh the president decided to use more drones and oh we cant do anything about that’ – i know incredibly intelligent people – way more intelligent than anyone at ows i know and way more intelligent than david and they make their books downloadable for free from the internet – why would this super intelligent person do that? just on accounta’ because?

    when you download graebers book in germany you get ON EVERY PAGE a copyright on the bottom and it is not small it is the largest type on the page – again you are not in germany

    i have recently had many arguments with you drew about the elite of occupy and for some reason you deem it fit to protect them – i choose to protect the movement instead of individuals who are commercializing and profiteering off of it and therefor deluding the work others do that is honest and not about capitalism – i am an anti-capitalist – what are you sir?

    (i have several questions in this text maybe you could in your next text ask some questions too – it is considered over here in europe very healthy