Intellectual Property and the Cultures of BitTorrent Communities

“Snowbound” – Holiday Mixtape Exchange

Published in Computers & Composition, 27(3)

In Technics and Time, 1, Bernard Stiegler (1998) challenged the prevalent philosophical distinction between tekhnē and ēpistēmē, arguing that humans are fundamentally technical beings. According to Stiegler, the industrialization of civilization led to a disequilibrium in the evolution of culture and the evolution of technics, with technics evolving more quickly than culture. Stiegler’s discussions of technics, culture, time, and memory provide a useful theoretical framework for understanding some of the cultural implications of copyright issues, which are often viewed in terms of economics, legality, and/or ethics. In this article, I focus on the intellectual property debate as it pertains to peer-to-peer networks and the music industry. Drawing from Technics and Time, I theoretically frame these issues as a problem of temporality, memory, and a disconnect in the evolution of culture and technology. I then use small-scale/observational ethnographic analysis to examine a private torrent community to consider how torrent communities are cultural phenomena, the implications of this assumption, and how these considerations might inform or extend existing approaches to issues of intellectual property. More broadly, I ask, what are the affordances of thinking about these economic, legal, and political issues from a cultural framework?