Saturday, April 19, 2008

Glastonbury, the commons and expression: Part 2

This is the second part of an earlier post on the Glastonbury music festival.

Free v free
The financial costs of putting on the concert appear to have increased dramatically over time since the start of the festival. The need to ensure the concert organisers recovered the associated costs is not dwelt on for long but is nonetheless an aspect of the film. In contrast there was some attention given to the number of people seeking to enter without paying.

The free culture and open source software movement recognise a distinction between the concepts of freedom of speech and not having to pay for goods/services. The above aspects of the film could be seen as an analogy to this with those seeking entrance really best characterised as wishing to have access to the free speech of others and to explore their own self expression. On the other hand the organisers could be seen to be more concerned with the price that these people should have paid to enter and the way the lack of these contributions impact on their ability to provide the best experience for all.

The effectiveness of artificial barriers
Related to the consistent breaches of the perimeter fence is the idea of artificial barriers. In this instance the (sub) commons in question was tangible property but the evolution of the fence from being non existent to being a permanent wall with a moat in the middle policed by security on horses and there being a second fence after that, could be contrasted to the arms race of digital rights management in cyberspace. For the festival organisers there appears to be some satisfaction with the solution now in place and comments to the effect that the social norms of attendees appear to have changed with far fewer seeking to enter for free.

In the digital environment the experience of artificial fences has been quite different. For quite some time there was a mainstream adoption of DRM for both CDs and digital music files. In more recent times however DRM has been dropped completely for CDs and to an ever increasing extent for digital files. There were two main reasons for the decline in popularity of digital locks. The first and most obvious was that they were expensive to maintain and largely ineffective. Despite lobbying for and receiving favourable legislative conditions the measures was ineffective. The second reason for their abandonment and largely related to the first, was the impact of social norms. Here the public, for the most part, did not respect the property rights of the record labels readily circumventing the protections. This was partly due to a perception that the restrictions were unwarranted and because there were direct conflicts with legitimate rights. In addition to this there were privacy issues highlighted by the use of a rootkit by Sony in which the digital locks also reported back user data without consent or notification. Whilst DRM remains in place for much of the major labels digital repertoire there is an increasing trend away from its deployment, at least for the sale of individual tracks.

Free speech and the need to support political forums
Another very interesting aspect of this film for me was the specific allocation of space to provide a political forum, known as the Left Field Stage:

The Left Field is a travelling stage and bar which forms part of a number of British festivals... The Left Field was first designed to tackle apathy and promote left-wing politics and trade unionism in young festival goers at the Glastonbury Festival in 2000, and has since trebled in size and is now a regular fixture at Guilfest, Homelands and Glastonbury festivals, and in 2005 at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Left Field features left-wing musicians, such as perennial Billy Bragg and Asian Dub Foundation, political comedians such as Mark Thomas and commentators including Tony Benn, with a number of speeches and debates taking place at each festival. The Left Field also runs many films, for example exposing the violence in Colombia. The Left Field also promotes campaigns and charities, such as No Sweat and War on Want. [Wikipedia, The Left Field (14 June 2007) <> at 18 April 2008]

On one level this is similar to the need to preserve free speech in cyberspace. Unless specific steps are taken to deliberately provide forums in which artists with political motivations can address the public, there is an increasing likelihood that this speech will not have a stage on which to be given or be accessible to others.

Fear as a motivation to develop closed spaces
The Glastonbury festival initially had strong historical roots with the subculture of the New Age Travellers . This group of people moved together in somewhat of a convoy between music festivals in the United Kingdom living an alternative lifestyle. In 1990 there was a riot at the Glastonbury festival which was largely attributed to members of this group, leading their expulsion and much greater security in following years.

Jonathan Zittrain writes of something similar in his article The Generative Internet in which he describes the potential for fear to compel software architects, corporations and the public to abandon the openness of the internet in exchange for closed but arguably more secure environments. Some of the negative implications of this are a loss of innovation and freedom of movement and association.

Similarly here the loss of the travellers to the festival was seen in some ways as a negative implication as they had contributed much in the way of vibrancy and diversity.

Collective action v Civil disobedience
In two parts of the film the travellers were seen to come into direct conflict with the festival organiser. In the first and apparently earlier incident there was a dispute over the rate of pay they were given for work over the course of the festival. The resolution of this dispute was largely achieved by collective action with a group taking positive steps to negotiate a small additional payment.

In contrast, following the decision to ban the travellers after the 1990 riot discussed above, the travellers sought to interfere with others that wanted to attend the festival by blocking access roads to the site. Whilst this could be seen as a form of civil disobedience it was not effective in achieving their goals nor in assisting them to gain access to the festival.

From this perspective one may well compare the lack of success of file sharers in the ongoing dispute over the sharing of copyright material. Here individuals acting in their private homes break the law without having taken the necessary steps to form a collective voice and to lobby in more practical and lawful ways for changes to the law. What can be seen to have resulted from this is their ongoing vulnerability, a failure to be taken seriously and to achieve their goals; instead providing further reasons for content owners to seek and receive stronger copyright laws.

The manifestation of regulation
Regulation of cyberspace has been illustrated and discussed in the text Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lockdown Culture and Control Creativity by Lawrence Lessig. Here Lessig describes the manifestation of regulation in four forms – architecture, law, economics and social norms.

Regulation of digital culture takes place by the design and structure of the digital environment. Typically described as a dichotomy of open and closed architectures, but more accurately a range existing between these polarities, architecture in cyberspace is a fundamental determinate of the ability for people to explore and express themselves.

Law, generally seen to support those seeking closed rather than open digital architectures, regulates through the threat of punishment. Economics, generally seen to drive the desire for stronger laws supporting closed architectures, is a form of regulation which stems from the profit motive particularly of large corporations. Social norms, being the fourth regulator, refer to the perceptions of acceptable behaviour and consequences for acting contrary to these established expectations.

As discussed already, prior to the establishment of the festival the town could be best described as a commons and therefore illustrative of an open architecture. Subsequently however, the organisers of the Glastonbury festival enclosed the area, in effect creating a form of closed architecture.

One of the driving factors for this was the requirements of the local council to provide adequate faculties in proportion to the number of festival goers. Without such a fence there was no way for the organisers to stem the influx of members of the public, demonstrating how law can be used to support the existence of closed environments. Regulation by law is also evident in the searching of cars and festival goers for drugs. The police were active outside the festival with the festival organisers also confiscating signs advertising the availability of drugs.

The desire to ensure that expenses of the festival were met by ticket sales, was an economic factor supporting the existence of the wall around the festival grounds from the perspective of the organisers. Arguably this was also a compelling factor in the decision to attempt to reduce the availability of drugs, with a possibility that the festival might be closed down altogether, negative publicity if there were loss of life as well as potential personal criminal and negligence liability.

In discussing the conflict between mainstream and independent culture above, one may also see a manifestation of regulation by social norms. The local behavioural expectations of the residents of the local community differed directly to those in attendance. The decision of local business not to serve festival goers is but an example of the use of social norms to regulate expression.

The Left Field Coop, 2005. "Left Field at the Fringe." In Wikipedia, The Left Field (14 June 2007) <> at 18 April 2008

Wikipedia, New Age travelers (24 February 2008) <> at 19 April 2008

Zittrain, Jonathan, "The Generative Internet". Harvard Law Review, Vol. 119, p. 1974, May 2006 Available at SSRN:

Zittrain, Jonathan, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (2008) <> at 19 April 2008

Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lockdown Culture and Control Creativity (2004) < > at 19 April 2008

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