Despite blanket media coverage of Wikileaks and Julian Assange, there has been little discussion of the fact that Assange is merely one leader within a large and complicated social movement. The better analyses have found it interesting that the Swedish Pirate Party are aiding Wikileaks; some note links to the German Chaos Computer Club. But only “geeks” and “hackers” (technology workers) are aware that all of these organisations are members of the same movement.
This social movement, which has been termed the “free culture movement”, has a thirty year history. It incorporates elements reminiscent of earlier workers’ movements: elements of class struggle, political agitation, and radical economics. The movement’s cadre, mainly technology workers, have been locked in conflict with the ruling class over the political and economic nature of information itself. As Wikileaks demonstrates, the outcome will have implications for all of us.The free culture movement exists as a consequence of the internet’s political economy. Personal computers have radically transformed the economic nature of information. Before the 1970s, a given piece of information was tied to a physical object - a piece of paper, an LP, a roll of film. Entire industries were built on selling paper, LP’s and rolls of film with particular bits of information on them. Then the personal computer arrived and suddenly information of all kinds could be duplicated infinitely at minimal cost - and distributed by the internet to a global audience. Every human could have a copy of every piece of art ever created for the cost of a broadband connection.