Saturday, January 07, 2006

qlip qlip qlip

fascinated by the hills of hebden and halifax, it was inevitable that i'd stumble across the legacy of the calder valley coiners: a huge network of coin forgers and counterfeiters who, some 200 years ago, cost the government dear and shared out their profits among the poor of the region. this was too good to be true: a thousand robin hoods virtually on my own doorstep. i'd seen an advertisement for a fell race up n down x country called "the coiner's seven" - a seve mile slog around the coiners' eighteenth century haunts - and began looking for any writings on the coiners. precious little is left: the history of these coin clippers is writ small, usually by wet liberal historians who fail to understand the radical nature of coining. what little there is led me to heptonstall church graveyard where "king" david hartley, one of the leading coiners is buried. finding his rainswept tombstone, one desperately stormy sunday afternoon, was as exciting as child - hood annual visit to backpool pleasure beach it was up in the tiny village of heptonstall, to (i later read) that a local woman called mary newall had killed an informer by putting hot coal down his trousers a flame for your pants, a poker for your eyes in a local inn. great stuff. as coincidence had it, the summer of 1991 saw a spate of forged tenners and fivers hitting the street of england, with shopkeepers and bankers across the country discovering they'd been conned by counterfeit notes. respect due to mickey thomas, wrexham footballer ha! well madam how'd you like it, maybe plenty off the back? i heard the coiners took the snippers to the union, jack with a snipper and a clipper and a bloody close shavemaking fivers, tenners, twenties, change. what's your size? what's the houres? tufnelspeak no, you don't need the hassle- take the new short cut to the old clippy castle with the ramblers and the scramblers and the loiners and the tykes and the punks and the hippies living by the pike. skyline dominating stoodley pike, built to commemorate the end of napoleonic wars, now a phallic haven for twolegs and fourlegs pick a coin, any coin, and with a snip snip snip you turn a portuguese guinea to a threepenny bit; and every last watermark just curled up and died, haircut sir? and now the king and the queen got a bit on the side. don't be bloody silly- keep away from bloody billy notorious government informer- cause he's shooping all the chooping going down along the valley, and supergrassing catches like a plague, to be sure: but it's nothing that a bullet in the belly couldn't cure. please to put a penny in the old man's hat, then roll'em over! roll'em over! lay 'em out flat! just deliver us kicking from our pokes and sacks to the hills of hebden, hell and halifax. and the next bugger blabs is the next bugger dies, got a flame for your pants and a poker for your eyes... where every hot guinea is another hot dinner, with the weavers and the spinners and the reverends aye, even the reverends were involved! and the sinners.
- Chumbawamba "Snip Snip Snip"

Chumbawamba's encomium to coining appeared on their 1992 album Shhh, which recycled what they could recover from their legally unreleasable Jesus H. Christ. JHC was not allowed out because it made use of copyrighted material in ways that the copyright holders would not allow. Years later, after the shutdown of Napster and the ridiculousnes of multimillionaire popstars claiming filesharing would hurt them, Chumbawamba released an MP3-only single made up almost entirely of samples from "artists" speaking out against filesharing.

The coin clipping and filesharing parallel bears further research. While the term "pirate" is the term of choice for discussing filesharing, clipping may be a more apt analogy. Coins made from precious metals were subject to having small amounts of the metal shaved off. These amounts, accumulated, could be melted down and sold on the precious metal market. The clipping of coins, in turn, led to coins that were worth more by their denomination than the metal that bore that denomination. This amounted effectively to a monetary policy from below, such that the state was not the sole arbiter of currency debasement. Clipping produced new wealth by extracting it from existing wealth in a way that resulted in a greater aggregate quantity of wealth available, and in a fashion that is difficult to regulate. The practice of clipping is the origin of the common practice of milling the edges of coins to make clipping more immediately detectable.

Filesharing allows the same process. Electronic duplication of goods, either entirely, in pieces, or reworked into components of other goods, produces new wealth without any significant loss and in a fashion that is difficult to regulate. This is why responses to file sharing are so draconian. If filesharing can not be directly stopped, perhaps fear will impede the process. For these same reasons, 17th century colonies in America made use of the pillory as punishment for coining: the sight of an individual immobilized and publicly brutalized was designed to evoke a cost/benefit analysis on the part of would-be criminals as to whether the wealth gained was worth the possible harm inflicted should they be caught. The response to filesharing is similar. Practice and plans now to produce CDs and DVDs that can not be copied, software that requires online challenge-and-response are analogies for the milled edges of coins.

A few questions open outward from the issues sketched here. Historically, what cases were there of deliberate organizations of coin clippers, and actions in defense of coin clipping? If so, what were the conditions of their successes and failures? And, what impact did coin clipping have on economic trends, both directly and indirectly via changes in monetary policy in response? In the present, what impacts do filesharing having on economic trends? Certainly trade associations for industries involved are paying a great deal of attention to the issue. They believe their profits are at stake. Given that their profits are only their concern, not ours, what impacts might filesharing have upon us? In what ways might industry seek to pass impacts on to us, and how might this trickle down be fought?

Additionally, what means might there be for the collective organization of the defense of filesharing? It is likely that real wages in the US will continue to decline, providing one among many reasons it is likely that filesharing will continue to remain attractive to many people. Defending this activity will require creativity and tenacity. It will not be easy, not least because it is a semi-private activity. Coin clipping and file sharing are intersubjective activities, in that each involve exchanges with other people, but they do not necessarily involve deliberate collective organization or coordination with other people. This is one of the reasons why the pirate metaphor is less apt for file sharing. Piracy necessarily entails cooperative organization with others. While file sharing is often a planned and coordinated activity, a large part of it happens in the home in a relatively individualized setting.

Collective acts of filesharing, perhaps coordinated via entities such as hacklabs, may be useful for helping to create, for lack of a better term, a class consciousness amongst file sharers. Other needed activities are the analysis of trends in the mechanisms for prevention, detection, and punishment of file sharing. One goal should be elaborating techniques for evading and jamming the works of those mechanisms, and the more publicly the better. Another goal should analysis of who are the leading actors in the crusade against file sharing, so that they can be made the target of acts of retaliatory protest. A third goal should be the production of memes and of subvertising that helps foster the aims here advanced. Perhaps historical research into figures such as the Cragg Vale coiners can be useful to this project, as can perhaps works such as "Snip Snip Snip."


  1. Thank you for your feedback.

  2. Indeed, very impressive. Great taste in music too.