Dematerialised data and human desire: the Internet and copy culture
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Since Licklider in the 1960s  influential proponents of networked computing have envisioned electronic information in terms of a relatively small (even singular) number of 'sources', distributed through technologies such as the Internet. Most recently, Levy writes, in Becoming Virtual, that "in cyberspace, since any point is directly accessible from any other point, there is an increasing tendency to replace copies of documents with hypertext links. Ultimately, there will only need to be a single physical exemplar of the text" [13 p.61]. Hypertext implies, in theory, the end of 'the copy', and the multiplication of access points to the original. But, in practice, the Internet abounds with copying, both large and small scale, both as conscious human practice, and also as autonomous computer function. Effective and cheap data storage that encourages computer users to keep anything of use they have downloaded, lest the links they have found, 'break'; while browsers don't 'browse' the Internet - they download copies of everything to client machines. Not surprisingly, there is significant regulation against 'copying' - regulation that constrains our understanding of 'copying' to maintain a legal fiction of the 'original' for the purposes of intellectual property protection. In this paper, I will firstly demonstrate, by a series of examples, how 'copying' is more than just copyright infringement of music and software, but is a defining, multi-faceted feature of Internet behaviour. I will then argue that the Internet produces an interaction between dematerialised, digital data and human subjectivity and desire that fundamentally challenges notions of originality and copy. Walter Benjamin noted about photography: "one can make any number of prints [from a negative]; to ask for the 'authentic' print makes no sense" [4 p.224]. In cyberspace, I conclude, it makes no sense to ask which one is the copy.
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