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THE APOLOGY OF SHOP-DROPPING

by Babybrul Thursday, Dec. 09, 2004 at 7:51 AM
babybrul@fondation-babybrul.org

Shop-dropping [A] consists in pirating the commercial system by putting free items on store shelves, without authorisation. This way, like the Babybrul Foundation (France – Europe), you can drop free home-made CDs in big record stores, free photocopied booklets in “new books” sections, copied DVDs or videotapes in blockbuster departments, and so on.

THE APOLOGY OF SHOP-...
photodae.jpg, image/jpeg, 192x128

“The Apology of Shop-dropping” is an article by Babybrul written to give a clear explanation of the shop-dropping approach, its stakes, its limits, the meaning it can be given, who develops it, how much it costs, etc. This article is meant to be a rather comprehensive presentation of this original practice, addressing the major issues raised by shop-dropping as an interstitial pirating practice, in order to satisfy the curiosity of many people and journalists who want to know more than what has already been written on the issue (in the “Shop-dropping” booklet and the “Shop-dropping practical hints”).

Summary:

*Doing it yourself

*Copy-right or -left

*Interstitial pirates

*Experiments and limits

*No “art for a living”

*The law

*Some history?

Shop-dropping [A] consists in pirating the commercial system by putting free items on store shelves, without authorisation. This way, like the Babybrul Foundation (France – Europe), you can drop free home-made CDs in big record stores, free photocopied booklets in “new books” sections, copied DVDs or videotapes in blockbuster departments, and so on.

Doing it yourself

In the things-given-for-free approach of shop-dropping, an activity’s profitability is set aside in favour of a critical thinking about the way this activity’s production is distributed. It is critical because commercial distribution and its efficiency are put into question by seeking to give everyone access to what is distributed by giving it for free.

When it comes to music, this non-conventional way of distributing a record goes hand in hand with a self-production approach which favours a way of producing things with a cost nearing zero: home studio, CDR burning or tape copying, home-made sleeves, etc. But it also applies to other areas such as self-published booklets, self-produced videotape movies, and so on.

Copy-right or -left

There is no trademark on shop-dropping and there is no exclusivity on its practice by the Babybrul Foundation which is developing it in France. Copyright is not relevant here because what matters is achieving unrestricted circulation, not money-mediated exchange. Regarding this point and the issue of royalties, an alternative exists which allows to claim authorship of a work while not prohibiting its reproduction, use, alteration, propagation, which is called free licence, or copy-left, which gives users the very same freedoms that copyright deprived them of so that only the author could have such freedoms [1].

This idea, inspired by free software licences, is applied in the area of material creation - music, picture, video. But copy-left theoretically does not preclude the eventual commercial distribution of a work under this licence. Moreover, it can happen that this “philosophy” of things-for-free only applies to non-material circulation and ends as soon as the work is given a physical support, is burned on a CD or printed on paper, if the author specifies it.

Interstitial pirates

Shop-dropping is not about copyright, but about piracy, interstitial pirating. The interstice here is the space-time of record containers or bookshelves when nobody is watching, when nobody is thinking someone has time and money to spend in manufacturing free things and dropping them in stores without asking. The concept of shop-dropping is great because of its interstitial nature: although it goes against capitalist interests by using the commercial space-time of a store without any financial compensation, it is not planned, it comes by surprise, it causes what was unimaginable before to become a reality, by simply reversing and overtaking the basic rule making commodities to be on the shelves, as if by magic, without anybody daring to take them away without paying.

Experiments and limits

“Shop-dropping overtakes the ideal of commercial exchange and commodity circulation through pirate production: you can have your item, a part of you, whether a record, a comics, a text or a book, on the shelves of big stores for free, accessible to all just like the latest coveted product. It feels like playing something new, being one step ahead of this age, of Culture and the Law […], to occupy a place within the system which wasn’t assigned to you, without owing it anything in return, to profit from its obscene development while showing the limits of its own delusions, the limits of the law, the limits of the democratic hype and its so-called ‘free expression’.”

“When I put my record in the FNAC stores’ containers, it feels like I’m hijacking history in the schoolbooks.” [2]

In itself, practicing shop-dropping is not a totally efficient alternative to the commercial circulation of things. There is always a risk that shop sellers will remove the dropped items. And unless it is collectively organised on a wide scale, it remains local. But the interest lies in the DIY aspect of this practice, the small record run, the homemade sleeves. It is self-managed from the beginning to the end, something capitalism deprived us of simply and clearly by taking any mean of production away from us to develop industries which machines, knowledge and consequences are separated from our daily lives.

However, the Babybrul Foundation also takes the different Fuzzkhan CD shop-dropping episodes related on its Internet site as arguments in a theoretical and practical criticism of the filthy values driving various institutional and private bodies in our society.

It is better indeed to directly hold and follow principles which do not place the barriers that capitalism do, those barriers being:

- private property, which reduces things (and beings) not to be used but owned (which should be replaced by use property in which ownership depends on the personal use someone makes of a good),

- merit, which supports the idea of owning things just for profit, and trade, which is presented as the only real social link putting people together (cancelled by free donation).

It is also as a matter of consistency and by fear of inevitably ending exploited by a Culture which so easily gives itself alternative looks, but tolerates transgression and criticism only when integrated in a commercial chain, that Fuzzkhan music sticks to being free.

No “art for a living”

Thus, the point in shop-dropping is not earning a living from one’s music, images or writing, turning them into objects of commercial exploitation. To some, this appears to be one of the practice’s limitation: most “producers” will never have any hope of becoming independent in their creation by gathering funds or simply ensuring a return, even minimal, on their self-production investments allowing some material development, to go on tours, move for an exhibition…

However, this is a stance which is self-consciously held by the Babybrul foundation which has been so distributing a Fuzzkhan CD [3] (electronic music - 150 free CDR distributed, through shop-dropping as well as hand-to-hand distribution since early 2003) and some booklets, including a “Manifesto against Culture” (with a run of 450 free copies, still not out of stock).

For Fuzzkhan, not being able to “earn a living from one’s art” is not a problem, it is a choice, which comes together with a lifestyle and a “pirate ethic”, in which music is not taken or used independently from its social context, not something sacralised and/or commoditised in the Art world.

This self-conscious lifestyle is also a self-conscious precariousness enabling to “live off the scraps of this world”: “I’ve been living in squats for 3 years, and haven’t been working either for a little bit more. As I need very few money to live, as I don’t have a rent to pay and can feed myself cheaply by salvaging food in the markets or supermarkets of the big cities where I’ve been living, well, I can always find some way to carry out my projects the way I want, with no boss and no other imperatives than those I freely assign myself. Making free CDs doesn’t cost me a lot, as I usually steal CDRs and manufacture the sleeves with salvaged materials, like cornflakes boxes or bright orange adhesive plastic. Moreover, being busy looking for a label or participating in cultural projects, finding subsidies and commercially releasing a record would take me more energy and money than doing it myself, freely and for pleasure. It would really bug me, now, to earn money from what I do, to have “professional” obligations and all that comes with it: a manager, shows in places where admission is charged, and all. Right now, I don’t have any particular obligation that could make my life a living hell, stuck between the production line and the bills, and make me long for some oxygen and an artist life. Really, without any family financial support or state welfare, I’m living pretty well, I’m having fun, and I’m trying to make others benefit from this for free, and that’s all.”

The law

From a legal point of view, there is no specific provision yet against dropping free items in stores. But here is a warning from the Head of Security of the FNAC Marseille which Fuzzkhan received after a shop-dropping of his record on October 17th 2003:

“Dear Madam, Dear Sir, We have found in our FNAC store in Marseille, at the Bourse centre, some records mentioning the address which I am writing you to. These records, some of them burned, do not belong to us. Their bear a ‘free’ label inviting our customers, I suppose, to take these records away. You will understand that for legal reasons relating to consumer rights, and which imply our responsibility, we can not accept such a practice in any way. So I suggest you remind the authors of this dumping that this practice, despite its generosity, is forbidden. In the future, our security staff might hold any person guilty of such acts. Greetings, Mr. X, FNAC Marseille, Head of Security.”

Some history?

Dropping parasitic items in strictly commercial places is not the original idea of some collective or another, it has undoubtedly been practiced before, even though those doing it didn’t talk or brag about their action.

In the US, since July 2000, the Droplift [5] project has been offering a record with the same name on the Internet which can be downloaded for free, with no copyright, together with its sleeve, and then dropped in records stores at the “D” section.

In 2002, without knowing about this project, Babybrul had been dropping free fanzines in street advertisement batches and metro newsstand. Various people told me they had thought of dropping things in supermarkets and other stores and/or had done it, without having ever heard of shop-dropping.

The point is to spread this idea further, to have everyone taking hold of it, so that commercial rule loses its magic (or even, with much perseverance, its efficiency) and, above all, people stop believing it can instil meaning to anything produced/manufactured/created.

Shop-dropping, or whatever it may called elsewhere, can give meaning to practices by circulating their product in a different, direct way without waiting for approval by any authority.

It is much more exciting this way.

Notes:

The Babybrul Foundation actually stopped its activity (in November 2004).

But you can still find news about Fuzzkhan on another website in French: http://www.bricomusik.yi.org

[A] Don à l’étalage (DAE) in French language.

[1] On the subject of free licences, see: “Copyright et Copy-left”, by Anne-Laure Dalloz: http://barthes.ens.fr/scpo/Presentations00-01/Dalloz_CopyR_Left.html (in French)

[2] Extract from the “Appel à création de centres de Don à l'étalage” (Call to create Shop-dropping Centres): http://www.fondation-babybrul.org/#appel (in French)

[3] FUZZKHAN’s free music: http://www.fondation-babybrul.org/music.html

[4] Read “Manifeste contre la culture” (Manifesto against Culture) (text): http://www.fondation-babybrul.org/manifeste_contre_la_culture.html (in French)

[5] http://www.droplift.org

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