New Business Models for Cultural Entrepreneurs
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- Hard to imagine
- Artists, Producers and Patrons: Cultural Entrepreneurs
- A Thought-Experiment and a Challenge
Hard to imagine
Some serious cracks are surfacing in the system of copyright as we have known it in the Western world for a couple of centuries. The system is substantially more beneficial for cultural conglomerates than for the average artist – a situation that cannot last. Furthermore, it seems very clear that digitisation is undermining the foundations of the copyright system. It must be acknowledged that several authors have recently presented analyses of the untenability of the contemporary system of copyright. Yet, most of their observations only allude to – but do not address – what we deem the most fundamental question of all: if copyright is inherently unjust, what could take its place to guarantee artists – creative and performing – a fair compensation for their labours, and how can we prevent knowledge and creativity from being privatised?
It is time to move beyond merely criticising copyright. The pressing question is: what alternative can we offer artists and other cultural entrepreneurs (in both rich and poor countries) that is more beneficial to them and brings the increasing privatisation of creativity and expertise to a halt? My goal in this essay is to develop such an alternative, and to move beyond any notion centred on private intellectual property rights.
The first observation must be that the present Western copyright system pays little attention to the average artist, especially those in non-Western societies. The system disproportionately benefits a few famous artists and especially a few major enterprises, but it has little to offer for most creators and performers. The copyright system does enable a handful of cultural enterprises to dominate the market, and to withdraw substantive diversity from the public eye. Copyright has thus become a mechanism for a few cultural conglomerates to control the broad terrain of cultural communication. Something that has been derailed to such a large extent, and that hurts the interests of most artists and the public domain, should be cut back to normal proportions.
For most artists, the profits derived from copyright do not form a significant incentive to create and perform artistic work because artists hardly receive the majority of these proceeds. This has been the case historically and it remains the situation for most artists in the present in nearly every culture. From an historical perspective, we may also note that the concept of private intellectual property rights has traditionally been absent from most cultures. Yet, there have always been artists who created and performed works. The incentive argument – artists stop their labours if they stop receiving copyright payments – therefore does not hold: ‘copyright today is less about incentives or compensation than it is about control’. Further, ‘firms in the creative industries are able to “free-ride” on the willingness of artists to create and the structure of the artists’ labour markets, characterised by short term working practices and oversupply, make it hard for artists to appropriate awards’.
One may add to this observation that the value of copyright royalty rates is decided in the market place and it is therefore artists’ bargaining power with firms in the creative industries that determines copyright earnings. Artists’ bargaining power is, however, considerably weakened by the persistence of excess supply of creative workers to the creative industries. As with artists’ earnings from other art sources, the individual’s distribution of copyright earnings is highly skewed with a few top stars earning considerable sums but the medium or ‘typical’ author earning only small amounts from their various rights.
For non-Western countries, the Western intellectual property rights system is nothing but an out right disaster. Their knowledge and creativity is obfuscated from them, and they have to pay dearly to receive the fruits of these sacrifices in return. To some extent, this relation also explains the unfavourable debt position of many non-Western countries.
We must face the reality that digitisation is attacking the roots of the copyright system. By abolishing copyright, the process of creative adaptation will once again enjoy every imaginable opportunity. This is all the more interesting in the digital age. After all, digital sampling enables the production of creative works, much like those have always been produced, by finding inspiration, themes, or forms of expression in works previously produced, whether historically or in recent cultural productions. Digitisation enables this distribution of inspiration, although it is also helpful from another perspective. In the world of copyright there has always existed a bizarre distinction between an idea and the expression; however, in the digital age a work is no longer fixed and the strict separation between an idea and its expression is no longer possible. In this sense, digitisation has made the artificiality of distinction between idea and expression irrelevant, and the continual discussions regarding this division have become superfluous.
Another observation linked to possibilities engendered by creative sampling is that the philosophical basis of the present system of copyright is founded on a misconception – specifically, that of the boundless originality of the artist, regardless of whether he or she is a creator or a performer. Contrasting this enduring misconception, we should remember that one always builds on the labours of predecessors and contemporaries. Subsequent artists can only add something to the existing corpus of work, nothing more and nothing less. Although we may highly respect and admire those additions, it would be incorrect to provide a creative or performing artist, or his or her producers, with an exclusive, monopolistic claim to something that has largely emerged from knowledge and creativity in the public domain and that is indelibly connected to the labours of predecessors.
Of course, we are well aware that an artist receives a copyright for the addition he or she makes to what can be found in the public domain of knowledge and creativity. Again, this addition can be very impressive or very banal, but the point is that it cannot be tolerated to grant an artist or producer an exclusive, monopolistic property right for their addition, which is guaranteed until 70 years after his or her death, and legally transferable to an individual or corporation that had nothing to do with the creative process. The credibility of the system really starts to fall apart when we realise that the author and his or her rightful claimants can forbid almost anything that resembles the copying of ‘their’ work.
The development of the public domain of creativity and knowledge deserves a reappraisal. Subsequent artists must be able to delve into this domain in order to find a supply of artistic materials that they can build on. This possibility is foreclosed when artistic materials from the past and present fall into private hands, as is the case to an ever-increasing extent under the present system of copyright. This privatisation of our past and present cultural heritage is devastating for the further development of our cultural life. In fact, an ‘author-centred regime can actually slow down scientific progress, diminish the opportunities for creativity, and curtail the availability of new products’.
For cultural conglomerates, which control the bulk of the property rights worldwide, the possibility to forbid reproduction is exceptionally important: it enables them to dominate broad areas of artistic expression in which no contradiction, no counter-melody, no counter-image, and ultimately no dialogical practice is tolerated. Yet, we have to realise that culture is not embedded in abstract concepts that we internalise, but in the materiality of signs and texts over which we struggle and the imprint of those struggles in consciousness. This ongoing negotiation and struggle over meaning is the essence of dialogic practice. Many interpretations of intellectual property laws squash dialogue by affirming the power of corporate actors to monologically control meaning by appealing to an abstract concept of property. Laws of intellectual property privilege monologic forms against dialogic practice and create significant power differentials between social actors engaged in hegemonic struggle.
Democratic societies require a surplus of opinions and emotionally-engaging claims which contradict each other in processes of dissent and disagreement. The system of copyright as we know it renders this process difficult, if not impossible.
After my summation of the fundamental shortcomings of the copyright system, it should not come as a surprise that I feel the need to investigate alternative ways to protect the public domain of knowledge and creativity, and to assure many artists and other cultural entrepreneurs that they will receive a fair income for their labours. This type of investigation happens all too rarely, and although a few scholars and policy-makers have recently presented alternatives to the system, their proposals have many disadvantages and do not constitute a real alternative to the copyright regime.
The most far-reaching re-orientations have been systems like the General Public License and the Creative Commons. The Creative Commons entails that ‘A’ supplies some kind of public license for his or her work: go ahead, do with the work as you please, as long as you do not bring the work under a regime of private ownership. The work is thus subjected to a form of ‘empty’ copyright. This ‘hollow’ copyright constitutes the most extreme option the author has under the Creative Commons regime.
More often, however, the author opts for the choice ‘some rights reserved’ and maintains, for example, that the usage of the work is restricted to non-profit activities. This is an uncertain form of contract law that will keep lawyers busy. The sympathetic aspect of Creative Commons-like constructions is that it becomes possible, to a certain extent, to withdraw oneself from the copyright jungle. It is of course always laudable to start a new world order on an island, and there is no scepticism in this statement. I hope that more and more artists will renounce the system of copyright that disadvantages them so badly, and begin hollowing it out by embracing the idea of a Creative Commons. Without any doubt this system is helpful for museums, archives and other institutions that want to spread their cultural heritage to the public while avoiding copyrighted and inappropriate usage by other individuals or firms.
As long as the system of copyright is still in place, the Creative Commons appears to be a useful solution that may even serve as an exemplar, but it is important to remember that there are some strings attached. The Creative Commons does not paint a clear picture of how a diverse set of artists from all over the world, as well as their producers and patrons, might generate an income. This is an unavoidable question that we must be prepared to answer. Most artists will not dare to put the existing copyright regime to rest until they have been offered a clear view of a better alternative – even though the present regime only has smoke and mirrors to offer. That is easily understandable.
A second drawback of Creative Commons-like approaches is that they do not fundamentally question and challenge the copyright system. An essential objection to Creative Commons-like approaches is that they involve only those artists who are willing to adhere to this philosophy, making them a veritable ‘coalition of the willing’. Cultural conglomerates, which have the ownership of big chunks of our cultural heritage from past and present, however, will certainly not participate. This downgrades and limits the sympathetic idea of the Creative Commons. Another contradiction worth indicating is that one of the most outspoken advocates of Creative Commons licensing, Lawrence Lessig, is a strong advocate of the idea that knowledge and creativity can be owned as individual property. From this perspective, isn’t the title of his 2004 book Free Culture a bit misleading?
A second alternative for copyright is connected to different forms of art created and produced in a collective manner (regardless of whether or not it concerns more traditional or contemporary works), as is the case in many non-Western countries. In these societies, the individual approach of the Western copyright system does not fit the more collective character of creation and performance. If one stays within the paradigm of the private ownership of knowledge and creativity, it is obvious that a concept like collective ownership comes to mind. Is it not possible to grant so-called ‘traditional’ societies a tool that resembles copyright, but is in fact collectively owned? Would this not enable them to protect their artistic expressions from inappropriate use and/or guarantee their artists an income?
The problems for effectively introducing a system of collective intellectual ownership rights are abundant. For instance, one may wonder who represents the community and who is able to speak on behalf of the community. It is not necessarily the case that everybody agrees on how to deal with artistic creations of the past and present. Copyright is about the exploitation of works, but many people in non-Western societies may consider this blasphemous, or may prefer not to see their works being used in certain contexts. The appropriation of knowledge and creativity is something that certainly causes problems in the Western world, although it does so even more in countries where this strange system has only recently come into existence and where artists use each other works openly, as was the case in the Western world before the introduction of the copyright system. Thus, even without considering the position of Western cultural conglomerates, there are many reasons to suggest that recent attempts at elaborating a collective intellectual property system have failed thus far.
Is the tweaking of the current system a solution for the problems as we have described them? Several scholars, critical to the present copyright system, propose optimising it instead, although their angles of approach are somewhat varied. Some argue for the re-establishment of the fair use principle, which has suffered enormously over the last decade, or for making copyright solely applicable to real authors, creators and performers. Others favour a much shorter period of protection, for instance, fourteen years. Moreover, others believe there is no real problem in the European context, because in these countries the collecting societies put aside a portion of the copyright earnings for cultural projects and their distribution schemes favour individual artists.
Unfortunately, it is unthinkable to bring the current system back to normal proportions because it is not in the interest of the main proponents of the system – the cultural conglomerates – to assist in this transformation. On the contrary, they have ambitious and highly successful in extending and broadening the copyright system. Moreover, digitisation is greatly impacting the functioning of the system. At what point must a society decide that when nearly everyone is participating in an ‘illegal’ practice – like P2P music or film exchange – it can no longer be considered illegal? And even if the European collecting societies have a higher moral ground, the problem of individual appropriation of knowledge and creativity, which is the basis of my critique of the system, continues to exist. In the next sections I will address this issue more thoroughly.
Artists, Producers and Patrons: Cultural Entrepreneurs
Before presenting my proposal we must first observe that artists are inclined to sell their work on the market and – if it all works out – make a living for themselves. Artists have always been merchants and small shopkeepers. They live off an acquisitive audience that wants to admire, enjoy and buy their production. Included in this audience are institutional purchasers like kings, churches, philanthropists, labour unions, banks, hospitals and other societal institutions. This reality, as I will demonstrate below, will provide us with an important point of orientation while developing an alternative to copyright.
Artists, as well as their producers and patrons, are thus inevitably connected to certain entrepreneurial dynamics. This requires a risk-prone mentality and it involves competition, under the condition that real competition exists to the greatest extent possible for artistic expressions. The observation that artists, their producers and their patrons are entrepreneurs makes one wonder what the decisive reason is for reducing the entrepreneurial risks of cultural producers, because this is precisely what copyright does. Copyright renders a product exclusive and provides the entrepreneur with a de facto monopoly. This system of institutionally protected gifts is seemingly bizarre in an era in which even cultural conglomerates themselves herald the blessings of free market competition. Major entrepreneurs in cultural sectors bargain for ever-stricter intellectual property rights in the form of extensions and expansions of existing copyright legislation, but this is completely at odds with the so-called rule of the free market. We also observe the exact same phenomenon in the area of patent law and other intellectual property laws such as trademarks, database rights, plant breeder rights and design rights.
Before we attempt to present a new alternative system, we must first identify the locus of the impulse to create. In general, I would identify three main categories under which the creative impulse might be identified: one possibility is that a work is being commissioned; a second option is that the artist takes the initiative to make an artistic work, possibly in collaboration with multiple, differentially endowed creators and performers; in the third case, a producer can be the binding factor in production and bear the responsibility and risk involved in an artistic venture.
In all three cases – the initiative commissioned from a patron, from one or several artists, or from a producer – there is a person or an institution that intentionally becomes responsible and accountable for creating or performing a certain artistic work. To be responsible and accountable not only implies undertaking a broad range of activities to give the artistic project momentum, but also to bear, among many other things, the financial risks involved. The project initiator then becomes an entrepreneur and bears the risk that unavoidably comes with entrepreneurship. In my alternative to copyright it is not the artist who takes centre stage, but the entrepreneur, regardless of whether he or she is an artist, a patron or a producer.
In this scenario, the first person who brings a work to market can use the advantage to reap revenues. This is known as the first-mover advantage, where the entrepreneur has ‘lead-time’ with respect to the marketing of their specific product. This time gives the first mover a lead over possible competitors, the opportunity to skim the market for the new cultural product, set the price for it, and thus earn a return on investment. After all, it will take several months before a similar product will reach the market. It should be understood that the work falls immediately in the public domain; thus it can be used by others as well and anyone is free to adapt this work creatively. The competitive advantage that most artists possess in one form or other is put at the very core of my new system. If such advantages are permitted to unfold openly and competitively, ancillary forms of protection, like copyright, will be unnecessary.
One counter-argument might be that given the increasing role of digitisation, the reality is that lead-time is only a couple of hours, or perhaps even minutes. Does this mean that there are almost no works that can benefit from a competitive advantage? I do not believe so. Apart from the first-mover advantage, many artists are able to add value or create advantages in other ways. In order to understand this, we should keep in mind that cultural production and distribution would reshuffle considerably after the abolishment of copyright. For instance, music concerts and performances would become much more important and a greater source of income for artists and performers. Live, direct contact with an audience generates inimitable value and performing qualities are of decisive importance for long and lasting careers of musicians even under the present copyright regime.
This performative quality is what gives artists a good reputation, which in turn creates value. Reputation has a signalling effect as it indicates guaranteed quality. Customers are more loyal and more willing to pay higher prices for cultural products from artists with a good reputation, and it makes them aficionados. Later in this essay we will test this proposal in the different fields of the arts and return to the question of how cultural production and distribution would change in a world without copyright. Presently, I want to simply stress that the service qualities of artistic works would become much more important than the individual product.
From what I have stated above about the philosophically doubtful concept of the originality of the author, it is clear that I believe any artistic creation or performance belongs to the public domain. It is derived from the commons, based on the works of predecessors and contemporaries, and therefore, from its moment of conception onwards, it must be located within the public domain. I define the public domain or the commons as the space in any society that belongs to all of its members and can be used by any of them. It is a misunderstanding to think that the commons, or the public domain, is an unregulated space. Of course it is not: both historically and in nearly all contemporary societies, common spaces exist under one form of regulation or another (for example, on the conditions of its usage). In my alternative vision, I aim to return to the commons what has always belonged to it – no more and no less. Actually, in my alternative, what is returned is precisely what has been privatised in the fields of creativity and knowledge in the Western world over the last centuries.
My proposal, as stated above, would prompt a new cultural market to emerge. The first observation is that the abolition of copyright would force cultural conglomerates to lose their grip on the agglomeration of cultural products with which they determine the outlook of our cultural lives to an ever-increasing extent. What would they lose? They would have to give up control over huge areas of the cultural markets. They would lose the monopolistic exclusivity over broad cultural areas because everyone would be allowed to exploit artistic materials that are not protected by temporary usufruct, and absolutely no limitations would be put on creatively adapting works of art. With these new conditions, the rationale for cultural conglomerates to make substantial investments in blockbusters, bestsellers and stars would be undermined. After all, by making creative adaptation respectable again and by undoing the present system of copyright, the economic incentives to produce at the present scale would inevitably diminish. However, it would not be forbidden for a cultural entrepreneur to invest millions of dollars or euros in a cultural product (a film, game, CD, DVD, etc.), however the investment would no longer be made under an endless wall of protection.
There would once again be room to manoeuvre in cultural markets for a variety of entrepreneurs who would no longer be publicly overshadowed by blockbusters, bestsellers and stars. Those plentiful artists are more likely to find audiences for their creations and performances in a normal market which is a level playing field and that is not dominated by a few large players. There is not a single reason to believe that there would be no demand for such an enormous variety of artistic expressions. In a normalised market, with equal opportunities for everyone, this demand can be fulfilled. This increases the possibility that a varied flock of artists would be capable of extracting a decent living from their endeavours.
Another important observation regards cultural adaptation and how the market should be regulated with respect to fraud and plagiarism. I stress the fact that I do not like theft. Of course, I would not propose that ‘X’ can attach his or her name to ‘Y’s’ book or film, falsely claiming authorship of another’s work. This is plain misrepresentation or fraud. If this type of inevitable activity is discovered, then the fraudulent artist would receive his or her fair penalty in the court of public opinion; we do not need a copyright system to accomplish that. It would be up to all members of society to have the courage to publicly accuse artists of misrepresentation or fraud. However, this will only happen if we are culturally alert; this attentive condition is necessary if we want to do without judgments of the courts, which have led us into a posture of cultural laziness. Instead, we should critically discuss what we consider to be culturally inappropriate use.
From what I have suggested thus far, it is quite feasible to have both a flourishing cultural domain and a reasonable income for artists without the existence of a copyright system. However, it is evident that the completely new approach I am proposing it does not immediately eradicate all conceivable problems. If cultural enterprises can no longer control the market through the regime of copyright, they would then resort to secondary protective mechanisms which they would apply with even greater force. These mechanisms relate to the far-reaching control over distribution and promotion of cultural expression possessed by cultural conglomerates.
This too must be limited with metes and bounds. After all, from a democratic perspective it is impermissible that a limited number of cultural giants determine the contents of artistic and cultural communications, using traditional as well as new media. Democracy is not the privilege of a few cultural conglomerates. It is thus a necessity to use ownership and content regulations to organise the cultural market in such a way that cultural diversity has the best possible chance to flourish. First of all, there should not be dominant modes of distribution. It should not be the case that a single owner dominates, controls, or concerts the market for music, films or books. Vertical integration and other forms of cross-media ownership must be condemned. Content regulations may take the form of diversity prescriptions, which would attend to diversity in terms of genre, musicians’ backgrounds, and geographical diversity. Of course, there would be outlets specialising in certain genres that want to be known for this specialisation, but these outlets would also be subject to diversity prescription, albeit within their own genre.
This type of regulation does not take anything away from a free market economy. To the contrary, these rules, while in need of further elaboration, serve to create a free market, or, stated differently, to ‘normalise’ the market and to bring about a level playing field. No one should be able to dominate the cultural market or to have such a strong position that cultural diversity will be suppressed, marginalised, or revoked from the public. This demands certain regulatory controls: on the one hand, the elimination of the control mechanism of ‘copyright’ and, on the other hand, the instalment of some regulations concerning ownership and content that protect and promote the flourishing of artistic diversity.
A Thought-Experiment and a Challenge
In this essay I have presented a thought-experiment. I urge everyone to participate in this quest. Who should become our strategic partners on our journey into a world without copyright? What is at stake here is the possibility of once again respecting the public domain of creativity and knowledge. My main concern is with providing the producers of artistic work with a decent income and sufficient possibilities to bring their work, in all its diversity, to the attention of many audiences without being pushed from the market by a few over-sized cultural conglomerates. The system of copyright has existed for over a century in Western societies. It has been long enough. It is not equipped to withstand the digitisation that has supplied artists with a magnitude of entrepreneurial freedom, and through which I propose a completely new cultural market can emerge. Initially, it might be difficult to imagine such a new market constellation, because we live in a world in which copyright and the dominance of huge cultural giants seem to be self- evident. They are not. Nevertheless, it is not easy to envision that completely other market relations can exist. However, throughout history, we have seen markets change continuously. Why not in the distant future? Market relations can change, radically.
The first effect we might expect from the proposed radical restructuring of cultural markets is that, with these new conditions, the rationale is lost for cultural conglomerates to make substantial investments in blockbusters, bestsellers and stars (however, it is unlikely that those kind of cultural giants will still exist after the introduction of the market regulations we have proposed). After all, by making creative adaptation respectable again and by undoing the present system of copyright, the economic incentives to produce at the present scale will diminish. It will also no longer be possible to decisively dominate the production, distribution, promotion and the preconditions for the reception of the arts. In my proposition, not a single enterprise will be capable of decisively manipulating the cultural playing field. With the abolition of copyright, cultural conglomerates will lose their grip on the agglomeration of cultural products, with which they determine the outlook of our cultural lives to an ever-increasing extent. Because what will they lose? They have to give up control over huge chunks of the cultural markets.
By employing a fully implemented cultural competition policy, in combination with other property rights-delineating measures and diversity of content incentives and obligations, enterprises can never again reach an exorbitant size and dominate the market. Of course, it will not be forbidden, for instance, for a cultural entrepreneur to invest millions of dollars or euros in, for instance, a film, game, CD or DVD. However, the investment can no longer be made under an endless wall of protection.
One of the far-reaching consequences of the measures I propose is that it will no longer be likely for a certain enterprise to hijack the works of other parties – which is no longer protected by copyright, because this has been abolished – and market it. After all, in the past situation of industrial piracy, the pirate tried to obtain a unique, if not monopolistic, position in the illegal market. Yet, in the new situation, no one operates at a scale that enables him or her to straightforwardly take over the works of others and, aided by a dominant market position, market it to all kinds of audiences on a global scale. Piracy disappears in thin air, because everybody is a legalised pirate! Thus, the word piracy no longer has any meaning in this context.
When copyright is abolished and the present cultural conglomerates are substantially smaller in size, a level playing field is put in place in which many artistic expressions can find their way to publics, buyers, readers, users, and audiences. This is the second effect of my proposals. There will once again be room to manoeuvre in cultural markets for a variety of entrepreneurs, who are then no longer pushed out of the public’s attention by blockbuster films, bestseller books, and music, visual arts or design stars. Those plentiful artists are more likely to find audiences for their creations and performances in a normal market that is not dominated by a few large players. There is not a single reason to believe that there would be no demand for such an enormous variety of artistic expressions. In a normalised market, with equal opportunities for everyone, this demand can be fulfilled.
This increases the possibility that a varied flock of artists would be capable of extracting a decent living from their endeavours. Chris Anderson claims that in the long tail, the aggregate market, for instance, for niche music is huge. ‘What if the non-hits – from healthy niche product to outright misses – all together added up to a market as big as, if not bigger than the hits themselves’. Anderson is quite optimistic: ‘Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a huge number of niches in the tail…. As the audience continues to move away from the Top 40 music and blockbusters, the demand is spreading to vast numbers of smaller artists who speak more authentically to their audience’.
If copyright no longer existed, all works would belong to the public domain from the moment of their creation or performance onwards. While this is true, however, it does not mean that creators, performers and other cultural entrepreneurs cannot make a living from their operations and make them profitable. In order to understand this, we should take into consideration the fact that market relations will fundamentally change. There will be no market dominating forces anymore, a reality that guarantees that a level playing field will exist for hundreds of thousands cultural entrepreneurs who will not be pushed away from public attention, as is presently the case.
If these proposals concerning the abolishment of copyright and the establishment of a level playing field were to be implemented, substantial gains stand to be realised when the public domain of artistic creativity and knowledge will be restored in its former glory. This is the third effect of the changes in cultural market relations I am proposing. It will no longer be possible to privately appropriate works that in actuality derive from the public domain. We may highly appreciate the new work, but it remains accessible for further creations, appropriations and for critique, and also for changes and amendments. The public debate will then have to decide whether alterations are made respectfully, and whether the original work commands that respect. If the public debate does not materialise, it is a loss for democracy. Independent and well-informed critique must once again come to play an important role. It is only by testing and dissecting a work that we can sense what is of value, and what is unspeakably banal. Actually, cultural conglomerates would lose the monopolistic exclusivity over broad cultural areas because everyone would be allowed to use all kinds of artistic materials they find on their way, and there will be no limitations on creatively adapting works of art.
An extra benefit of my approach is that the absolute character of property, which wreaks havoc upon our societies, is loosened, and in our case undone. In general, ownership has been allowed to occupy a far too central position in our neoliberal societies. Nevertheless, society has to become much more vocal about particular interests – for example in the social, ecological and economic sense – and has to be able to enforce these. In our case of cultural entrepreneurship, it is even undesirable from a human rights perspective that it is possible to vest an exclusive property right on a creation and development in the area of knowledge, and this is furthermore unnecessary under normal market conditions.
This is precisely one of the objectives we muster against the alternatives to copyright that are presently in vogue like the Creative Commons, which leaves the notion of property intact. My main objection, of course, is aimed at the transformation of the copyright system by industry, which is currently being replaced by contract law and sealed off by digital rights management. It goes without saying that in my approach digital rights management must not exist and must be banished in all its shapes and sizes. If the work cannot and is not allowed to be property – as we imagine it – then digital rights management is the last thing we need.
We should also involve in our considerations that digitisation and the Internet are deeply changing how artistic expressions are produced, distributed, promoted and received. This fourth effect has obviously far-reaching consequences for the development of market relations. To summarise, we have several changing variables: the absence of copyright means cultural conglomerates no longer dominate markets, and this radically transforms the production, distribution and promotion circumstances for films, books, music, theatre, dance, visual arts, design and a variety of mixed cultural forms.
The last effect of our proposals, number five, concerns global economic policies. If I were Minister of Economic Affairs, or Secretary of Commerce, I would be quite nervous. Viacom, the owner of MTV and Paramount, has demanded that YouTube pays one billion of dollars for missed copyrights and has brought this case to the court. Google bought YouTube for 1.65 billion dollars. Every day we see these kinds of figures pass before our eyes. We see an industry where fabulous amounts of money have been invested and lost because of copyright issues. One must be blind not to observe that copyright is in its final days. Even massive criminalisation of users of artistic materials does not work any longer. Somebody should sound the alarm and all Ministers of Economic Affairs should listen: the billions and billions of dollars and euros invested in those huge cultural conglomerates are on the brink of vanishing into thin air. Currently, cultural industries are risky businesses.
There is hard work to be done to avoid an economic catastrophe that is caused by the concentrations, the mergers and the monopolistic control of copyright; one might say that these bad habits of a sector in our society even destroys our freedom of expression. A radical change in the conditions for the production, distribution and promotion of artistic and cultural expressions is necessary, also from an economic point of view. This is exactly what I propose. The outcome would be a blessing for our economies, resulting in more balanced, equitable and less risky economic relations.
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