economy

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Relax! Producing culture in a weak intellectual property environment

I just published this article on eurozine, based on the talk I gave at their conference, Changing media – Media in change in mid May in Linz, Austria. Here's the argument in a nutshell:

Cultural producers should be relaxed about digital technology's erosion of copyright. A weak copyright regime offers a chance to re-embed cultural production in concrete, personal relationships out of which new economic models can and do emerge.

If you want to know why and how this is the case, you'll have to read the whole article.

For those with very little time, here's the conclusion, and, very important in my view, how to avoid the argument about new opportunities to be high-jacked by the conservatives who want to cut public cultural funding.

Re-embedding culture

One way to understand copyright is as an abstracting mechanism. Copyright stabilizes a work so that it can be lifted out of concrete social relations – between the author and her cultural environment – and made to circulate as a commodity in abstract, impersonal markets. The more innovative alternative models re-embed cultural works in concrete, personal social relationships. This is made possible through social media of all sorts, which allow personal relationships to grow beyond the small and the immediate. Strong copyright is not helpful in this process. Indeed, it is detrimental to it, because of the strict separation between author and audience, where one is entirely active the entirely passive. Re-embedding cultural production into concrete social relationships requires that all parties actively contribute to creating the particular environment. Their contributions are highly differentiated – not all people are, or need to become, an artist.

The state of free culture, 2011

The Free Culture Forum released the Declaration on Sustainable Models for Creativity in the Digital Age in February 2011 following their second Forum in Barcelona in October 2010. This loose global network of artists, cultural producers, political activists and scholars is spearheading a movement to enable culture to be free for all to express and enjoy and to prevent it from being enclosed through copyright and other regulations that are preventing access to what should be a cultural commons.

In this text, I will assess the state of free culture today by first locating it within the broader movement for the digital commons. I will then look at the first two phases of free culture which centered around technological and legal issues. This sets the context to assess the current phase of economic and institutional experimentation.

The full article is here. A substantially shortened, but nicely lay-outed version is here (pdf, 8.8.MB), as published in the Spring|Summer issue of the Komsos Journal.

Free Culture Forum Declaration

sustainable creativity

The Free Culture Forum has launched its declaration on "Sustainable Models for Creativity in the Digital Age". After last year's "Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge", the declaration is an important next step in the self-definition of the free culture movement. It moves beyond licensing issues, focusing instead on long-term sustainability, which needs to combine income streams for professional producers with the right to access and re-use material for the general public. I think this is crucial, but admit to being somewhat biased, since I played a part in drafting these documents. See for yourself.

We can no longer put off re-thinking the economic structures that have been producing, financing and funding culture up until now. Many of the old models have become anachronistic and detrimental to civil society. The aim of this document is to promote innovative strategies to defend and extend the sphere in which human creativity and knowledge can prosper freely and sustainably.

This document is addressed to policy reformers, citizens and free/libre culture activists to provide them practical tools to actively operate this change.

  • How To for Sustainable Creativity [30 pages]
  • Dictionary of the Human Economy, out now!

    The Dictionary of the Human Economy is out now. It's an amazing collection of some 30 concepts of social alternatives (see table of contents). I'm very happy that my entry on "Digital Commons" is included here. You can get it in any good book store and, of course, online.

    About the Book

    The global financial crisis has renewed concern about whether capitalist markets are the best way of organizing economic life. Would it not be better if we were to treat the economy as something made and remade by people themselves, rather than as an impersonal machine?

    The object of a human economy is the reproduction of human beings and of whatever sustains life in general. Such an economy would express human variety in its local particulars as well as the interests of all humanity.

    The editors have assembled here a citizen’s guide to building a human economy. This project is not a dream but is part of a collective effort that began a decade ago at the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and has gathered pace ever since.

    Over thirty original essays address topics that range from globalization, community participation and microcredit to corporate social responsibility and alternative energy. Each offers a critical guide to further reading.

    The Human Economy builds on decades of engaged research to bring a new economic vision to general readers and a comprehensive guide for all students of the contemporary world.

    El cànon digital a debat, amb Felix Stalder i Peter Sunde

    Short interviews with myself and Peter Sunde, on VilaWeb, a web.tv from Barcelona. The interview itself is in English.

    Parlem del cànon i dels nous models de negoci en l'era digital amb Felix Stalder i Peter Sunde, que han pres part en el Fòrum d'Accés a la Cultura a l'era digital, congregat a l'Arts Santa Mònica de Barcelona.

    free culture and the culture flatrate

    I spent the last few days at the Free Culture Forum in Barcelona, which was focusing on sustainability of free culture.

    One of the main themes of the discussion was the culture flatrate and the collecting societies. In part because the main organizer of the forum, exgae, is in a high-stakes fight with the Spanish collecting society, sgae. In part, because the notion of a culture flatrate appears to be gaining some ground politically. I use the qualifier 'appears' on purpose, because I haven't seen it at all, but others, who are more deeply plugged into the back channels of the policy process, are saying so.

    The discussion, though, was rather unproductive, confusing and exhausting, mainly because the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

    Free Culture, in its most basic notion, is about the resources and rights available to every individual to make a contribution of his or her choosing to culture (a distributed system of meaning) and to communicate the activities to anybody he or she wishes to. It is a transformative view of culture were the input and output of the productive process are not categorically distinct, implying that existing cultural artifacts and processes are part of the resources available to everyone.

    The Return of DRM

    Originally written for the nettime-l mailing list which lead to a follow-up discussion, here, and here.

    In early 2007, Steve Jobs (of all people!) concluded in his 'Thoughts on Music' that "DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work."1 Soon after, one label after the other started selling music in "unstricted"2 formats, and there was much celebration about the death of DRM. And, there were lots of reasons see things this way: Digital Rights Management Systems were very unpopular with the public. People hated them. Plain and simple. And they were technically unstable, because the encryption, once released to the public, was regularly broken within a few days. And attempts to re-engineer the entire computer operating system to make DRM possible -- Windows Vista -- turned out be be equally unpopular and fraught with internal problems.

    Fast-forward three years. Increasingly, our data is up in the clouds. The decentralized architectures for digital production of the 1990s are being phased-out. Google is pushing an operating system (Chrome) were all data is being stored online and virtually nothing remains on the computer. The device which individuals own is being reduced to a relatively dumb terminal. The apple IPad, it seems, is optimized for consumption (and thus hailed as the savior of the old, consumer oriented media industries).

    Digital Commons: A dictionary entry

    This text, which tries to summarize and situate the concepts and practices of the digital commons, is my contribution to the "Dictionary of the Human Economy". The editors explain in the introduction:

    We want to bring to the attention of English readers some currents of economic theory and practice that have flourished in non-Anglophone countries over the last two decades, particularly in France, Brazil, Hispanic America and Scandinavia. To these we have added significanst work by English-speaking authors that was sidelined during neoliberalism‟s heyday and deserves to find a wider audience now. We have brought these strands of new thinking together under the umbrella concept of “the human economy” which refers to an emphasis both on what people do for themselves and on the need to find ways forward that must involve all humanity somehow.

    Definition

    The digital commons comprises informational resources created and shared within voluntary communities of varying size and interests. These resources are typically held de facto as communal, rather than private or public (i.e. state) property. Management of the resource is characteristically oriented towards use within the community, rather than exchange in the market. As a result, separation between producers and consumers is minimal in the digital commons.

    Google vs Mozilla

    The Register has an interesting article on the growing tensions between Google and Mozilla. It highlights the dangers of monopoly and the fundamental differences between non-profit and for-profit corporations and their outlook on the world.

    "I look at Google and I don't see a lot of alignment with the big picture of the internet," says Asa Dotzler, the ten-year Mozilla vet who was among the team of three or four who founded the Firefox project back in 2002.

    "Google is essentially an advertising company. That's where they make their money. They provide a wonderful service - primarily their search service - but it serves their advertising goals. It serves their revenue goals. The more they can know about their users, the more effective they believe they can advertise, the more money they believe they can make. That is most fundamental."

    Content recognition engine

    There is very little information about the back-end of Youtube (provided by a company called audible magic), which watermarks content to screen for copyright violation. But there's an interesting snippet by Viacom's general counsel.

    Fricklas points to the recent MTV music awards, where Kanye West rushed the stage, grabbed the mic, and delivered his Internet-meme-producing-line, "I'mma let you finish, but…" Viacom quickly uploaded the evening's footage into the content recognition engines of sites like YouTube, which can then block exact uploads of the same footage or allow rightsholders to monetize it with ads. Viacom used the tool to block copies of the clip, but not without offering a solution of its own: the clip was hosted on Viacom websites and was embeddable and linkable.

    It also points to a more flexible strategie: Block exact copies, earn money from other people's mash-ups (who themselves don't earn money).

    Source: Ars Technica,Viacom's top lawyer: suing P2P users "felt like terrorism" November 16, 2009

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