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.
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.
But in the same way that even outstanding professional artists are not only producers but also consumers/users of culture, so the mute readers of a text are not only consumers. The roles at the each end of the production/consumption scale simply do not exist, they are ideological constructions. However, there are infinite mixtures of positions between them. New economic models are emerging able to do justice to this infinite variety of ways which the two sides can be related, rather than separated. The de facto weak copyright that characterizes much of our daily practice makes the exploration of possible models much easier. We should be glad about this.
A word of caution, though
We live in a political system that is very keen to reduce public responsibilities for culture – particularly for minority, non-representational culture. Some of this desire speaks the language of rightwing populism. Some of it is masked by a seductive appeal to the new communitarian possibilities – such as those described here – as alternatives to public funding. In reality, this is a very dangerous and dishonest talk. What these new models are really doing is replacing one set of market-oriented mechanisms – those based on strong copyright protection – with other sets of market-oriented mechanisms – most based on weak copyright and strong(er) social relations. I don't want to imply that this is a zero sum game since, on the whole, it is all about replacing a system that clearly doesn't work for most non-mainstream cultural production with one that might work for a much context.
But this change in the structure of markets in no way implies a diminishment of public responsibilities to support culture in the many areas where neither the old nor, likely, the new markets are sufficient. If we accept the cynical conservative spin relating to the flowering of digital communities, we will end up in the worst of both worlds. No public funding for culture, and communities too impoverished to organize their financing autonomously.
bib reference: Stalder, Felix (2011). Relax! Producing culture in a weak intellectual property environment. Eurozine.com (July 1). http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2011-07-01-stalder-en.html