A Bill of Goods?

By Bill Ivey, Director, Curb Center, Vanderbilt University

Marty is right about the need to organize and the inevitable problems that will arise as internal differences are encountered and engaged.  And what organization can serve as the umbrella?  Jean underlined the rather pitiful arts weigh-in on media consolidation, and was dead on in identifying the narrow "arts advocacy comfort zone" of the nonprofit community.  Tim has a right to be depressed!

I've been bothered for years by the sight of some accomplished artist -- a songwriter, actor, etc. -- positioned as an advocate for some policy change that really only benefits IP-dependent corporations.  The notion that artists and companies share the same values when it comes to the character of our arts system is a crock.  Companies worry about the theft of assets; artists worry about obscurity.  These two concerns overlap at times, but often they don't.  What's the real benefit to an artist of copyright protection that reaches beyond three-quarters of a century?  What's the real benefit to an artist if your publishing company or record company uses licensing fees to prevent your composition from being sampled. or prevents your film clip from being part of a documentary.  We need to begin the organizational conversation Marty envisions by figuring out what an artist-oriented regime of laws and regulations would look like.  The last thirty years have certainly provided us with more than we wanted to know about how culture works when the footprint of copyright is enlarged, when media is consolidated, and when the Internet gets chopped up into something that looks like old-time late-night TV.  A more nuanced, public-purpose-oriented arts system is possible, but we need that Marty-style conversation to see where all the parties agree, where we can't come together, and how we might organize.

And I also think we need to engage the public at large.  The "system" ultimately shapes the way America interacts with information, with cultural heritage, with political speech and personal creativity.  Just as the environmental movement was ultimately about everybody, the character of our nation's expressive life is important to us all.

July 20, 2010 7:10 AM | | Comments (1) |


Bill, I think you might want to qualify that a bit. Artists' interests are not aligned with the handful of major corporations that still control the vast majority of our creative media production and distribution systems.

But artists' interests are often aligned with small, ethically-run independent record companies, for example. The explosive growth of the modern independent music movement in the 90s and 2000s is largely because people wanted to propagate models that were more artist-centered, democratic, and participatory, that worked outside the industry gatekeepers. Many of the folks who run these labels are recording artists themselves, and are typically dedicated advocates for their artists' interests both in business realms and political realms-- many of them have long been among the most vocal opponents of media consolidation.

Unfortunately, it's become fashionable in the copyright-reform community to talk about "the music industry" as if it were a monolithic entity, as if there were no difference between Merge Records and Sony. This has obscured important realities, leading to a circumstance where a teenage fan might think she's sticking it to the man by downloading a copy of the new Ted Leo album instead of buying. It's important that as we try to make our system more nuanced and more public-purpose-oriented, we make sure that our description of present reality is appropriately nuanced as well.

Leave a comment


This Blog Arts and culture are a cornerstone of American society. But arts and culture workers are often left out of important policy conversations concerning technology and creative rights even though the outcomes will have a profound impact on our world. Is it benign neglect? Or did we... more

This blog is a project of... the Future of Music Coalition, the National Alliance for Art Media + Culture, Fractured Atlas, and ArtsJournal.com. more

Our Bloggers We have 22 bloggers taking part in this week's conversation. They are... more

Contact us: Click here to send us an email... more

Recent Comments

Kevin Erickson commented on A Bill of Goods?: Bill, I think you might want to qualify that a bit. Artists' interests are...

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary