The Biggest Problem...

By Bill Ivey, Director, Curb Center, Vanderbilt University

Two points before I get to Doug's challenge: First, it's been great to blog with a smart cohort that doesn't necessarily come from the traditional nonprofit mindset -- quite refreshing.  Second, Sandra Gibson (Arts Presenters) sent me a nice note reminding me that APAP has weighed in on issues like IP and net neutrality.  No surprise as presenters ("promoters" in the for-profit world) are very likely to encounter real world copyright, union, and licensing issues every day.  She also noted that other service organizations haven't yet joined these policy fights.

Two things strike me as big problems, and they're related.  As the recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance reminded us, nearly a century ago corporations began to acquire the same legal rights as individuals.  Once copyright and all related issues became attached to corporations and corporations began to reshape policy to suit corporate interests, the entire support system for art, information, and knowledge began to tilt away from public purposes.  Corporations don't like an neutral Internet because it's harder to make money for shareholders in a neutral environment; corporations want a long (yes, Tim, even an endless) term for copyright, because it locks up a corporate asset; corporations want to impose ever-more-draconian penalties on those who intentionally or inadvertently infringe IP interests, and...well, I coould go on.  We really need to return the conversation to the intent of the Constitution, that posited a limited right for individuals, and do our best to make the public understand that a corporation -- focused only on shareholder value and short-term earnings -- is simply incapable of supporting a nuanced approach to government and culture.  The big IP-dependent industries hate the Creative Commons; they would hate a department of cultural affairs.  In short, once an individual right like copyright was attached to corporations, the steady erosion of the public interest in cultural vitality was inevitable.

Second, this erosion has been gradual, akin to the frog metaphor (scalding slowly as the temp of his bathwater is gradually increased) made famous by Al Gore.  Here's an old media example.  Say Jane Q. Public walks into a Wal-Mart Superstore, intent on buying some new music.  She makes her way to the back of the building, to a section that looks like it offers quite a few titles.  But truth be told, a Superstore stocks no more than about 2500 compact discs, and no more than 500 of those will have been released in the past 12 months.  Jane has no way of knowing, but about 34,000 CDs are released into some kind of distribution each year.  Two decades ago, corporate efficiencies killed off mom-and-pop stores, and mall chains like Turtles couldn't compete with emerging big-boxers like Target, Wal-Mart, etc., and ultimately terrific outlets like Tower gave up the ghost.  This happened over about 20 years, and while Wal-Mart has dictated low prices for music (9.99), the approach has severely limited choice.  But the change has been gradual; Jane public may sense that it's impossible to browse in the old way (yes, I know, the Internet is great for buying things including downloads, but it's a very difficult place to shop), but this is mild discomfort and not the sort that will generate outrage.  We've experienced the same gradual erosion in the scope of fair use, in the gradual increase in penalties for infringement, and in the proliferation of advertiser interests online.

So the big problem is to restore copyright and things related as an individual right, wrenching priorities away from corporations and their lobbyists, while trying to create a sense of public outrage in an environment that is worsening so slowing that too few really notice.

Lynne muses about Silent Spring and the 1960s environmental movement.  I had hoped Arts, Inc. would "jump the fence" and create a stir with the general public.  But so far, nearly two years out, that hasn't happened; the coversation generated has been pretty much inside the arts community.

Somebody on this blog needs to write another book!

Thanks to all.

July 23, 2010 9:16 AM | | Comments (0) |

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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

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